Coastal plants

Plants for a coastal location need to be tough to survive, full in the face of the extreme weather conditions hurled at them along our wind-swept coastlines. Garden designer and writer, Mary Newstead, picks her favourite stalwarts

Anemanthele lessoniana (pheasant grass)

Grasses by the coast are a natural choice and this very beautiful evergreen pheasant grass (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.

Asplenium scolopendrium (Hart's tongue fern)

Most ferns grow well by the coast and this, the Hart's tongue 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.

Centranthus ruber (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. Consider planting in wall cracks in sunny positions for a natural effect.


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.


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.


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.

Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine)

Our only native pine, the Scots pine, is a good tree or shrub for a coastal location. It has attractive, reddish young bark, grey-green leaves and cones on short stalks.

Rhododendron yakushianum

The tough foliage of all evergreens is well-equipped to withstand salt-laden winds, and rhododendrons fall into this category. Coastal gardeners can use this variety to great effect, to create large boulder-like mounds of frothy pink flowers amid a mixture of grasses and perennials.

Tamarix x 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.


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 (6ft) spikes that carry yellow flowers. Drought-tolerant and the exclamation mark all gardens need.

Gardening with the RHS

Listen to our award-winning gardening podcasts

Listen now

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.