||Best sun loving plants
People move to the coast for many reasons, but one that is often high on the list of priorities is the greater number of hours of sunshine that seems to go with the territory. However, as we saw in the last chapter, bright sunlight can be the death knell for many plants. So which are the plants that thrive in full sun – by the coast?
Most gardeners look for a garden that faces the sun. In the northern hemisphere, this means a south-facing garden, whilst in the southern hemisphere it means a north-facing garden. A garden facing the sun means that we can sit and enjoy the sun’s heat, without our houses casting large swathes of shade. Of course, such a garden means that we have to grow plants that also enjoy being in the sun.
During the longest days, when the sun is at its highest in the sky, your coastal garden can, if you are not careful, turn into a desert. It is easy to plant the wrong kind of plant in a sunny position. At best it will become a poor specimen and at worst you could be consigning it to an early death. And, if this happens to a number of plants, your garden could appear baked and barren.
Therefore it certainly pays to choose the plants that will be most at home in the full glare of the sun. At this point you might think of cacti and succulents, and certainly these plants are appropriate to many coastal situations. However, we are not including them in this chapter; such desert-like plants generally need poor soil, excessive dryness and copious sunshine, and the average temperate garden, even near a sunny coast, does not fulfill
all of these criteria.
Fortunately there are many other plants that enjoy a position in full sun and, even when you whittle this number down to those that also tolerate wind and salty air, there is still an embarrassment of riches. Let’s look at some of them.
Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa) This long-lived, stemless, evergreen perennial with sword-like leaves coming from a central rosette needs bright sunshine. In summer it produces creamy-white bell-shaped flowers in clusters on stalks. The form ‘Variegata’ AGM has leaves that are margined and striped yellow. USDA Zone: Z4
African lily (Agapanthus spp) Grown for their round heads of blue trumpet-shaped flowers in summer, these plants have a distinctly exotic feel. They thrive by the sea and in full sun, but they hate root disturbance. Look for the ‘Headbourne Hybrids’ in colours from deep violet to pale blue. There are also white forms, and one of the deepest blues is ‘Northern Star’. USDA Zone: Z7–9
Bedding geranium (Pelargonium spp) There are hundreds of different cultivars and species available, such as the hybrid ‘Flower Fairy White Splash’, and they rarely disappoint. They enjoy a hot, sunny summer and tolerate drought conditions well. They flower in early summer and continue until the first frosts of autumn. USDA Zone: Z10
Bellflower (Campanula spp) The Campanula genus is huge. It includes a range of biennials such as the familiar Canterbury bells, C. medium, available in blues and whites. There are also perennials, for example, the tall, lavender-blue C. lactiflora, best at the rear of the border. Another fine perennial is the dwarf C. incurva ‘Blue Ice’. It grows to just 12in (30cm) or so, and is smothered during summer with masses of flowers with glistening blue and white tinges. USDA Zone: Z3–5
Blazing star, or gay feather (Liatris spp) Liatris are colourful, hardy perennials, needing light, free-draining soils. They have bold spikes of feathery blooms. ‘Floristan Weiss’ is white, but it is more common to see lilac and purple forms, including the main species, L. spicata. USDA Zone: Z4
Sea mallow (Lavatera maritima AGM) There are annual lavateras as well as the woody perennial types, such as L. maritima, which, as you might expect, is a good plant for the coast. It is a soft-branched shrub, which can reach up to 6ft (2m) in height. The stems are a brownish green, aging to brown before becoming a pale grey. USDA Zone: Z9
