Seaside gardening

I guess I should be honest … I’m really writing a gardening blog because – on a cold winter’s day – I badly need to remind myself how lovely summer can be in the Northern Hemisphere … Not that our garden has always been as it appears above … We moved to an unkempt wilderness, and, since we neither of us had any previous experience of coastal gardening, we turned to the authorities …

I treated myself to a copy of Mrs. Bardswell’s book on Sea-coast Gardens and Gardening …Her references made me laugh! Lady Battersea’s Overstrand garden is really rather grander than is relevant to our little Northumbrian coastal cottage garden.

… Salt airs stir leaves in broad plantations, red and white Roses stud smooth lawns, Lilies flower happily in the half-shade of trees, and pond-flowers are blooming in sylvan lake and pool. …

I think not for us!

But she did make valuable points, among them the importance of plant protection from the prevailing winds.

Success in sea-coast gardening is really a question of shelter. That must never be forgotten. If natural shelter be lacking, however, it is not difficult to build it up.

My elderly copy of Scotts Nurseries catalogue (veritably a gardening bible!) says much the same …

Once a hedge is established to keep out, or even filter, the drying salt-laden sea-winds many tender plants will flourish in our equable coastal climate …

Perhaps the most touching (and expert) advice came from my Aunty Jilly, here enjoying her lovely Edinburgh garden …These are her recommendations for planting for shelter … (somewhat disconcertingly she refers to First and Second Line of Defence as though preparing for a military siege) …So we did indeed plant for shelter – but from the prevailing and often boisterous westerly winds … hollies (variegated for effect), sea-buckthorn, rosa rugosa, ribes …Making a solid protective border of shrubs which the birds and smaller plants love … On the coastal side – looking south-east to the sea – we actually removed the existing defences … taking down the five foot fence so that we could see the sea …Sometimes we pay the price for this folly – as when vicious easterlies sweep in and burn … Just look at the bottom of those raspberry plants … But we can see the sea!We also got advice and inspiration from another source.  A local garden, designed by the wonderful Gertrude Jekyll …Lindisfarne Castle is just over the sea from us – it’s that bump on the horizon, glimpsed here in the soft glow of the evening light …In 1906 Gertrude Jekyll stayed at Lindisfarne Castle a couple of times while the architect, Edwin Lutyens, was also there. Lutyens had been commissioned to renovate the Castle by its owner, Edward Hudson.  It was Hudson’s idea to turn the old walled vegetable garden into a tennis and croquet lawn and develop the valley between it and the Castle into a pretty water garden.  In the event the pretty water garden never materialised – and the old vegetable garden became the Castle Garden where gardening wizard Jekyll worked her magic … We first visited the garden in the winter, so what struck us were the bones of the structure …Even in the winter it was clear that stachys lanata (aka lamb’s-ear) was the plant to grow in this locality … It does indeed flourish very happily in our garden. I think I’d go as far to say that it is one of the most contented of our plants … self-seeding happily … And that splash of silver sets off the other plants so well …Last summer we visited the garden for the first time in the summer months – July.  Normally we avoid the Castle and Garden at that time of the year as it is so busy.

It was indeed busy when we visited. But it was worth it.  And somehow the Garden felt very comfortable with all this busyness – perhaps because it is so fabulously beautiful and everybody was enjoying it so gently.

This is the view looking from the Garden back to the Castle – presumably the area where Hudson wanted his water garden …And if you angle your head a little bit more to the right you can see the mainland over the sea …Great swathes of colour everywhere …But the structure still strong and clear …Masses of sweetpeas …A bench from which to admire the view …Is it folly to take you now from this wonderful wonderful garden to our little patch of Northumbrian heaven to show you what we learned from Gertrude Jekyll … ?! Probably, but I’m going to risk it.

We don’t actually grow that many of the same plants as Jekyll and following gardeners have planted in the Lindisfarne garden. Sweet peas, yes, we do grow them, and they flourish very happily …

Sunflowers can be found both in Jekyll’s garden and ours … Undoubtedly the strength of our garden lies in the poppies which flourish all summer thanks to repeat sowings. They do grow poppies in the Lindisfarne Castle Garden (look behind that bench above) but not in the numbers that we do … Ours are not exclusively red … The other striking feature in Jekyll’s garden is that she’s not afraid of colour – great splashes of it!  Nor are there coy toning colours. Just glorious perhaps vulgar-in-some-eyes colour …We aren’t afraid of colour either.  Look at the strident yellow here: the broom echoing the local farmer’s rape field behind the fence …I think Jekyll would approve of the riot of spring colour provided by the wallflowers … And a little later in the year … lilies, alchemilla mollis, pinks, calendula … (and the ubiquitous poppies) … in vibrant clashing glory … Later in the year too when the crocosmia and loosestrife clash comfortably before the harvested field … In my opinion the most important thing for a seaside seaview garden is a good bench …And I’d like to think that Gertrude Jekyll would agree …


