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Plants that do like to be beside the seaside

Words: Mary Newstead

Plants for a coastal location need to be tough to survive, sometimes in nothing but sand or in the crevices of slate and granite walls, full in the face of the extreme weather conditions hurled at them along our rugged and wind-swept coastlines.

At Chelsea this year, the designers have used a variety of plants suitable for such a situation and here are a few examples.

Anemanthele lessoniana (Pheasant Grass)

Grasses by the coast are a natural choice and this very beautiful evergreen variety (previously called Stipa arundinacea) is a favourite. It is grown for its loose clumps of shiny leaves that develop a rich orange and red coloration throughout summer, making it especially striking in winter. See it on The RBC New Wild Garden.

Asplenium scolopendrium (Hartstongue Fern)

Most ferns grow well by the coast and this, the Hartstongue Fern, is a lime-lover, which explains why it likes to colonise along the bottom of walls. Being evergreen, its glossy, undivided fronds make a handsome feature in the winter garden. See it on The Homebase Cornish Memories Garden.

Centranthus ruber var. coccineus (Red Valerian)

Grows freely on the cliffs by the sea and in dry-stone walls along the lanes in Cornwall, where it is locally called Padstow Pride. A favourite with designers at Chelsea as a filler plant which naturally flowers in May. Both the red and the white variety (Centranthus albiflorus) can be seen in profusion in The Daily Telegraph, The Cancer Research, The Times Eureka and The RBC New Wild gardens.

Erigeron karvinskianus (Fleabane)

This delightful, easy to grow and tough little daisy makes an ideal trailing ground cover / edging plant. It looks equally good spilling from fissures, with dainty white and pink blooms over a long flowering period. It has been used to great effect as a filler plant on The Homebase Cornish Memories Garden, The Daily Telegraph, The Trailfinders Australian and The M&G gardens.

Eryngium maritimum (Sea Holly)

A British native plant with large silvery bracts which surround steely-blue
flowers on branching stems. This is a must-have plant for any seaside location and you can admire it used to great effect in The Cancer Research Garden.

Nepeta x faassenii (Catmint)

An aromatic plant for a sunny position, Nepeta x faasenni is the most popular catmint. Gertrude Jekyll wrote 'it is a plant that can hardly be overpraised'. It has similar attributes to lavender – aromatic green-grey foliage with lavender flowers loved by bees but unlike lavender, which becomes woody in time, herbaceous catmint is much longer lived and is a good substitute. See it on A Monaco Garden and The Cancer Research Garden.

Pinus sylvestris (Scots Pine)

Our only native Pine, the Scots Pine, is a good tree or shrub for a coastal location. The Homebase Cornish Memories Garden has included it as a specimen tree (Pinus sylvestris) and as a low, slow-growing shrub (Pinus sylvestris 'Watereri'). It has attractive, reddish young bark, grey-green leaves and cones on short stalks. The species tree can also be seen on The Cancer Research Garden and The Times Eureka Garden.

Rhododendron yakushimanum

The tough foliage of all evergreens is well-equipped to withstand salt-laden winds, and rhododendrons fall into this category. The Homebase Cornish Memories Garden uses this variety to great effect, to create large boulder-like mounds of frothy pink flowers amidst a mixture of grasses and perennials.

Rosa rugosa

Roses are not the natural choice for a coastal location but the species rose R. rugosa seen on The Cancer Research Garden is one that tolerates salty winds very well. It is very prickly with tough leaves (rugosa means wrinkled) which makes it a superb seaside hedging plant. It has very fragrant flowers from summer to autumn and bright red hips, often at the same time as the flowers. It has naturalized on the coastal dunes around the British Isles.

Tamarix gallica (Tamarisk)

This quintessential coastal shrub or small tree makes an excellent wind-break which has graceful, slender branches, plume-like foliage and tiny, pink flowers making a colourful splash along the cliffs. The Cancer Research Garden has used tree specimens to great effect.

Verbascum bombyciferum (Mullein)

The giant mullein is a wonderful statement plant for a dry garden with rosettes of long, oval, grey-white leaves from which rise 2m spikes that carry yellow flowers. Drought-tolerant and the exclamation mark all gardens need! See it on The Cancer Research Garden as well as The Times Eureka Garden.

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