Chinese miscanthus, or eulalia (Miscanthus sinensis) With some 40 different forms, this is one grass that no garden should be without. They have an overall whitish or reddish colouring, depending on variety. The cultivar ‘Silberspinne’ makes an upright clump of narrow leaves, with long flower stems that are reddish at first, becoming silvery. USDA Zone: Z4
Coneflower (Rudbeckia spp) There are several dozen species and cultivars of the yellow, daisy-flowered Rudbeckia, but some of the best for a sunny, coastal garden include forms of Rudbeckia hirta. Look for ‘Herbstsonne’ AGM (deep yellow and tall, for the back of the border) and ‘Cappuccino’ (deep golden-yellow tips to the petals, with a copper-brown base, giving the flowers a central dark zone). USDA Zone: Z3–6
Day lily (Hemerocallis spp) There are hundreds of varieties of day lilies. The flowers do last for just one day, but they come in such profusion and over such a long period that it is not really noticeable. Most grow to 2–3ft (60–90cm) in height. ‘Children’s Festival’ is a lovely peach, yellow and pink-flushed form. USDA Zone: Z3–5
Delphinium (Delphinium spp) As well as the tall, blue-spiked perennial, this genus has become popular as summer-flowering annuals. There are also dusky pink (‘Strawberry Fair’) and cream (‘Butterball’) delphiniums available. If it is the blue forms you want, try ‘Blue Butterfly’ (royal blue) and ‘Blue Lagoon’ (mid-blue). USDA Zone: Z2–5
Dwarf mountain pine (Pinus mugo) This species varies from sprawling shrubs to small trees. Most have well-spaced green needles and winter buds. The cultivar ‘Gnom’ reaches a height and spread of 6ft (2m). ‘Mops’ AGM is half this height, whilst ‘Krauskopf’ is half this height again at just 12–15in (30–38cm). USDA Zone: Z3–8
French marigold (Tagetes patula) There are dozens of cultivars available, in shades of yellow, orange, mahogany and mixtures of the three. Most forms range from 6–12in (15–30cm) in height, with flowerheads up to 2in (6cm) across. The African marigolds (T. erecta) have larger flowerheads and tend to be more shade-tolerant. USDA Zone: Z9
Ice plant, or stonecrop (Sedum spectabile) The brick-red flowers from plants of this species are hugely attractive to butterflies and bees. The best cultivar is ‘Herbstfreude’ AGM, known by many as ‘Autumn Joy’. The flat flowerheads start rich pink, then deepen in colour. USDA Zone: Z4
Indian shot plant (Canna spp) These tender perennials grow from thick rhizomes. Plants die down in the autumn and, if you live in a temperate or colder climate, you will need to lift the rhizomes and store them over winter. There are hundreds of varieties, most with brilliantly coloured flowers. Some also have multicoloured leaves, including ‘Picasso’ AGM. USDA Zone: Z8–10
Japanese iris (Iris ensata AGM) This is one of the most impressive of irises, but it is a moisture-lover and it also dislikes limy or chalky soils. The flat flowers can be up to 8in (20cm) across, single or double, single-coloured, or blended or netted with different coloured veining. A good hybrid, though hard to find, is ‘Miyako-Oki’.There are dozens of alternatives, all with very subtle differences to the flower colours. USDA Zone: Z4–9
Knapweed, or cornflower (Centaurea spp) If you have a poor, hot, dry soil, and want plenty of bees and butterflies, then these plants are for you. Centaurea ruthenica has shiny, dark green, fern-like leaves and fluffy, slightly thistle-like heads of light, lemon-yellow. C. macrocephala is a giant example with large, fluffy, yellow flowers carried on 6ft (2m) stems from early to late summer. USDA Zone: Z3–6
Large-flowered tickseed (Coreopsis grandiflora) All of the varieties of this yellow, daisy-flowered perennial are good for a sunny coastal garden. The flowers appear throughout summer and early autumn. Two of the best are ‘Flying Saucers’ and the slightly taller ‘Mayfield Giant’. USDA Zone: Z7
Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) This annual blooms from early summer to mid-autumn. The straight species has pale blue flowers, but different shades have been bred over the years. Look for ‘Oxford Blue’ (dark blue), ‘Miss Jekyll’ AGM (bright blue) and . papillosa ‘African Bride’ (white). The characteristic seedheads are attractive in their own right. USDA Zone: Z7
