I LIKE TO BE BY THE SEASIDE

August, for me, conjures up sand and sea; it's the month of holidays for many and what better place to spend it than on the beach. Seaside runs the whole gamut from rather quaint, picturesque, Victorian-style with donkeys on the beach (a childhood thing, as I don´t suppose that is allowed anymore!); the colourful beaches of Southern France with striped windbreaks and tumbles of painted houses; exotic and tropical sands framed by green palm fronds; to tiny bays at the feet of gaunt rocky outcrops. My personal idea of sandy perfection is Spain´s Atlantic coast with its kilometres of fine white sand; I like its rather wild, woolly and untamed look. There's so much of it that, even in full holiday season, you can always still find your own private corner. There´s nearly always a breeze to cool and give you that wind-swept look; sometimes it sandblasts you too! There are rock pools to fascinate with their sea life for hours and, of course, those magnificent rolling waves. So the flip flops are already packed and we go to unwind, flop and do nothing. Recharge batteries and think of whimsy and wonders; the mind wandering hither and thither as it never has time to do during the rest of the year! We (almost) leave internet and wifi behind, never look at the tele and pack a pile of fascinating books. But, there is one thing I cannot ever quite leave behind and that is my burning passion – some might call it nosiness – for other gardens and plants! Walking along sandy tracks, I cannot resist peering over fences, peeking through gated courtyards to see what is growing in those seaside gardens! All gardens have some sort of challenge, but seaside ones are, probably, some of the most difficult. They may be less prone to low temperatures but they are usually in very exposed positions and suffer hugely from wind-burn and salty spray. Many are also only occupied during the summer months and must look after themselves during the rest of the year. They´ve got to be really tough and totally tolerant. So – what do these seaside gardeners grow? Firstly, most good ones will have an all-important windbreak. Trees that are honed into wondrous shapes by the wind. Try the pines; pinus nigra, pinus pinea or stone pine and pinus pinaster or maritime pine. You see them all along this coastline and for good reason! For something more colourful go for the wonderful tamarisk with its springtime froth of pink flowers and fine leaves – it, too, twists and turns to the tune of the wind. And Jupiter's Beard, lagerstroemia indica or crepe myrtle tree with its delicate-looking crepe paper flowers in pinks, lilacs and white or hibiscus syriacus, in the same colour ranges, with double or single flowers. Both are tougher than they look or sound, rarely breaking branches no matter how strongly it's blowing. The toughest palm of all is chamaerops humilis, the dwarf Mediterranean palm – which is also, incidentally, immune to the palm beetle – and is seen all along this coastline. Inside the tree line the tough shrubs take over and these are some of the best! Eleagnus x ebbingei or silverberry with frosted white leaves; try intermingling with dodonea viscosa purpurea, the purple-leaved hopbush for a very striking combination. Silver-grey leaves lead the way in toughness and drought resistance, so try teucrium fruticans, acca sellowiana or pineapple guava, metrosideros excelsa or New Zealand Christmas tree (for its festive red flowers) and various cistus with their tissue-paper soft flowers. There are several prickly plantings that are often seen too; prunus spinosa or blackthorn – which give us sloes for adding to gin – the berry-bearing pyracanthas and mahonias and the really spiny shrub rose, rosa rugosa and r. rubrifolia glauca with its coppery-mauve foliage. The tumbling branches of mock orange, philadelphus coronarius, sway and swing in the wind wafting that delicious orange blossom perfume and I like too the swaying heavy flower heads of cestrum elegans, in deep rosy pink. Some photinias come with lovely marbled leaves of grey-green, cream and pink or there is photinia Red Robin with bright red young shoots. Dense greenness can be achieved with viburnums, v. tinus or v. lucidum and both bear heavily scented creamy-white flowers and the Californian lilacs, ceanothus, have deep green small leaves which are a great contrast to the sky-blue flowers. They come in many sizes from sprawling ground-cover to large shrubs. Another very useful family are the Australian grevilleas; all are tough and tolerant and, again, there's a huge range of sizes. Try g. rosmarinifolia, g. rosea, g. olivacea (looking like a wild olive) and the lowest of all, g. lanigera Mt. Tamboritha. These are collectively known as spider flowers because of their unusual and attractive flower shape. Lower plantings often come in two distinct shapes; those with sword-shaped leaves so that the wind can easily filter through them. Things like agapanthus, kniphofia, tulbaghia, phormium, allium, anigozanthos, allium and crocosmia are all examples of this type, along with a great many grasses. Rounded balls of plants tuck in to avoid the worst weather; things like lavender, perovskia, convolvulus cneorum, senecio viravira and artemisias such as a. stelleriana and a. Powis Castle. Small or fine-leaved plants also suffer less. Hence plantings like helianthemum, cerastogima wilmotianum, hebe, dianthus, spartium junceum, erigeron karvanskianus and achillea do the job well. Salvias are stalwarts of maritime gardens too. Look out for any plants that bear the name maritinum in their name – it´s a sure sign of a maritime background. So, plants like armeria maritima, crambe maritima and that prickly customer, eryngium maritinum or sea holly – these are definitely old crusties. As is limonium Salt Lake which seems to have salt crystals already layered on its leaves. Some taller plantings can be introduced with euphorbias and towering verbascums whose rosette of leaves hug the ground anchoring that tall flower stem. Gaura and verbena bonariensis will sway and dance like whirling dervishes, bending and bowing but never breaking! Remember that all these plantings are ideal for us too. For those of you with seaside apartments they are perfect; but hillside campo dwellers too can get vicious winds. These are truly the wind-busters! Happy holidays! Please remember that the Garden Centre is closed during the month of August, re-opening on Tuesday 6th September 2016.

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