The unique challenges of seaside gardening
With the schools having closed up for the summer holidays many of us will be heading for the coast over the next few weeks. While enjoying the sun, sand and surf you are also likely to encounter gardens full of colour that on the surface look to be growing care free. To be honest during the summer this is generally true but coastal gardening does throw up some unique problems for their owners particularly during the winter months.
The first and most obvious problem is salt pollution carried on the wind. This is a much bigger problem on the West and South West coast lines than on the East. This is because of Ireland's general weather pattern which means you are going to get more frequent salt ladened winds, more regular storms and high winds from the West and South West. Still if you are a kilometre or more as the crow flies from the coast this really shouldn't be a major issue.
Winds in general, salt ladened or not, can be another coastal garden problem. Although of course wind is not solely a coastal issue for gardeners in Ireland it is more likely to be severe and more regular coastally than in land. While the West and South West again is likely to suffer most, the winds are generally warm even in the winter. On the East coast however when an East or or North East wind hits especially in winter the chill factor can do a lot of leaf burn damage.
Light sandy soil is another issue in coastal gardens. Light soils dry out quickly and also leach nutrients leaving them unavailable to the growing plants. Lights soils may also provide less roots stability and anchorage for plants causing poor growth and possibly the plant toppling over. Regular fertilising, incorporating organic matter when planting and using a mulch will help with these issues.
The easiest way though, if you don't want a constant battle, to deal with these potential problems is to work with your location and plants plants that suit your environment.
That said, I know of a Chilean firebush [Embrothrium coccineum] growing quite happily behind a sand dune on the East coast in a position it has no right to be. Evidently no one told the plant that.
Your starting point for getting good advice is to call to your local garden centre or nursery. Staff here will have expert local knowledge on gardening conditions in the immediate surroundings, coastal or otherwise. Another great source of information is looking at what is growing well in neighbours gardens.
Many herbaceous plants, especially those that die back to the ground every year where they are safe from the winter storms, all tend to be successful in coastal areas. Grassy foliaged plants also cope well including Agapanthus, Libertias. Crocosmia, Iris along with the more traditional grasses like pampas and Phormiums.
Many silver leaved plants are good in seaside gardens and actually look the part there as well. Lavenders, Santolinas, Teucrium and Caryopteris. All roses will take maritime exposure although their flowering periods may fluctuate from the norm if they are summer storm battered.
For screening purposes in warm areas Hoheria, Dodonaea, Olearia, Pittosporum and Grisellina make good evergreen shelter. In colder areas Elaeagnus and Euonymus japonicus will do the job.
For colourful shrubbery Hydrangea, Fuchsia, Hebe, Choisya, Cistus and Lavatera will give colour during the summer months and Viburnums, tinus, farreri and bodnantense will liven up winter.