Coastal Gardens

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Part 3 – Chapter 11
Colourful coastal plants

For many people the challenge of producing an attractive garden by the sea is daunting enough, without worrying about whether it will still look good during the off seasons. Is it really possible to have a wonderfully colourful coastal windswept garden in the autumn and winter months? Absolutely!

Colourful coastal plants season by season
So far in this book we have learned about the reasons why coastal gardens can be difficult, why wind and salt are problems and how to overcome them or compensate for them. We have also discovered that certain plants can be chosen to assist in reducing the problems of wind and salt; these plants provide shelter and can in effect change the climate and other dynamics of the garden.

Now, for the first time, we can begin to address the aesthetic qualities of the garden. From this point on, we can become rather more self-indulgent and concentrate on the plants that may be grown purely for their ornamental qualities.
Plants can be decorative in many ways. Most people – even non-gardeners – will think of flowers first as being the most attractive parts of plants. This is certainly true of some plants; however, there are several other features of plants that make them appealing to us – including stems, fruits and foliage. In this chapter we will be looking at everything except the foliage, which is studied in greater depth in Chapter 12.
In addition to the ornamental features of plants, it is important to consider when the plants are at their best. A garden that has a blaze of colour in one or two seasons, with nothing at all in the others, will be lacking any interest for at least half the year, so for this reason we have divided this chapter into the four seasons and suggested some decorative coastal plants for each. 

Winter colour
Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) This is a climbing plant that provides wonderful winter colours from its berries. It reaches up to 46ft (14m) in height, its twining stems carrying handsome seeds, in green to golden pods. In the US, this plant carries a warning, as it has become troublesome in the wild. It is nevertheless an excellent plant for large gardens. USDA Zone: Z4
Daphne (Daphne spp) The winter-flowering types include Daphne odora (evergreen) and D. mezereum (deciduous). Flowers are in various shades of pink, red or purple, and they give off an impressively powerful scent. USDA Zone: Z4–8
Dogwood (Cornus spp) The Cornus is a huge family of trees and shrubs, but the species you need for winter colour are C. alba and C. sericea. Both are deciduous shrubs reaching around 7–10ft (2.5–3m). In the winter, after the leaves have dropped, the stems come alive with colour. Look for C. alba ‘Sibirica’ AGM and ‘Spaethii’ AGM (vivid red stems), and C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’ AGM (greenish yellow). USDA Zone: Z2–3
Rhododendron (Rhododendron dauricum) There are several winter-flowering rhododendrons that are resilient enough to withstand some wind and salty air. Rhododendron dauricum is fully hardy and forms a small to medium-sized shrub. Its small trusses of flowers open from mid winter onwards. Look for ‘Mid-Winter’ AGM (clear mid-purple) and ‘Olive’ (crimson-blue). USDA Zone: Z5
Silk tassel bush (Garrya elliptica) This vigorous, evergreen wall shrub has leathery leaves and conspicuous catkins from mid winter. The male plants have the best catkins; the female plants have purple-brown berries. USDA Zone: Z8
Tree heath (Erica arborea) This can make a medium to large shrub, producing fragrant, creamy-white flowers at the end of winter. The variety ‘Albert’s Gold’ AGM will eventually reach 6ft (2m); its upright branches bear bright golden-yellow foliage in winter. USDA Zone: Z7

