Charm and challenges of coast; North East gardener Sean Murray looks at the challenges, problems and joys of creating and maintaining a garden beside the seaside.
If you are gardening by the sea, it's the wind and salt that create the difficult growing conditions. Strong salt-laden winds cause leaf scorch, dehydration and eventual death of many plants and it's really worth just stopping and thinking about planting the right plants in the right place.
Growing up as a child in Newbiggin by the Sea I can recall some of the very exposed seafront gardens being a riot of colour and thinking, wow, how do these plants survive and thrive in severe winds with huge waves often lapping at their feet in winter? But they all flourished and appeared to jump in growth from garden to garden creating an ongoing tapestry of colour all along the seafront.
In practical terms it's worth considering a shelter belt of tough planting to buffer the wind.
Creating a micro-climate within the shelter belt will greatly improve the range of plants you can grow. Plants with tough leathery leaves such a Griselinia or with minimal foliage such as Tamarix are often used. Other sacrificial offerings that do the job well include Carpinus Betulus (hornbeam), Crataegus (hawthorn), Hippophae Rhamnoides (seabuck thorn) and Lonicera Nitida Baggesens gold with its sunshine yellow foliage.
Try creating more permanent screens to filter strong winds using oak railway sleepers which age beautifully to a silver grey in no time at all near the coast.
Using them vertically means you can fill spaces between them with objects found from your beachcombing, such as driftwood, rusting scrap metal, tin cans and even stacked old lobster pots and sea-washed pallet wood if you can get your hands on them.
Mulching your plants with pea gravel, shingle or flint looks great, supresses weeds and most importantly conserves moisture at the roots and helps stabilise your planting.
Plants with long tap roots that anchor themselves deep into shingle do well such as the gigantic Crambe cordifolia 1.8 m with its clouds of Gypsophelia-like starry white flowers, while Crambe maritima (sea kale) 50cms with its unusual crinkly foliage hugs the ground like a hamster in a sandstorm.
Shrubs such as Buddleia Petite Blue Heaven at 60 cms is compact with clusters of blue flowers and Buddleia globosa is taller at 4m with sweet-scented spherical bright orange flowers. Both do well in coastal gardens.
For an architectural look try Phormium Tenax Maori Queen at 1m. It has strappy sword-like leaves, bronze-green edged with rose-red and silver.
Like all of the New Zealand flax family it likes full sun and moist soil to do well. Yucca fliamentosa grows well in North East gardens despite its tropical appearance.
It is hardy and has spikes of creamy white bell-shaped flowers from late summer.
Others that do well include Perovskia Lacey Blue, a Russian sage that's a new introduction and of compact form at 50cm it looks great with Achillea Pomegranite and Centranthus ruber.
Add some prolific self-seeders, vibrant orange Calendula officinalis, metallic blue Eryngium Giganteum and a generous sprinkling of Eschscholzia californica and before you know it you have a blue, orange and red colour scheme that will stop your neighbours in their tracks.
The summertime is great for visiting costal gardens for inspiration.
The now-famous garden of Derek Jarman, the late English film director, which on the shingle shore near Dungeness nuclear power station is top of my list to visit. The clever use of naturalistic planting, dramatic landscape and fusion of objects found make it a destination worth exploring.
Sean Murray runs a garden design company based in Ashington, Northumberland, www.gardennarratives.co.uk
The garden of late English film director Derek Jarman on the shingle shore near Dungeness nuclear power station
Phormium tenax growing by the sea,
Eryngium, known as sea holly, grows well by the shore