The Wild Garden: Seaside Gardens

The Wild Garden: Seaside Gardens

When we speak of wild gardens we do not usually mention seaside gardens or ‘ocean gardens’ in the same breath. However the wild garden can be built in any gardening context or environment. Clearly, the wild garden in a seaside location needs to take account of the local micro-climate and soil conditions.

With a gardening colleague I was fortunate enough to build quite a large seaside garden that could also easily have been described as a wild garden too. The plot was of about a third of an acre, and from it you could see the sea wall and part of the saltmarsh shore, just across on the other side of some marshy meadows. There were no trees in between, nothing to give any shelter from the salt laden winds. The soil was light and fairly free training with a subsoil of clay.

When we sized up the plot and began to think about a design, we felt that we wanted something that reflected the gentle undulations of the surrounding water meadows but that also gave a strong flavour of the saltmarshs on the other side of the sea wall (an earthen bank). So we came up with an informal, snaking path that wound its way between three low mounds of diminishing size that straddled the whole plot.

The path could easily have been composed of shingle, a heavy and fairly expensive material, but it was a large and lengthy path and as we came across a cheap source of chipped bark, we used that. Logs formed an edging to the path on either side. Now, although this was not strictly-speaking a seashore path, it did link contextually with the tree-surrounded gardens on the landward side of the garden, and with a bit of imagination it also reflected the woody detritus washed up along the edge of the saltmarsh by high tides.

To reflect the heaps of shells to be found further along the sandy shore, we covered the three low earth mounds with a layer of cockleshells, a by-product of the shellfish industry further down the coast.

Planting consisted mainly of low growing alpines and ground cover plants. Generally speaking we decided not to use the same plants that grew in the saltmarsh itself, as these were plants adapted to being covered with salt water twice a day, and we could not provide such an environment! Many of the plants chosen gave a similar effect to the saltmarsh itself, but we also included a range of ornamental grasses (to mimic the grasses growing wild on the seawall) as well as a few clumps of flowering broom and some junipers (Juniperus conferta, the Shore Juniper from Japan).

Overall, the effect was very satisfying: a calming shoreline garden that invited you to wander along its informal path between flowering sweeps of low planting. It was also a garden from which visitors with smaller plots could take design elements and planting ideas and use them in their own gardens.

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