Spring colour
Azalea (Rhododendron spp) Azaleas need an acid soil and part shade but do not mind wind and salty air. The deciduous types have riotous colour in late spring and early summer. Azalea mollis has bright yellow, highly scented blooms on almost leafless stems. USDA Zone: Z5–9
Broom (Cytisus spp) The flowers of Cytisus come in such quantity that they clothe the whippy stems and tiny leaves. The pea-like flowers are in yellow, orange, cream and red shades, and there are several attractive bicolours, including ‘La Coquette’. They tolerate poor, starved and sandy soils. USDA Zone: Z5–9
Californian lilac (Ceanothus spp) One of the most attractive of all blue-flowering shrubs, this plant needs shelter and a sunny spot. The evergreen types such as Ceanothus cuneatus var. rigidus have small leaves and tight clusters of tiny flowers, while deciduous types have larger leaves and loose flower clusters. USDA Zone: Z4–8
Camellia (Camellia spp) Camellias are woodland plants with glossy, green leaves. They like a moist, acid soil and part shade. They also appreciate a more sheltered garden, as both wind and frost can damage the blooms. The flowers come in colours from white through to pinks and reds. There are dozens of varieties, such as Camellia x williamsii ‘Contribution’. USDA Zone: Z8
Darwin’s barberry (Berberis darwinii AGM) Berberis is a large genus of plants and most are tough and durable, so eminently suited to coastal gardens. For spring flower colour, try B. darwinii, an evergreen with small, dark green leaves and stunning displays of golden flowers. USDA Zone: Z7
Flowering quince (Chaenomeles spp) Essential shrubs for late-winter interest, these plants look spectacular when trained against a wall. The flowers can be white, pink, red and orange; one of the best is Chaenomeles x superba ‘Knap Hill Scarlet’ AGM. They are tolerant of some shade, so are good for sunless walls. USDA Zone: Z5
Golden bells (Forsythia spp) A ubiquitous plant, this has masses of flowers on the leafless branches. Colours range from pale yellows to deep golds. There are types to cover walls, grow as shrubs or hedges, or cover the ground. They are easy plants to grow; a good example is Forsythia x intermedia ‘Spectabilis’. USDA Zone: Z5–6
Jew’s mallow (Kerria japonica) These spring-flowering, deciduous shrubs, bearing desirable yellow flowers, have a curious, upright, suckering habit. They do not object to a little shade, but they hate waterlogged soil. An attractive variety is ‘Pleniflora’ AGM, a double form with pompom-like flowers. USDA Zone: Z4
Lilac (Syringa spp) There are dozens of lilac cultivars and most are forms of Syringa vulgaris, the common lilac. But there are many others; for example, S. meyeri ‘Palibin’ AGM. The flowering season for these plants is short, but the size and fragrance of the blooms more than make up for it. USDA Zone: Z4–6
Magnolia (Magnolia stellata AGM) The tall tree magnolias are easily damaged by wind and salt, so in coastal gardens try the smaller, spring-flowering, shrubby types, such as the star magnolia. It is a good choice where space is limited, as it grows to just 4–5ft (1.2–1.5m). Early spring every year it is covered with fragrant, star-like flowers of creamy white. USDA Zone: Z4–9
Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata AGM) This is a neat, rounded bush, well clothed with shiny, evergreen leaves that have a strong spicy fragrance when crushed. White, starry flowers appear as a main flush in mid- to late spring, then occasionally throughout the summer. It tolerates wind, salt and shade, and needs pruning only if it grows too big for its space. There is also a golden-leaved form. USDA Zone: Z7
Weigela (Weigela florida) This very attractive and useful spring-flowering shrub has a reputation for succeeding in almost any garden and thriving despite blatant neglect. Tubular red or pink flowers are carried on arching stems in mid-spring. It does not grow very tall – 6–7ft (1.8–1.9m) at most. USDA Zone: Z5

