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Top 10 Plants for Coastal Gardens

Gardens by the coast are subject to a completely different set of conditions to those inland. Both may be affected by strong winds, but at the coast these are likely to be laden with salt which can burn delicate plant leaves. Frost is less common in coastal areas, thanks to the effect of the water, but sunlight can be more intense.

The soil may be thin, chalky or sandy, depending on the area, and it is likely to drain very quickly. This can be improved by adding plenty of bulky organic matter regularly, such as well-rotted manure or home-made compost, but it will take time.

Look for plants with tough, rolled, hairy or waxy leaves and those with really small leaves, as these are all adaptations to coastal conditions.

Look for Latin plant names including:-

  • littoralis - of sea shores
  • maritima - maritime, coastal

Armeria marítima

The “sea thrift” is a low-growing perennial that forms a tuft or mat of spiky-looking green leaves. It produces taller stems with clusters of white, pink or red flowers in summer. These tough little plants even grow on cliffs at the coast, so they will tolerate most exposed positions. Ideal in containers as long as they have enough moisture.


There are several species of Cytisus, or “broom”, shrubs. Some are short, others tall, but all have adapted to coastal exposure by reducing their leaf size to a minimum and using their green stems to manufacture food instead. All have typical “pea” flowers in shades of yellow, orange or red.

Elaeagnus x ebbingei

Most forms of Elaeagnus are hardy enough to withstand exposure, but this is one of the toughest. It has leathery, metallic-looking leaves of a sea-green, with a silvery or bronze metallic sheen beneath and on young stems. In autumn, it has tiny white flowers amongst the leaves that are highly fragrant. You often smell the flowers before you see them.


These attractive evergreen shrubs are ideal as a screen, particularly the fragrant, white-flowered form 'Iveyi' which was found in Cornwall and is highly resilient to coastal exposure. They are ideal as hedges to provide shelter for establishing more tender plants behind. They flower reliably from summer into the autumn.

Griselinia littoralis

This is an attractive large shrub or small tree that can be grown as a tough, resilient hedge for shelter. The glossy apple-green leaves are medium-sized and rounded, with a waxy coating and almost leathery texture. There are several smaller forms with pretty variegated foliage.


Hebes (now known as Veronicas) are bushy evergreen shrubs with waxy purple, pink or white flowers all spring, summer or autumn, depending on variety. They come in all sizes, from 30cm (12ins) to 1.2m (4ft) tall and the foliage can be ornamental, from green to gold and variegated. They grow in all except heavy, wet soils and are very tolerant of coastal exposure.

Ilex aquifolium

With a very few exceptions, hollies all have tough leathery leaves. This makes them very useful in an exposed coastal garden. They are good as hedging or single plants, but come as separate male and female plants so both are needed if you want berries for decoration or to feed the birds.


The leaves of lavender are covered with fine white hairs, which serve to trap moisture and deflect both wind and excess sunlight. This makes them perfectly adapted to most exposed conditions except where the soil is wet. The fragrant purple, pink or white flowers all summer are highly attractive to bees and other insects, and may be dried for use indoors.

Phlomis frutcosa

The “Jerusalem sage” is a low-growing, spreading evergreen shrub with sage-like leaves and bright yellow flowers in summer. It is low maintenance and ideal for a coastal situation in full sun and away from damaging frost. The seed heads can be left in place over winter for added interest.

Spiraea japonica

There are many forms of Spiraea, but not all are tough enough for a coastal position. 'Bumalda' is a small, rounded shrub with small, toothed leaves and flattened heads of pinkish-white flowers in late spring to early summer. This plant is low maintenance and will grow well in full sun. 'Anthony Waterer' is similar, but has flowers of deep pink.

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This story was published on: 28/06/2024

Image attribution: Alec D / Pexels

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