You may like to
"be beside the seaside", but how about gardening in
this windy, salty environment? Stephen Anderton considers
some commonsense solutions.
Before you start dreaming about living beside the sea,
before you start having visions of a garden full of
plants and a climate that never freezes, remember there
are two cruel lessons that every seaside gardener has
to learn. The first is that the air is salty, and many
plants cannot survive it. The second - and perhaps the
most important - is that it is windy by the sea. Wind
is the killer. Wind is what you have to learn to deal
with by the sea. Think back to those shots of idyllic
tropical beaches fringed with coconut palms. Have you
not seen as many shots of them in a typhoon, with the
trees bent double, and houses blowing about? Oh yes.
Forgot about that.
Now we may not get
too many typhoons in Britain, but the seaside can still
be viciously windy. Nature has two ways of protecting
plants from those winds. It can either give them small,
leathery, wind-resisting leaves, or it can make them
grow only in sheltered valleys leading down to the sea.
These sheltered valleys are the history of Cornish gardening.
Cornwall is a county narrow enough to have salt-depositing
winds flung over its whole area from the sea on both
sides. But if you happened to have an estate, a Heligan
or a Trebah,
with a narrow valley where the wind mostly whistles
over the top, then you could garden till the blood comes.
These are the places to be growing tree
ferns and the big triffid-like echiums,
and luscious great hydrangeas.
But take yourself off to a less favoured seaside position,
somewhere normal, somewhere the usual sea winds sweep
in off the beach, and it's a very different story. Here
the hydrangeas grow but they look shabby. The long leathery,
strappy leaves of phormiums thrive but they carry more
split ends than a hairdresser's wheelie bin. Even tough
old sycamores look fried alive by the end of the summer.
The answer here, if you want to look good, is to have
plants with small leaves.
Look at the way nature
copes with the wind. See how the wind-pruned mounds
of cliff-top gorse or sea
buckthorn stand firm, and actually look right in
that climate. Take a leaf out of nature's book and imitate
that look. Clip them yourself, into mounding bastions
of vegetation, which will then give you shelter behind
to grow less tough characters. Try clipping hebes
and small-leaved hollies and bush ivies. Do it little
and often, as the wind would, perhaps with a pause to
let things flower when they show inclination. You will
be pleasantly surprised at the variety of colours and
textures you can produce.
Isn't it better to produce a garden that looks at home
in the reality of your climate, than to plant a garden
full of flapping exotics and see them suffer? A garden
full of war-zone plants, plants that are just getting
by, is not a recipe for a relaxing garden, visually
I remember a visit to southern Ireland a couple of years
ago, and in particular to the garden island of Garinish.
On the far side of the island, in the bay looking out
to the Atlantic, was a lorry-sized lump of rock. Two
lumps in fact, or one split in half down the centre.
A cleavage of stone. And there jammed in its cleavage
- the only vegetation on the whole thing - was a clump
of New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax, which had somehow
managed to put itself there. And it was surviving, thriving
even, clinging to that almost dry land with every ounce
of its strength. It was heroic and sad at the same time.
And it was definitely not the sort of performance you
want to see in a garden. Don't make your garden a war
zone. Make it a sanctuary.
reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com