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How To Create a Seaside Garden in the Town

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Even if we live some distance from the shore, it is still possible to recreate a sea-garden, especially if we are coping with poor soil conditions, since coastal plants that are regularly buffeted by howling gales and the drying effects of sea breezes, have a special kind of resilience all of their own. If the garden is in full sun for most of the day with hard-baked soil, beds full of stones or rubble; or even shallow soil with rock, slate or pure chalk just below the surface, then a sea-garden might be the ideal solution.
What you'll need: 
a site that should be in full sun for at least half of the day;
an assortment of large and small rocks;
an enormous amount of golden shingle (or pea-gravel);
board-walks (decking);
appropriate plants
First of all, assess what you have and decide what can be discarded and what is an asset; but don’t be too hasty in removing any established shrubs or trees that will destroy your privacy. If neighbouring properties offer only an unprepossessing view, erecting woven screening above the existing wall or fence height can help relieve this situation. You wish to create a garden where you can ignore the world beyond, and enjoy the benefits of your inward-looking space.
The idea is to create a garden that has an atmosphere all of its own and very personal. So if you have a tool shed to disguise, forget the creosote – paint it a brilliant bathing-hut yellow or candyfloss pink! On the other hand it is important to avoid the ‘cluttered look’, which can arise from using too many different focal points.
Start by deciding where your ‘sitting’ area will be (however small) and work outwards from there. Dig out all the perennial weeds, flatten the ground and, for the best results, use a porous membrane to cover the entire area. This often makes planting awkward but will pay dividends in the long run as it reduces the evaporation of moisture from the soil, cuts down on watering and stifles weed-growth. It also prevents gravel from disappearing into the soil.
You can never have enough gravel and if you spread it deep, it will mean you can conceal plants in their pots … which makes it easier to move them about, and controls the spread of the roots in any invasive varieties. Most builders’ merchants have different qualities of gravel and it will pay you to mooch about to see what’s on offer. It can either be delivered by the lorry load, or in huge reinforced bags. Either way, unless you can have the gravel tipped straight onto the plot, you will land up with an enormous heap of the stuff at the front of the house, which then has to be moved. Nevertheless, think beach … and be generous!
Decking is available from most DIY stores and buying with foresight, will enable you to re-position it from time to time. If you have space, a boardwalk could lead to a decking patio area for sitting out, surrounded by a sea of gravel. Choose slatted wooden garden furniture to match. Or a small town courtyard area could be set out like a chequer board, with decking and gravel making up the squares, to create visual texture all year round. Like the sea, your garden should never be static.
Garden centres now sell a variety of large rocks up to boulder size, although a monster rock would need to be allocated a permanent site on arrival. Complimentary materials like rounded boulders, timber and dressed stone can create an imaginative hard surface if blended with the right gravel and planting. And mixed materials work well together in small spaces – such as parallel flagstones laid as ‘rafts’ in a sea of pebbles.
As for planting, the following will survive in dry, sunny conditions: ornamental grasses, thift, sea kale, horned poppy, sea holly (or similar), sea buckthorn, tamarisk, burnet rose, rosa rugosa, heather, sea lavender or samphir.
Also take into account that if the garden is in full sunlight all, or most of the day, it will be unbearable to sit in unless you provide yourself with some form of artificial shade. Think ‘seaside’ and go for one of those really large colourful garden umbrellas, or a bright, retractable awning. Both also give the added advantage that you can still sit outside, even when it’s raining!
To make it personal, every garden needs a ‘conversation piece’ that is not a mass-produced purchase from the local garden centre. Be on the look-out for unusual items such as an old-fashioned lobster pot, coloured glass fishing floats, a large piece of driftwood, a ship’s lantern, bell or wheel, etc. A friend once lugged home a huge, painted figurehead from an old ship that had long before gone to the breakers’ yard, but it now has pride of place in the garden, despite its hideous and disagreeable countenance! Strategically placed, these items can add their own little bit of sea-magic to an urban garden.
Choose a variety of plants and shrubs that will provide colour all year round.
Although gravel will retain moisture, water plants well during hot summer months.
Although you can remove large interesting pebbles or rocks, and driftwood, from a beach, it is illegal to remove plants from the shore-line.


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