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12 thoughts on “Seaside gardening”

  1. What an absolutely lovely post. Thank you so much for giving me inspiration from a cold and snowy southern Ontario, Canada. My Grandma had books on Gertrude Jekyll and how wonderful to see her mentioned here. Take care and thank you once again for your sweet blog. I always enjoy your efforts. (-:


    1. Thank you, Deb! 🙂 My goodness you are stoical in those northerly climes where you get long long snowy winters! We have the first snow of the winter forecast for us today and it’s rather exciting …
      Gertrude Jekyll was indeed a wonderful gardener – I’ve visited other gardens she designed in the south (I think this garden is unique in being her most northerly work) and they are all beautiful, fitting so well into the spaces Lutyens designed for her. I wish I could take you there, but perhaps with the magic of the internet you can make those travels yourself. I am very touched by your kind encouraging words about my blog 🙂


  2. Kathy your garden looks so colourful and cheerful against the Berwick stone; an absolute joy and having seen it in the flesh the photos bring back lovely memories. I must visit you again soon!


  3. This was lovely…I enjoyed it so much. Last year at this time I took a long train ride from Eastern Scotland to London (I shall be going again soon) and then on to Dorset to visit my daughter. The train ride from my home near Dundee to York is particularly beautiful and I took snapshots of Lindisfarne from the train window. It was a beautiful day, I was blessed. I have yet to visit your part of the country (although I have visited Alnwick briefly and the Castle Gardens there are stunning), but it always thrills me to see it from the train. You have a beautiful location. Not so different from mine, but perhaps a little closer to the sea (I am 2 miles away and uphill by 120m). But your garden is completely different than mine and I love it! I particularly loved your poppies. I have tried to grow them here, but I have only managed to get one or two flowers from thousands of seeds. I do have perennial poppies, particularly the Himalayan Blue (Meconopsis), but these annual poppies are heart-stealers! I’ve never read any Gertrude Jekyll, but she inspires me. The first daffodil has opened up in the gales today……best wishes for the blustery gardening season ahead! Karen


    1. Lovely to hear your thoughtful comment, Karen. We’ve been to Dundee a couple of times on the train and I think all that east-coast train journey is wonderful. I just love travelling on that route, especially the bits round us where you glimpse Holy Island. I am envious that you have Meconopsis in your garden! – That is a show-stealer indeed! I wonder if you would do better with annual poppies if you grew some in pots as we do? I find I can protect them better like that – slugs and snails eat them in the general beds and they get all too easily overwhelmed by the growth of stronger plants. I hope you’ll persist, when they are established as they are here, they provide such fantastic colour … 🙂


  4. Interesting to see the shrub sides of your garden. Have to admit I am green with envy that your agapanthus flowers. Mine did the first year and never again and many I follow on Instagram say the same. Also the sheer vigour of all your plants. I think the secret (apart from your great gardening skills!) is the fantastic open aspect, so much light! It also gives the colours such vibrancy. Agree with you about lamb’s ears. For attracting a range of insects, there is nothing like it: bees (especially wool carder), chrysomelid beetles, shield and stink bugs, and all manner of little difficult to identify creatures. I spend many happy hours with my camera watching them.


    1. I am trying to write replies as little Eggy clambers over the keyboard, purring her soul out so I haven’t the heart to move her 🙂 So my reply may appear a bit odd 🙂 I think you meana the acanthus (not agapanthus – would love to grown them!!) – and I am just amazed to hear that you have problems growing them in Devon. My plants came from my aunt’s Woodbridge garden and they flourished in all the gardens I tended down there, and they seem to love it here. Such fabulous statement plants, providing so much interest through the flowering year. Yes, I am sure it is the light that makes our plants flourish – the benefit of having a south-facing garden. We are very generous too with compost. I don’t think I am particularly good gardener, but I do recognise the garden’s limitations and am no longer tempted by garden centre plants that wither as soon as they arrive 🙂 I am definitely going to spend this summer checking out the bugs on our lamb’s ears 🙂


      1. 😮Sorry, meant acanthus. Have real problems with acanthus, agapanthus and alchemilla – have to say the aca, aga and alcha to myself first! My elderly brain😂😂


    1. So glad you enjoyed it, Anne. I think come February we are really desperate for a little change from winter. Of course, it isn’t far off – I’m sure you already have spring flowers peaking through providing such hope!


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