How to make a coastal garden

How to make a coastal garden

Coastal gardening can be a challenge, but with the right plants in the right place, your garden and its wildlife visitors can thrive.

The salt-laden winds that buffet our shores cause damage to plant limbs and stunt growth. Plants have to be specially adapted to cope with the salt, which causes leaf-burn and defoliation. The soil is unlikely to be first-rate either - light, sandy, lacking in nutrition, unable to retain moisture, and perhaps containing a high salt content. Rainfall can vary from meager to copious dependent on which side of the country you live on.

But the good news is, with the right plants, there’s no reason why our maritime regions should not enjoy the same wealth of wildlife as the rest of the country. The insects, birds and other creatures to be found along our shores have all adapted to the often harsh environment and many are exclusive to this particular habitat. Many birds, butterflies and moths for instance make the flight across the North Sea and the English Channel to set down in desirable habitats on our east coast.

In your garden


  • Choose well and plant in the right place and your garden will thrive. Plants that are suited to biting salt-laden winds and free-draining soil or gravel will do best. Those with small, leathery, silvery or glossy leaves tend shrug off the windy, salty onslaught. Shrubs and perennials such as sage, rosemary, lavender, holly and buddleja will also withstand severe conditions.
  • As in any other garden environment, if you provide food, shelter, a source of water and aren’t too tidy, the wildlife will come flocking. For the coastal garden the most important of these is shelter. Some resilient trees and shrubs, once established as a windbreak will make all the difference to your visitors.


  • When selecting plants, a clue to their seaside-worthiness is often in their Latin name. Those with the specific epithet (the second part of the Latin name) maritima or littoralis will have coastal tendencies. Examples are sea holly (Eryngium maritimum), sea kale (Crambe maritima), sea campion (Silene maritima) and thrift (Armeria maritima). New Zealand privet (Griselinia littoralis), while not a food provider, makes a handsome evergreen hedge for wildlife cover and shelter.
  • Other shrubs and trees that are good for hedges and shelterbelts are tamarisk, Elaeagnus, Escallonia, Ilex and ash. Poplars are quick-growing, which is useful when trying to establish a wind break.
  • Hebes, buddlejas, sedums, ivy, cotoneaster and heather will attract butterflies, bees and birds without being out of their comfort zone.


  • Even in areas with higher average rainfall, the poor soil quality and higher levels of salt can cause increased moisture loss. Mulch the beds to try to prevent as much loss as possible. Digging in some well-rotted manure will help sandier soils to conserve moisture.
  • Feeding plants, especially young ones is very important. Gather seaweed for a handy fertiliser and dig it straight into the soil, making sure you wash off any surface salt first.
  • Poor, light soil can be prone to erosion by the wind. Use plants with fibrous root systems, such as grasses to prevent the soil blowing away.

Top tips

  • When putting in new plants, especially shrubs and trees, don’t be tempted to buy large container-grown plants. Younger plants will adapt to the environment as they establish and will be happier in the long run.
  • Piled up driftwood gathered from the beach makes snug homes for small creatures.

Suggested plants

  • Silene vulgaris (Bladder campion)
  • Armeria maritima (Thrift, sea pink)
  • Fuchsia
  • Crataegus laevigata
  • Sorbus aucuparia (Rowan, mountain ash)
  • Escallonia
  • Hippophae rhamnoides (Sea buckthorn)
  • Eryngium maritimum (Sea holly)