Lupin (Lupinus spp) Lupins are grown for their early to mid summer flower spikes reaching 3–4ft (90–120cm). There are many forms and colours; some of the most attractive combine two or three colours on the individual pea-shaped flowers. Lupinus versicolor has a spreading dwarf habit. Flowers are blue, white or pale yellow. USDA Zone: Z3–4
Large flowered magnolia, or bull bay (Magnolia grandiflora) This is a superb, hardy, flowering evergreen; it starts life as a shrub, but can grow into a tree 20ft (6m) high and more. Its leaves are oval and laurel-like. The dramatic flowers are globular, thick-textured, creamy white and exude a spicy fragrance in late summer and autumn. USDA Zone: Z6
Michaelmas daisy (Aster novi-belgii) Although these plants can suffer from mildew, asters brighten up the garden in early autumn like nothing else. There are dozens of excellent and bright cultivars. Look particularly for ‘Peter Harrison’ (pink with a yellow centre), ‘Marie Ballard’ (pale blue), and ‘Winston S. Churchill’ (cerise). USDA Zone: Z2
Montbretia (Crocosmia spp) Growing from corms, these hardy perennial plants are grown for their mid- to late summer flowers. They appear on stiff stems and in a range of colours from pale orange and yellow, through to deep reds, such as the cultivar ‘Lucifer’ AGM. USDA Zone: Z7
Mullein (Verbascum spp) These biennial or short-lived perennial plants are not to everyone’s taste, but they do have a stately presence. They thrive in poor, dry soils and produce 5ft (1.5m) tall spikes carrying saucer-shaped flowers. ‘Twilight’ produces strong spikes that are cream in bud, opening to distinctive, deep apricot-pink flowers that fade to cream. USDA Zone: Z4–5
Nepeta (Nepeta spp) There are a number of perennial nepetas. They belong to the catmint family and need a sunny spot. . x faassenii AGM is the true catmint, while the cultivar ‘Six Hills Giant’ is twice the size, at some 3ft (90cm) in height. The slightly less hardy . tuberosa grows from a rhizome and produces violet and purple flowers. USDA Zone: Z3–5 (. tuberosa Z8)
Ornamental cherry (Prunus) There are hundreds of types of Prunus, including these Japanese flowering cherries. They are grown for their white, pink and sometimes red flowers, which can be single, semi-double and double, and are followed by the cherry fruits. Prunus ‘Shosar’ has single, blush-pink flowers. USDA Zone: Z2–8
Ornamental onion (Allium spp) These are generally grown for their large, rounded heads of tubular flowers in various shades of purple, lilac, lavender, white, pink and blue. There are many forms to choose; Allium hollandicum AGM has dense purple-pink flowerheads. USDA Zone: Z5–9
Osteospermum (Osteospermum spp) If there is one perennial that could be said to be a sun-lover, it is this one. At night the daisy flowers close up, but in the sun the blooms are wide open. Flower colours vary from white and cream, through pinks, lilacs and purples. The cultivar ‘Beira’ has white flowers and a black ‘eye’. USDA Zone: Z7–9
Paper flower (Bougainvillea spp) In hotter countries, Bougainvillea covers buildings with masses of bright magenta, orange and pink flowers. In temperate countries, though, it may need winter protection, so is best grown in containers. It needs a sunny position and shelter from coastal winds. USDA Zone: Z9
Swamp foxtail, or fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) This is a most decorative, ornamental grass. Pennisetum features bristly flowers, which appear in late summer and early autumn, varying from a bluish purple to pale pinkish brown. This species grows in dense clumps of bright green, narrow, arching leaves. The cultivar ‘Hameln’ is a low-growing form about 20in (50cm). USDA Zone: Z7
Red hot poker (Kniphofia spp) These stately plants with tall spikes of summer flowers really give an ‘architectural’ quality to the garden. There are forms just 2ft (60cm) high, whilst others can reach 6ft (2m). ‘Royal Standard’ AGM has flowerheads graduating from yellow at the base of the ‘poker’, to fiery orange at the top. Other varieties have shades in the white, cream, yellow, orange and scarlet range. USDA Zone: Z5–7