Over a year ago I was asked to design an outdoor space for a wonderful cafe in Strandhill, County Sligo, called Shells Surf Cafe. The popular artisan cafe and shop has a seafront location in a very exposed part of the Wild Atlantic, North-West of Ireland and designing an area of green at the front was indeed a challenge. The design brief had to take into account the cafe’s modern-vintage surf approach and I decided to create a series of raised walls around the sea-facing patio area. This prettily timber-clad wall in pale blue also became our planters into which we dropped twenty metres of removable planters to be filled with seasonal interest.
Choosing plants for the scheme was the most challenging part of the design. The salt laden winds, which also play a role in the famous surfing waves, create challenging conditions which are far from ideal for creating a successful garden. I searched for some specimens that would represent the feel of the cafe as well as do well in this salty, windy climate and I soon learned that there are not many plants that do well in this particular location. Some plants that in theory would do well in salty, windy climates-such as Hebes-were not so suited to the small narrow planters that the plants needed to slot into. Others needed a soil with more moisture than the planters can offer.
Now we have been through all the season’s with the planters and it is fascinating to see what does well here. We have managed to successfully plant up masses of soft yellow Tulips and dusty pink primroses into these planters last Spring, a perfect off-set to the pale vintage blue of the timber. Autumn/winter interest was provided in terms of Heathers and pebbles, and some golden grasses creating a very earthy and calm view towards the sea.
This Spring, I saw that some plants from last summer that had been stored out the back of the cafe and recovered wonderfully. The white Dianthus ‘Haytor’s White’, which I sourced in Homeland-Sligo, is once again covered in buds, making it an ideal backbone for the summer make-over. This fabulous plant is ideal in this location for many reasons. The delicate, sweet scent is great for the seating area and the double, papery flowers are perfect to underline the modern/vintage feel of the cafe. The plant thrives in the well-drained soil of the planters and though they are said to flower from June to September they already had plenty of flowerheads in early May!
The recent make-over also saw a colourful collection of Osteopermums added as well as sky-blue cushions of Aubrieta and even some pink and orange Ranunculus, which did surprisingly well in the salt air. None though will be as lasting as the amazing Dianthus ‘Haytor’s White’ which I can rely on returning here year after year.