Summer colour
Bluebeard, or blue spiraea (Caryopteris) Caryopteris is a small genus of mainly deciduous shrubs which has the double merit of being late-blooming and blue-flowered. The most often seen form is Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Arthur Simmonds’ AGM, which reaches just 2ft (60cm) or so, and has bright blue flowers. The variety ‘Kew Blue’ is a deeper shade. USDA Zone: Z6–8
Bottlebrush (Callistemon) Native to Australia, the evergreen bottlebrushes, such as Callistemon rugulosus, bring a quirky, exotic touch to the coastal garden. They produce vivid, brush-like flowers. They are not the hardiest of shrubs and really only thrive in fairly mild climates or protected, sheltered gardens. USDA Zone: Z9
Bridal wreath (Spiraea spp) This is a popular group of quick-growing shrubs, which are easy to grow and always flower. Tiny, pink or white flowers are massed in clusters on arching stems. Spiraea nipponica ‘Snowmound’ AGM is an outstanding form for early summer. It tolerates hard pruning and can be kept smaller than its usual height of 6ft (2m). USDA Zone: Z4
Cape figwort (Phygelius capensis AGM) Phygelius is a sub-shrub. It is evergreen in a mild winter, but may die back in prolonged cold, although it will often reshoot. In a cold or exposed garden, grow in the lee of a wall. USDA Zone: Z8
Common hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) The Japanese species is rarely seen in cultivation, but it is widely represented by many selected forms. They are divided mainly into mophead and lacecap types and they have blue, pink or white flowerheads. Give them a little shade and do not let them dry out. Otherwise they are easy plants. USDA Zone: Z5
Deutzia (Deutzia spp) The elegant, deciduous deutzias are grown for their dainty, early summer flowers. Perfect for a coastal cottage garden, they will usually succeed in any soil, in full sun or light shade. One of the most attractive is Deutzia scabra ‘Plena’, with small double flowers of white, flushed purplish pink. USDA Zone: Z4–8
Flowering, or Indian mallow (Abutilon spp) These elegant, tender shrubs produce appealing lampshade-like flowers during late summer. They are sometimes trained as standards, or grown as tall ‘accent’ plants to separate a carpet of bedding plants. They also make fine plants for containers. There are many hybrids available in yellows, orange and pinks. USDA Zone: Z8–10
Halimiocistus (x Halimiocistus wintonensis AGM) This is an evergreen shrub, which is a cross between the genera Halimium and Cistus, both of which hybridize naturally in the wild. It has papery flowers that are saucer-shaped and likes a sunny spot in a free-draining soil. The cultivar ‘Merrist Wood Cream’ AGM, has cream flowers marked with yellow and maroon. USDA Zone: Z8
Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa AGM) These evergreen shrubs and perennials have woolly grey leaves. Whorls of sulphur-yellow flowers appear in summer. They are well suited to a Mediterranean-style border and grown with such plants as Cistus or Halimium. USDA Zone: Z7–9
Lavender cotton (Santolina spp) This is a mound-forming shrub with finely dissected, silvery leaves. It has lemon-yellow flowers in mid summer, but it is principally valued as a foliage plant. Take a pair of shears to it in spring to neaten it, if necessary, but old, straggly plants are best replaced. USDA Zone: Z7
Lobster’s claw, or parrot’s bill (Clianthus puniceus AGM) This is an exotic member of the pea family from New Zealand. It is semi-evergreen and strong-growing, but will thrive outside only in mild gardens. It has a sprawling habit and its leaves have many leaflets, rather like vetch. The early summer flowers are red and claw-like with black eyes. USDA Zone: Z8
Mock orange blossom (Philadelphus spp) The scent of this plant is unmistakable when it hangs in the air in early summer. Most of the plants in cultivation are hybrids, have white flowers with golden stamens and are best when grown as a fragrant backdrop to a mixed border. These plants do well in most reasonable soils and in full sun or light shade. USDA Zone: Z5–9
Ribbonwood (Hoheria lyallii AGM) These are garden trees from New Zealand and, although they tolerate salty air, they are not for cold or exposed gardens. The two most common species are Hoheria sexstylosa and H. lyallii AGM. The first is an evergreen; the second is deciduous. Both have a light, airy habit and showers of starry, white flowers in the summer. USDA Zone: Z8
Rock, or sun rose (Cistus x purpureus AGM) In Mediterranean countries, these evergreen shrubs are seen everywhere. The flowers have a papery texture, like poppies, and are short-lived. However, they follow one another in quick succession at the height of summer. They are perfect in scree, gravel or sandy gardens, basking in the reflected heat from the ground. USDA Zone: Z7–8
Roses (Rosa spp) As a garden plant, roses are unrivalled. Hybrid teas and floribundas such as the floribunda bush rose ‘Penelope’ make a good choice for windy, salt-swept gardens, mainly because the new growth lasts for only one growing year, before it is cut down. The more shelter you can provide, though, the longer the blowsy blooms will last. USDA Zone: Z5–7
St John’s wort (Hypericum spp) These shrubs can sometimes be awkward to place in a garden because of the uncompromising yellow of the flowers. They do look good, though, with white-flowered or purple-leaved plants. Grow them in any well-drained soil in full sun or light shade. USDA Zone: Z6
Shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa) There are many forms of this low-growing shrub and they all bear masses of small, rose-like flowers in summer. It is a good choice for the front of a border, along a path or even on a rock garden. Potentilla grows in most well-drained oils in sun or light shade. USDA Zone: Z2–8
Tree mallow (Lavatera x clementii ‘Rosea’ AGM) A genus of evergreen, semi-evergreen and deciduous shrubs, the shrubby form is prized for its late summer blooms. It reaches 3–4ft (1–1.2m) in height, is bushy and upright, with green, lobed leaves and purplish-pink flowers. ‘Rosea’ AGM has flowers of a brighter pink. USDA Zone: Z8–9

