In The Garden

TIPS and advice on how to cultivate your green oasis

Seaside specials

GOING to the seaside is such an uplifting experience, with the huge expanses of blue water, sandy beaches and open air pursuits.

Many people return home with dreams of living on the coast, but for gardeners it can bring a glut of problems, thanks to sea spray and strong winds.

Windbreaks are essential, along with a variety of plants which will withstand the constant salt spray, sandy soils and drying wind.

Yet if you choose carefully, your coastal garden can come into its own in summer, taking advantage of the fact that you’re unlikely to suffer the frosts of inland regions, thanks to the sea’s moderating influence on temperature.

The seaside garden can be a place for bright, loud colour - whites, sizzling oranges, vivid cerises and shocking pinks. Calendulas, eschscholzias, mesembryanthemums and other annuals grow vigorously and seed freely in gravel.

Use materials which match the setting - pebbles, driftwood, shells are all ideal partners for plants which can take a coastal hammering.

Coastal gardens don’t have much green but tend to concentrate on different shapes and textures. Foliage is usually silver, grey and blue, which contrasts well with zingy flower colours. Agaves and other exotic looking plants can do well in pots in the mild climate of seaside gardens.

There are many plants which are tough enough to withstand all that salt spray and sea breeze can throw at them, but as a rule of thumb you will find that those with tough, leathery leaves as well as spiny and hairy plants should have more resistance to drying winds.

Silver foliage shrubs and perennials such as the sun-loving Lavandula angustifolia, Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’ and Helichrysum italicum provide soft, silver mounds of foliage and can be trimmed back after flowering in summer and again in early spring to keep them in shape.

Rosemary and sage also look good with silver foliage perennials in the seaside garden, while cistus and helianthemums do well if sheltered from salt winds. Patio pots are best filled with drought-resistant sun-lovers such as pelargoniums and gazanias in bold colours.

The first job is to make an effective windbreak, preferably from a natural source, such as a hedge or wind-filtering barrier of trees or shrubs which are of good depth, preferably planted in two or more staggered rows. Good species for this job include pine, alder, hawthorn and hornbeam.

Elaeagnus x ebbingei, an evergreen with dark green leaves with silver undersides, will grow quickly to 3m (10ft), providing a substantial windbreak grown as a hedge or free-growing shrub.

Escallonias are also fantastic shrubs for seaside gardens, with their attractive white, pink or red flowers produced from late spring to early autumn.

Alternatively, you could go for a fence-like windbreak such as woven wattle or willow hurdles, which are available from garden centres or local craftsmen. Have a look in the classified sections of any of the gardening magazines and you should find what you want.

Once you have a sheltered garden, that widens the choice of plants you will be able to grow there.

Before you start, test your soil. Many seaside gardens are high in alkaline because of the high calcium content of crushed sea shells. If you have alkaline soil, don’t plant lime-haters such as rhododendron or azalea, because they won’t do well.

If your soil is sandy, beef it up with some organic matter to retain moisture and add nutrients. Once you have done this, mulch the area with compost or chipped bark to keep in the moisture.

Walk around the area and make a note of the plants which are thriving in neighbouring gardens, so you know what would do well in yours.

Plants which may be suitable for your seaside garden include eryngium (sea holly), echinops (globe thistle), crocosmia, sedum and heuchera, with a mix of shrubs and climbers including buddleia, berberis, broom, ceanothus, escallonia, hebe, weigela and lavatera.

Make the most of rock plants such as Armeria maritima, aubrieta, dianthus alpinus, phlox subulata, stachys and Iris pumila.

Despite the harsh conditions the coast can bring, gardeners who live by the sea need not bury their heads in the sand because it is possible to create a haven of colour there.

Best of the bunch - Cotinus (Smoke bush)

With its clouds of wispy flowerheads, hence its name, the smoke bush provides a brilliant stand-alone feature growing to around 3m (10ft).

The one in my garden, C. coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, bears striking wine-coloured leaves which turn read in autumn, with flowers appearing in June and turning grey with age.

Another good variety is C. coggygria ‘Nottcutt’s Variety’, which reaches around 2m (6ft), bearing pink and purple flowerheads above red foliage.

Many varieties have fantastic autumn foliage, including C. ‘Grace’, whose oval purple leaves turn a brilliant red in late autumn.

Grow cotinus in any moderately fertile, moist but well-drained soil in full sun. If you want larger, brighter coloured foliage, prune the shrub back hard in spring, but allow it to become established beforehand.

Good enough to eat - Fruit-pruning warnings

While some fruit pruning is done at this time of year, including that of gooseberries, redcurrant and blackcurrant bushes, there are certain plants you should really leave until later on. Figs and grapevines, for instance, should be pruned when they are dormant in mid-winter. If you prune them now they are likely to bleed badly.

Don’t prune autumn-fruiting raspberries now as the fruit will be ready for harvesting in late August. Leave the pruning until February. The pruning of standard apples and pears should also be left until mid-winter.

Keep the pruning of standard cherries and plums to the minimum but if they are looking really wild, prune them in spring just after they’ve started growing, to avoid diseases entering the plants through open wounds.

Three ways to... Save seed

1. Keep a selection of sieves with different sized holes so when shaking seeds, you can separate a lot of dust and debris out as it passes through.

2. Lay seeds and debris on a flat surface and breathe gently over it to blow the light bits of chaff away.

3. Store cleaned seed in screw-top, airtight jars in a dark room with a steady temperature, dropping in a sachet of silica gel crystals to soak up any moisture. Alternatively, save seed from hardy annuals by cutting off seedheads into a paper bag and hanging it up in a dark, cool place to finish drying.

What to do this week

Deadhead dahlias to help keep the plants in flower.

As fruit ripens on trees, check over branches to see if any need support.

Earth up French beans to the bottom leaves and feed weekly until the crop is finished.

As early flowering herbaceous plants finish blooming, remove flower heads, trim and tidy.

Continue to ventilate the greenhouse and damp down in the continuing hot weather.

Sow early carrots, peas, turnips, lettuce, cabbages and oriental leaves, which are fast-growing and will fill vacant space in the veg patch.

Trim lavender by clipping the dead flowerheads, but don’t cut into dead wood or they might not recover.

Feed rhododendrons and camellias with a tomato feed and keep them well watered to promote a better display next year.

Harvest, blanche and freeze French and runner beans and podded broad beans.

Plant madonna lilies (Lilium candidum) in a warm, sunny spot in well-drained soil, but not as deeply as you would other lilies.

Take semi-ripe cuttings of woody herbs, shrubs and roses and propagate clematis and rhododendrons by layering.

Increase the feeding of greenhouse tomatoes, continue pinching out sideshoots and remove lower leaves that turn yellow.

‘Stop’ outdoor tomatoes by nipping out the top of each plant, using your finger and thumb like pincers to remove the tip of the stem.