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 …

Potted gardening

I have been busy, busy, busy out in the garden over the last month, seizing every available wind-free moment to get out and tidy up.  As I’m a fair weather gardener (preferring not to be out when gusting westerlies are blasting around) that limits the available time somewhat.

Part of the drive to get on with the garden has been the need for pots! You see, we garden increasingly in pots, and over the last month the impetus has been to get the summer plants out and the bulbs in.

Let me take you through our gardening year and show you how we are increasingly becoming a (potty?) potted garden …

The first spring flowers – always a great lift – are in the pots on our patio.  These are February’s Iris Reticulata from a couple of years back. The plants here flower first because the patio faces south and is the most protected part of our garden, sheltered from all winds except the extreme (and very nasty) easterlies …Hard on their heels are daffodils, tulips, narcissi and forget-me-nots …Then – come April and May – we start serious potting.  The bulbs are all turfed out (to be replaced with fresh next year) and we pot up sweet peas (you can see them staked against the wall) and seeds …Seeds, seeds and more seeds …We grow poppies, cosmos, dahlias, nicotiana, nigella etc etc – all in pots. Early in the spring we have to accommodate these seedling pots and they find homes all around the garden. Here they are beside the raised veg beds …Meanwhile the main flower bed is looking just gorgeous with the plants that are growing in these little beds …The trouble is that these flower beds are just crammed with spring goodness, and there’s not much space for later flowering plants …Come mid-June we got an evil vicious blast of easterly wind, and this is what it did to the pot beside our front door!  One of the reasons we grow plants in pots is so that we can move them at such times, but alas, this one’s just too big to move …It also caught the bottom of the raspberry plants, but luckily the other pots are protected by the raised beds … Everything recovered of course, and in early July the pots took on a life of their own – bursting with growth, full of promise …The patio beds were really flourishing now  – and so were the pots around and about. Hard to tell which is which …The sweet peas we potted up earlier were doing very well in their protected spots beside the bench …There was a feeling of abundance and leisure about the place …The biggest problem with growing so much in pots is told in this picture which I rather think was taken with Ilsa in mind. But it’s the backstory that’s really important here – yes, the hose. All that constant watering! And this year – with hot hot days for so very long – called for more watering than usual …But while all is glorious around the patio, these little beds by the fence look tired and weary. It is now that the pots come into their own. Spread around in the flower beds, they don’t add much yet, but just wait – they will!In the pots round the patio we had some rather stunning black poppies in flower, and they demonstrate so well why we grow so many seeds in pots.  These seedlings need nurturing – sown in the flower beds they are often lost, eaten by snails, or just buried by other more dominant plants …Black poppies lose those sultry black petals all too easily, but when the plants are grown in pots we can easily take them in when strong winds are forecast …Come mid-August the pots in the flower beds are beginning to prove their worth with fabulous blasts of colour … This pot of mixed cosmos and poppy plants is my favourite …Look at the light on the sea behind these pots of poppies and nicotiana!This September the landscape was dominated by the rich brown of the ploughed field.  The hot hot summer had pushed everything ahead. Normally our view would be of golden fields for some time into September, but this year they are long gone.  With this view the pots are only just holding their own  …The Dahlias still look striking against the blustery sky …Happy gardening days for our little family! (this was before Ilsa’s attack that I wrote of in my last blog) What were Stephen and Ilsa talking about?!!And on the patio the sweet peas pots are still doing very well though everything else is looking a little lack-lustre …But come October it’s all change again – time to empty pots and plant up veg seedlings to overwinter in the greenhouse! These are spinach, lettuce and salad greens.  They won’t produce a great deal, but it’s still nice to be able to pick some fresh salad veg over the winter …And the other pots?  Well, they’re all sorted, emptied and tidied away – the glorious summer flowers consigned to the compost heap.

New spring bulbs have been planted, and here are the pots today, 24th November, – still a few lingering calendula and nasturtium flowers, but those pots at the back which look so dormant are – well exactly that!Watch this space come spring!