Autumn colour
Eupatorium (Eupatorium spp) The Eupatorium genus comprises perennial plants with long-lasting, broad, purple, pink and white flowerheads, usually from late summer. Plants can frequently grow taller than 6ft (2m) in a season and look good at the back of a border. USDA Zone: Z3–7
Firethorn (Pyracantha spp) These evergreen shrubs have spiny branches, bright, small summer flowers and prolific autumn berries. They make fine wall and hedging plants. Two worth mentioning are Pyracantha ‘Navaho’ with vivid orange berries and P. rogersiana ‘Flava’ AGM with bright yellow berries. USDA Zone: Z6–8
Hardy plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides AGM) This is a somewhat tender (despite its common name) perennial or sub-shrub, with bristly, many-branched, reddish stems and purplish-blue flowers throughout autumn. Plants grow to a height of just 12–18in (30–45cm). This plant can be invasive over time – but is easily controlled. USDA Zone: Z5
Herringbone cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis AGM) The Cotoneaster genus is huge and all are tough, durable plants. The herringbone cotoneaster will reach just 2–3ft (60–100cm) if grown prostrate, whereas against a wall it can grow to 10ft (3m). Tiny spring flowers are followed by profuse bright red berries in autumn. USDA Zone: Z4
Shrubby veronica (Hebe spp) There are many different forms of these pretty shrubs with oval or pointed leaves and spikes of flowers. Try ‘Autumn Glory’ (deep purple-blue spikes) and ‘Marjorie’ (one of the hardiest, with light violet flowers). USDA Zone: Z6–9
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp) This is a deciduous shrub which is grown mainly for its autumn berries. The forms most often seen are Symphoricarpos albus, with glistening white berries, and S. x doorenbosii, with slightly smaller fruits. Forms of this include ‘White Hedge’ and ‘Mother of Pearl’. USDA Zone: Z3–4


First published 2009 by Guild of Master Craftsman Publications Ltd, Castle Place, 166 High Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1XU
Text © John Bickerton and Graham Clarke 2009 © in the Work GMC Publications 2009 ISBN: 978-1-86108-636-5 All rights reserved
The right of Graham Clarke and John Bickerton to be identified as the authors of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, sections 77 and 78. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission of the publisher and copyright owner. This book is sold subject to the condition that all designs are copyright and are not for commercial reproduction without the permission of the designer and copyright owner. The publishers and authors can accept no legal responsibility for any consequences arising from the application of information, advice or instructions given in this publication.

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