Seaside gardens

In gardens, foliage is as important as flowers.’
Kitty Henry, quoted in Garden Voices: Australian Designers - Their Stories

Gardening by the sea can be a challenge. For example, relatively few coastal species produce beautiful flowers. Plantings also need to be tolerant of wind, salt and sandy soils, and this greatly restricts your choices, ruling out many species that would do poorly or be killed by the conditions. It's best to treat this as an advantage rather than a limitation!

Coastal Jack-bean (Canavalia rosea) is a coastal species with lush green foliage and icy-pink flowers. It is perfectly adaptedto sandy seaside situations. Image by Tracee Lea ©.
Coastal Jack-bean flowers are distinctive and quite beautiful. Image by Carl Glaister.
Accepting and working with rather than against the limited range of plants that grow naturally in coastal situations can bring unity and coherence to seaside gardens with less effort than gardens when there are more options. Colour palettes are often in shades of grey-greens and silvers typical of plants that grow naturally in exposed conditions, and foliage is often a feature of coastal gardens for this reason. These tones can be used to complement the ‘beach look’ of many seaside homes, with white, grey-green and grey-blue paint colours and wooden decking.

Coastal Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa) is a classic seaside plant with appealing foliage. It has uses in both formal and informal settings. Image by Kath Gadd. All rights reserved.
Seaside gardens are usually informal, though they can be designed to be formal if the range of plants is carefully selected. Skillful gardening could even use or mimic the way harsh coastal winds ‘prune’ species such as Coast Tea Tree (Leptospermum laevigatum) to create an effect that mixes formal and natural features.
Coast Tea Tree (Leptospermum laevigatum) is an outstanding small seaside tree. Its
trunk is often twisted and leaning, sometimes nearly horizontal. Image by Emma Rooksby.
Coastal Banksia (Banksia integrifolia) is another tree that takes on interesting sculptural forms in windy conditions. Image by Keith Horton. All rights reserved.
Natural material such as rock and weathered timber can be successfully included in the landscaping. Small trees and shrubs can be selected to provide windbreaks creating protection for smaller colourful plants  for added interest. Berms or mounds can be created as a landscaping feature, by using this approach natural-looking shelter is achieved, mimicking coastal forms such as dunes.
Here Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens) is used in a naturalistic way to trail over a rock wall. Image by Alison Mellor ©.
This coastal garden features Spiny-headed Mat-rush  (Lomandra longifolia) and Blady Grass (Imperata  cylindrica) as well as a range of other local and Australian natives. Image by Mat Misdale.
Some plants to consider include:

Exposure-tolerant trees
Celery Wood (Polyscias elegans)
Small tree with neat rounded crown and glossy leaves
Yellow Wood (Sarcomelicope simplicifolia)
Very attractive small tree, with a neat rounded shape and broad leaves
Native Celtis (Celtis paniculata)
Small, robust tree with spreading canopy
Coast Canthium (Cyclophyllum longipetalum)
Small tree or tall shrub with masses of fragrant flowers that turn from white to orange then brown
Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa)
Medium tree with felty leaves and pleasing bunches of creamy-white flowers
Coast Banksia (Banksia integrifolia)
Small or medium sized tree with flowers in the form of ‘candles’ containing nectar; full sun
Old Man Banksia (Banksia serrata)
Small tree with gnarled trunk and interesting leaves and flowers
Black She-oak (Allocasuarina littoralis)
Small, neat, upright tree to 6m with fine needle-like foliage
Drooping She-oak (Allocasuarina verticillata)
Small tough tree to 4m with a drooping habit and fine needle-like leaves
Common Boobialla (Myoporum acuminatum)
Shrub or small tree with long pointed leaves and white and purple flowers, best grown with other plants
Illawarra Plum Pine (Podocarpus elatus)
Dense but slow-growing shrub with glossy dark green leaves, eventually a tree but can be kept pruned
Large shrubs for windbreaks

