One of my favourite quotes about the sea was written by the Danish author Karen Blixen: ‘The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.’. This is a wonderfully visual statement that always really appealed to me, I even have a mug with the quote written on it! Yes, I live near the sea and have been blessed to spend long, lazy, teenage summers surfing and playing cards on the sand but I think most people will be brought straight to a magically therapeutic salty, windblown seaside place when hearing this quote. The coastal landscape of the North West of Ireland has long been a fascination for me with its many faces and fascinating visual characteristics. From the tallest cliffs in Europe to the many shell-filled, beaches of white sand, this stretch of coast offers an amazing diversity in wildlife. However, it has always been the unique flora that has fascinated me the most. Most maritime plants here grow low and small, close to the ground as though taking cover from the harsh winds and rain. All have adapted to the salty air well and can cope with pretty much anything the climate throws at them, making them some of the hardiest plants available. So if you’re looking for a reliable plant for a coastal scheme, or any rockery or sandy soil garden scheme the Armeria juniperfolia is one very useful little plant.
The Armeria is a small dense evergreen, perennial that forms clumps of bright green cushions. Our own Armeria maritima, which is also known as Sea thrift or Sea Pink, can be found on most beaches in Ireland, where it grows everywhere from rock crevices to literally right on the beaches of slightly protected bays. The flowers are very pretty, born in clusters on longer, leafless stems, perfectly off-set by the needle like foliage below. When they come out in masses towards the end of the Spring, this plant really transforms stretches of landscape, often bathing a whole beach scene in dusty, magical pink.
In the Garden
Bringing them into your own garden is a great start to a low maintenance scheme as Armeria plants are really not a fussy plant, growing well in any well-drained soil. Also, their natural habitat being the coast, they will do brilliantly in seaside gardens where we often struggle to find plants that survive over time. The key to growing them successfully is to make sure they have well-drained soil and plenty of sunshine. This makes them a great plant for the rock garden and I would recommend planting up plenty of them in soft drifts where they seem to form a river of pink. To get the look, have a look how they grow in nature-they scatter randomly over the ground, touching at the edges at times. If you don’t like the effect of only one flower planted en-masse then you can always add in some other seaside loving plants-have a look at my companion suggestions which I think would look really beautiful in a scheme. Sea thrift is also a great plant for containers and over time will fill out a container really nicely, leaving no gaps just masses of the small, evergreen needle like foliage with the added bonus of soft pink blooms.
To give your garden that really authentic seaside feel plant a few good companions for the Armeria. here are some of my favourites for a coastal scheme:
Erigeron glaucus -seaside fleabane or beach aster
I love this daisy like plant for so many reasons. It is a wonderful plant for a coastal scheme as it copes very well with salt-laden winds. It is a wildflower native to the beaches and coastline of Oregon and California and has all the charm of the daisy with the added bonus of lilac a soft hue. It will start to blossom with the Armeria but keep on flowering well into August which makes it a very long blooming addition to the coastal garden. Scatter this little one in all across the scheme in irregular groups of threes and fives and see the effect they have. So dainty and yet so effective.
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ fountain grass
I don’t think I’ve ever designed a garden without using a grass of some kind. Whether low growing matted forms for groundcover or taller ones that allow plumes of fluffy seedheads to rise up out of the flowers there truly is a grass for every scheme. The Fountain grass is a softly arching deciduous grass that can deal well with the winds of the coast. It will grow to about 1.2 metres at most so it will definitely be places somewhere towards the back of the border here to act almost as a backdrop for the other plants. Again, I am a big fan of planting numerous plants for effect and would reccommend growing them in irregular groups. Having said that they do work well as a block planted grass but remember that they are deciduous so will lie dormant over the Winter months. It really comes into its best in late Summer when the soft squirrel like tails of the flowers nod in the sea breeze.
Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’
If you’re looking for a plant that looks good all year then Lavender is definitely one of the most popular plants for the coastal garden. The ever reliable evergreen of the plant teamed with its floriferous nature has long made it a favourite for all gardens. It is a great flower for the wildlife garden and will see many butterflies and bees drawn to its sweet scent. In the coastal scheme it is valuable for its ability to withstand both winds and salt-laden air and if it has the right growing conditions can really flourish in the coastal setting. Making sure it has fertile but well drained soil is a good start and trimming back the plant carefully in April will see a great display of blooms and a neat habit. Perfect for planting with the Fountain grass.
Buy these plants at Woodies stores nationwide woodiesdiy.com
I am a big fan of products that are inspired by nature and the story of the Atlantic Equipment Project is wonderfully simple example of this. The design of these modern, practical and beautiful products is rooted in the coastal bogs, rock pools, old woodlands and waves of the wild West Coast of Ireland. The designs, which range from small satchels to Totes and Backpacks, reflect a simple lifestyle of a community that loves nature and the wild and most of all the famous waves of the North-West. Having studied at the University of Limerick and at the esteemed surroundings of Dutch design at The Technical University of Delft, founder and Designer Ashley Smith has cleverly merged her love and expertise of Design with her lifelong passion for surfing and the results make a quiet and understated statement with strong impact. Made from waxed cotton and duck Canvas, which has long been used in the sea-faring trade, the bags are water-resistant and hardwearing and aim to get better with age. Perfect for an Atlantic adventure. For more visit Ashley’s site atlanticequipmentproject.com
Last year I saw the most fascinating display of Armeria maritima at Culleenamore Beach in Strandhill, County Sligo. Masses of thrift cover a large stretch of sand here, literally where high tide meets the land. There is nothing prettier than a mass display of one plant looking totally at home and natural in its setting. Strandhill village and its surrounding landscape is a fascinating place to explore with so much on offer. The mountain Kocknarea, home to Queen Maeve’s tomb rises magestically behind the village on the and the village is home to many great. There are many gorgeous hikes and trails all of which have their own unique flora and fauna. The recently launched Queen Maeve trail is a great way to see the all of the Sligo and Ballisodaire bay spread out before you. Another stunner is the Killaspugrone Church nature walk which leads in a loop around the headland and has views across the bay, over Coney Island to Benbulben. When you’re done walking, the VOYA seaweed baths are a serious treat for sore muscles and if you get hungry there are plenty of foodie options. Shells Surf Cafe is right on the beach and serves delicious homemade food in a beautifully designed modern-vintage inspired setting -they also have a seriously cool little shop. In the evening you have plenty of options. The Strand is always a favourite with the locals for music and the Draft House is the newest addition to the village, boasting a great selection of craft Beers, live music and a great casual, contemporary dining menu. For more info go to gostrandhill.com