Beside the seaside: Alan Titchmarsh on creating a coastal garden –

Many people daydream of retiring to the coast, but maritime conditions make for difficult gardening due to salt spray, mini sandstorms and winter gales. Brush up with my beach-garden guide, however, and you can create a seaside paradise that will weather all seasons.

Assess the local conditions

Conditions vary all round the coast; the climate can be very mild in parts of coastal West Sussex and the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and southern Ireland and the west of Scotland where the Gulf Stream stops temperatures falling too low, allowing relatively exotic plants to grow. However, some parts of the coast (eg Lancashire) are notoriously exposed, cold and windy, so only the most rugged plants will survive. Visit local gardens to see what grows well and how owners cope with conditions – or not – and learn from other people’s mistakes.

A seaside design

Don’t try to create a normal garden – conventional lawns, annuals, roses and perennials don’t do well in seaside conditions and neither do fruit and veg. Instead, make the most of the unique features of a coastal landscape and incorporate them into your plot, to create a garden that sits well in its setting and won’t make much work.

Use typical seaside props such as rope and other nautical pieces; driftwood, flotsam and jetsam found on the beach, plus sand, shingle and smooth pebbles (which you absolutely must not take from the beach but buy from builders’ merchants – and use horticultural sand, not building sand). 

Source seaside-proof plants from local garden centres and group them in threes to look natural. Go for either a natural, seaside-landscape style or a contemporary garden based on seaside features. 

Creating shelter

Make an outer boundary that withstands wind and filters out sand and salt. A hedge of Cupressus macrocarpa or Escallonia macrantha is effective. To enjoy sea views, cut out occasional “portholes” or interrupt sections of hedge with groups of tamarisk or black pine (Pinus nigra maritima) with bare trunks so you can see under the canopy of leaves.

For a more open outlook, make an irregular Robinson Crusoe-style “fence” from broken bits of driftwood along the rear of the garden with hedges pruned to look as if they are naturally sculpted by the wind along the sides for privacy and shelter.

Make a sheltered area for sunbathing and meals outdoors; use toughened glass screens to protect you from the wind, so you enjoy the suntrap effect. Or turn a summerhouse or a shed into a beach hut by adding a small porch and some decking; put shingles on the roof and shutters on windows.

Ground covering

Avoid a lawn in favour of sand, shingle and drifts of pebbles interrupted by patches of low-ground covering and seaside-proof plants, with nautical ornaments, such as a length of jetty or breakwater, a wicker lobster pot or a coiled anchor chain.


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