Gardening by the sea

Geoff Stonebanks gardens by the sea in Sussex, here he shares some highs and lows of his coastal plot.

seaside garden
Gardening by the sea has its advantages... and disadvantages. Image: Geoff Stonebanks.
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Some experts say creating a coastal garden isn’t as hard as it sounds. All you need are hardy plants, good shelter and some natty nautical props. In my case, there’s been a realisation that having a garden in a coastal location makes you garden differently. If you approach it like an inland garden you are more than likely going to fail.

I’ve had to learn how to deal with wind and salt spray by creating shelter and choosing the right seaside plants, (there was a lot of luck on my part doing this I have to say), thereby creating a great and exotic looking coastal garden. Tim Sharples, Head Judge for the Daily Mail Competition, back in 2012 said: “This bright, beach inspired plot embraces its location with imaginative planting” and garden designer, Adam Frost, when judging for Gardeners’ World Garden of the Year 2016 said: “I really like the way he’s used the wider landscape.” (the view of the sea)

Sea winds

For me, in retrospect, all the elements that work against you gardening by the sea, have worked in my favour. I was forced to create something unexpected.  My front garden faces due south, with nothing between it and the sea, a quarter of a mile away. It’s just 25ft (7.6m) square and gets extremely strong south west winds from the Atlantic.

So, gardening here in Seaford has caused me to face a number of unique challenges, extreme exposure to sun, salt spray and wind. The theory was to plant sparse and limited, and to include some tough plants to create windbreaks. I have to say my end result is rather over-packed with plants, it’s just evolved that way. I’ve got six plants that have really worked for me. The tamarisk was already here as quite a large tree when I arrived and I decided to retain it in the overall look, as it provided both a degree of wind protection, but more importantly, a border and backdrop to the right side of the garden. The other plants are Armeria ‘Rose Pink’, Erigeron ‘Pink Jewel’, the curry plant (Helichrysum), Cineraria ‘Silver Dust’ and Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa).

Sea loving plants
Geoff’s favourite sea-loving plants.

Quirky and unique

There are some positives gardening by the seas, in that we get a slightly milder climate that is less prone to snow and frost.  On balance I feel there is a much lower maintenance too. I think it also gives you the chance to create something quirky, unique and different. In my case, there is a common beach inspired theme of pebbles, driftwood and plants.  I love grasses and the environment is absolutely perfect for them. Plants with waxy and shiny leaves are good too, interspersed with nautical and marine themed items of sculpture.  I’ve also found that the use of both reclaimed groynes and old railway sleepers cut up on end will give fabulous protection from the winds, which works really well for me too. Marine pieces such as lobster pots, fish crates, sea shells, marine buoys and lifebelts bring it all to life as well. I’ve got a collection of over 20 Agave americana of varying sizes, which are all containerised. I like to over-winter them under cover to ensure they don’t get too wet.

Initially, when created in 2012, this small front garden was an add on and not as dramatic as the back garden, but, over the years it has become an integral part of the overall plot and looks amazing all year around!

sea loving plants
More sea-loving plants
Geoff Stonebanks

About Geoff Stonebanks

Geoff Stonebanks lives in Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex and spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden - Driftwood - he has raised over £95,000 for various charities in 8 years, £56,000 of that for Macmillan. The garden, which first opened to the public in 2009 has featured on BBC2 Gardeners' World, Good Morning Britain and in many national and local media publications. In his spare time, Geoff is also the National Garden Scheme's Social Media & Publicity Chair as well as an Assistant County Organiser & Publicity Officer in East & Mid Sussex.
View all posts by Geoff.