The Sunday Post (Inverness)

Coastal gardening can be so rewarding

- WITH Agnes Stevenson


Storm Diana was at its height I received a video clip from a friend who lives on the Mull of Kintyre showing giant waves crashing over his garden wall.

It was dramatic and dangerous – stand in the wrong spot and you’d have been swept away – and the garden was swamped. No garden looks its best during a storm surge but on better days this one is in an idyllic spot with breathtaki­ng views towards the far side of Arran and, in winter, little chance of either frost or snow. This sort of maritime climate suits many tender plants, including quite a number from the Drakensber­g Mountains of South Africa. These include red hot pokers and gladioli that grow surprising­ly well along the rain-soaked west coast of Scotland, just so long as they are given really sharp drainage.

Shelter is equally important and is the key to creating a garden just above the high water mark as the challenges of growing in this sort of situation include almost incessant winds that stunt growth and salt-laden spray that scorches the edges of tender leaves.

It can take a long time for a shelter belt of shrubs and trees to become establishe­d, but a temporary windbreak made from horticultu­ral netting will allow plants to put their roots down without getting their heads blown off.

Plants on the leeward side of walls and buildings have a better chance of thriving, but there’s little point in erecting a solid fence as this will most likely be quickly blown over.

A slatted fence, that filters the wind and reduces its force, is a more effective alternativ­e. Selecting plants for coastal gardens isn’t difficult – look for anything with blue-green foliage or a waxy coating to its leaves, and it helps that many of the best plants, such as Sea Thrift, Sea Holly (Eryngium) and Sea Kale (Crambe maritima) are easily identifiab­le by their names. You don’t need to live within sight of the coast to grow these, but you do need gritty, free-draining soil or the chances are they won’t survive their first winter.

They don’t mind getting their feet wet but they don’t enjoy standing in a puddle. I’ve had some success growing Thrift as a wall plant where there’s little more than rock beneath its roots, but even though we live just a mile from the coast, neither Thrift nor any other maritime plants would enjoy my heavy soil. Instead, I concentrat­e on woodlander­s, the sorts of things that relish damp soil and filtered light and which don’t curl up their roots when planted in clay.

Most plants which fail, do so as they are growing in the wrong place so it’s worth finding out how to keep different flowers, shrubs and trees happy. That way you should end up with a garden that flourishes effortless­ly even if the sea washes over it.

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