Tuesday 12 December 2017

Diarmuid Gavin: The plants that will survive in your windy Irish garden

Wild weather makes seaside gardening a challenge but these prize-fighting plants will tough it out

Seaside planting
Seaside planting
Diarmuid Gavin. Photo: Mark Nixon

Diarmuid Gavin

Living on an island means that a fair share of us garden in coastal areas, often enjoying the high light levels associated with those situations. It can be a wonderful place to garden, and many of us who don't live by the seaside will visit some coastal resort over the next few weeks.

I had to consider the conditions created in that environment some years ago when I planned the ornamental gardens at Doonbeg Resort and Golf Club on the stunningly beautiful stretch of shoreline now known as the Wild Atlantic Way.

As the name suggests, this wild coast can make it difficult for gardeners. The problem is the wind, which whips off the sea, laden with salt, ready to shred every bit of green to pieces.

My Doonbeg brief was clear - a series of gardens, communal or individual, which would allow for summer colour when the resort was at its busiest. The natural landscape is impossible to beat, the dunes look wonderful, but what would flower in this coastal climate?

The architecture of the resort created great opportunities for protection but also caused some problems by creating wind tunnels which proved challenging for plants. Sinking garden courtyards was one solution, which created sheltered, gardening-friendly micro-climates.

I've recently returned there for the first time in eight years and the place was a joy. Much of that was down to maintenance -the resort's greenkeepers know how to care for ornamental lawns. My visit confirmed for me that gardening by the sea can be a celebration of some common garden species which appreciate the big light levels. But what plants were doing particularly well?

The fiery orange Crocosmia (pictured bottom left) and limey green Alchemilla were thriving. Plenty of colour and blooms were provided by hardy Geraniums, Achilleas, Fennel, Euphorbias, Asters and Verbenas. Plants which have adapted their leaves to withstand salt-laden gales - the leaves so narrow we call them needles - such as rosemary and pine trees can stand up to these wild conditions.

Alongside these, thick strappy Phormiums can survive a belting, and plants with hairy leaves that protect them from salt, such as Nepeta, Salvias, Artemesia, Phlomis and Sage, provided plenty of texture and shape.

Glossy leaf surfaces can also be protective, so Pittosporum was doing fine. Boston Ivy and ordinary ivy were making strident attempts to clad the architecture in the face of such opposition - and winning.

Many other favourites which aren't exclusively suited to coastal situations were also shining by the sea. Of these, Agapanthus is definitely my top pick. These globes of blue flowers mirror in their colour both the sky and sea. As they like their roots to be snug, they are always happy in pots so long as you feed and water them.

Ornamental grasses carry echoes of Marram grasses blowing in the dunes. If you don't have loads of space, there are plenty of smaller grasses from the compact Ophiopogon to neat mounts of Festuca glauca. Elaeagnus makes a great barrier for exposed conditions and is an attractive plant, especially Quicksilver with its striking silvery metallic leaves and fragrant yellow flowers in summer.

Other coastal or bright open suburban space-friendly plants include Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'. If you deadhead them regularly they will perform from May until October. Divide these every three years and share the new plants with your friends. The lilac-blue sun worshipper Russian Sage stands tall - up to 4ft - and flowers for four months. Annual Poppies self sow where it's sunny enough and the soil is free-draining. And Flowering Tobacco, while technically a tender perennial, will thrive if treated as an annual.

Dicentra, or Bleeding Heart (pictured), flowers early in summer coastal situations and can be can be cut back midsummer after its foliage fades.

If you get to the seaside this August, take time out to enjoy just what gardeners can achieve in the most challenging of conditions.

To do:

* Harvest courgettes, maincrop potatoes if the foliage is yellow, and sweetcorn

* Prune roses that aren't repeat flowering

* Cut back lavender

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