Coast Teatree (Leptospermum laevigatum)
Tough shrub or small tree to 4m, with neat grey-green foliage and white flowers; branches may twist into interesting shapes; full sun
Tree Broom-heath (Monotoca elliptica)
Bushy shrub or small tree to 3m, with bright green new growth; full sun or part shade
Coastal Wattle (Acacia longifolia subsp. sophorae)
Low, often prostrate shrub 1.5m to 3m with masses of yellow flowers; full sun
Sunshine Wattle (Acacia terminalis)
Leggy shrub with pretty lacy-looking leaves, red stems and masses of pom-pom style flowers; full sun
Smaller shrubs

Wedding Bush (Ricinocarpos pinifolius)
Striking shrub to 3m with soft, needle-shaped leaves and beautiful white flowers; sandy soil; part shade
White Correa (Correa alba)
Shrub to 2m with grey-green leaves and pretty white flowers; full or dappled sun
Coastal Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa)
Shrub to 3m with small leaves and a neat habit; best in full sun
Coast Beard-heath (Leucopogon parviflorus)
Prickly shrub to 1.5m with tiny white flowers; part shade
Broom Heath (Monotoca scoparia)
Tough, compact shrub to 1.2m with tiny white flowers; full sun
Hop Goodenia (Goodenia ovata)
Spreading shrub with yellow flowers, enjoys sandy soil but needs protection from wind; part shade
Common Boobialla (Myoporum boninense subsp. australe)
Low often prostrate shrub to 2m with shiny leaves and purple fruit; full sun
Woolly Pomaderris (Pomaderris lanigera)
Small shrub to 1.5m with woolly leaves that turn red before falling; part shade
Sea Berry Saltbush (Rhagodia candolleana)
Tough, spreading shrub to 1.5m with red fruit; can be used for hedging; full sun or light shade
Small plants and annuals

Flannel Flower (Actinotus helianthi)
Classic coastal plant with grey-green foliage and flowers; full sun
Sea Celery (Apium prostratum)
Small coastal plant with leaves that can be used like parsley; full sun
Ruby Saltbush (Enchylaena tomentosa)
Tough small coastal shrub with stunning small fruit in yellows, oranges and reds; full sun
Cockspur Flower (Plectranthus parviflorus)
Low semi-succulent plant with lightly mint-scented foliage; full sun or part shade
Tough or sand-loving groundcovers

Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens)
Succulent groundcover, with edible fruit and young leaves; full sun
Coastal Jack Bean (Canavalia rosea)
Vigorous climber with attractive leaves, pink flowers and fruit; full sun
Hairy Spinifex (Spinifex sericeus)
The classic ‘tumbleweed’, a sparse rambling plant of coastal dunes; full sun
Dune Fan Flower (Scaevola calendulacea)
Tidy-looking groundcover with sweet fan-shaped blue flowers; full sun
Warrigal Greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides)
Low spreading plant with soft green spinach-like leaves; part shade
Purple Coral Pea (Hardenbergia violacea)
Tough sun-loving climber with prolific purple flowers; best in full sun
Beach Daisy (Melanthera biflora)
Spreading tall groundcover or low shrub with yellow daisy-like flowers; full sun or light shade

Saltwater Couch (Sporobolus virginicus)
Tough running grass, particularly suited to dry sandy soils in full sun
Barbed Wire Grass (Cymbopogon refractus)
Mid-sized clumping grass with ‘barbed-wire’ shaped flowers; full sun
Tussock (Poa labillardieri)
Tough clumping grass with grey-green leaves to 80cm; full sun
Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra)
A robust and attractive clumping grass to 1m with drooping red-green flower- and seed-heads; full sun
Strap-leaved plants

Beach Flax-lily (Dianella congesta)
Clumping plant with long mid-green leaves and purple flowers and fruit; full sun
Swamp Lily (Crinum pedunculatum)
Hardy long-leaved plant to 1m with white flowers on long stalks; full sun

Dune Fan Flower (Scaevola calendulacea) is an outstandingly hardy coastal species that has appealing flowers. It grows on sand in full sun. Image by Leon Fuller.
Swamp Lily (Crinum pedunculatum), pictured here with Burrawang (Macrozamia communis) in the background, is a striking plant that will grow almost anywhere. Image by Tracee Lea ©.

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