Creating A Coastal Garden Paradise

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Updated: December 3, 2019

Sunshine, sand, your own private oasis where you can lie back in the shade, gaze at the warm blue sea and enjoy alfresco dining in the warmer months – that’s what many of us imagine when thinking about a coastal property. There is a uniqueness about Australian beach gardens that is harsh yet strikingly beautiful at the same time. They aren’t lush or delicate, they don’t require lots of water or maintenance and they shouldn’t be confused with tropical. It is the dry, resilient environment of the Australian coastline we want to replicate.

Coastal gardens are relaxed places with an emphasis on natural materials, local plants and comfortable places to sit, lounge, cook and even bathe. Achieving that in a coastal environment with salt-laden winds and sandy, nutrient-poor soils is not always easy, but with prudent planning, protection from those salt-laden winds, well-placed screening and careful plant selection; it can be done.

Avoid formal lines and instead incorporate a natural fl ow that curves through the landscape. Try to achieve a harmonious medley of elements and a sense of calm. Locate open spaces within the garden, as well as intimate seating areas to enable users to explore and be immersed within the garden.

Bring the beach home! Since coastal plants are already adapted to growing in sand, why not bring that feeling home? Instead of mulching with the usual suspects, sand will showcase the garden and make your clients feel on holiday all year round.

To get a good idea of what plants are local or indigenous to the area, contact your clients’ local council for a list of plants that are found in their coastal zone. Next, take a stroll around the immediate neighbourhood to get a good idea of what thrives and what survives. After that check with your owners if any plants are to be kept for emotional reasons. Lastly, consider keeping any dominant plants/trees and design the garden around them, or perhaps use them as a focal point rather than considering them as nuisance value. It also saves on project costs.

The key to selecting plants is to look for varieties that offer movement and texture.

If we also consider plant hardiness zones at the planning stage, those living in zone four – which mostly consists of a broad area of coastal Queensland, the north coast of NSW, Sydney and stretches across the continent to Shark Bay and Geraldton in the west – are in prime spots to showcase the relaxed holiday-inspired style that we associate with the coastal garden.

This zone has warm summers and cool winters, with the majority of rainfall in summer. Following the zone guidelines will help avoid pests and diseases, water restrictions and premature death of plants due to high temperatures, frost or even high humidity. Don’t fight nature!

Rather than plant a few varieties here and a few there, plant on mass to create a visual impact. Plants to consider are all the native coastal plants, succulents and those that grow on the coast in other regions with a similar climate such as the Mediterranean and California in the USA.

Coastal grasses and ground covers are the first to colonise the sand dunes, creating an environment for the larger plants to establish. Tussock grass (Poa labillardieri) is an eye-catching option. Pigface or angular pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens) is a hardy spreading ground-hugging succulent that grows in sand, but also a range of soils and has delightful bright pink fl owers. Beach spinifex (Spinifex sericeus) goes hand in hand with pigface and can be easily grown.

Coastal rosemary (Westringia fruticosa) looks fantastic when clipped to form a tighter ball and can add a bit of order to any surrounding chaos. This tough plant is an over-achiever and performs very well in a wide range of conditions. It has also been bred into many forms including dwarf and variegated varieties with different fl ower colours.

TIP: Avoid planting this species next to a driveway because over time, the carbon monoxide from the vehicles will thin them out and eventually kill all growth.

There are always prevailing breezes on the coast. Living shelter is a cheaper option for reducing wind velocity than solid structures. The leaves of tough, wind-hardy plants will not only reduce water loss caused by wind but will also fi lter out the salt, so the salt doesn’t kill the more delicate plants.

It is possible to extend your plant choice quite significantly if you create shelter from these strong, salt-laden winds. Walls, fences, and trellis screens are an obvious solution, especially for creating courtyards close to the house.

A well-designed coastal garden will weather and age naturally over time, enhancing the garden’s overall look and atmosphere.

When building structures, look for materials that have texture, age and a natural patina. Avoid those that are too clean and perfect. Incorporate sandstone blocks and weathered timber as decking, seating or steps.

Raised garden beds made from corrugated galvanised steel add another dimension to the garden. These elements, when placed naturally and combined with sand or gravel as a mulch gives the design a somewhat earthy feel to it.

Everything at the beach is strong – light levels, heat, the landscape – so if your clients want garden accessories and art to make a statement, the bolder the better.

Bright colours should abound.

Install outdoor furniture from the many timber hardwoods. The added advantage is that with age, they change colour to further blend with the landscape. Remember, comfort should be a key element.

TIP: Try to use 900+ density timber (weighs 900kg per cubic metre) as found in some Eucalypts because softer timbers absorb moisture and are more likely to split and crack.

Another choice is furniture made of strong and maintenance-free synthetic fibres (usually polyethylene) woven on aluminium frames. The wicker look – a technique of weaving since Egyptian times – has stood the test of time.

Relatively new to market is Glass fibre reinforced concrete (GFRC) tables. This product withstands temperatures from below freezing to above 50 degrees centigrade. They offer the popular industrial look.

No beach garden is complete without an outdoor shower to rinse off the sand and it’s a unique experience bathing or showering outside. Make sure any shower choice you make is made from 316 grade marine stainless steel to help stop rust.

It’s not an Aussie backyard without the ubiquitous barbecue. Here’s an opportunity to incorporate one in your project. Maybe include an outdoor kitchen in your design to enhance your client’s lifestyle.

There’s something special about having friends and family enjoying each other’s company by the light of a crackling fire at night with the sound of waves in the background. A firepit can be safely incorporated into all sizes of landscape designs. Ready-made firepits in all sizes and looks are easily sourced online at manyretail outlets, or better still, build a bespoke barbecue for your client.

TIP: Use specific high heat mortar for any firepit masonry work. It has high heat resistant characteristics and excellent strength properties.

Any good coastal garden design starts and ends with components that require little to no maintenance because owners will want more time to relish their little patch of paradise.