West Coast Garden Style: Gardening By The Beach
DESIGNER OR ‘AL NATURALE’
The secret tip to designing a West Coast garden is…wait for it…don’t design it! The charm of most beach houses and their outdoor spaces is that nature is left untouched to be wild and free and tousled in the salty air as it should be. It’s very hard to have a manicured garden by the coast anyway as the salt-laden winds, hot heat and glare off the sand and little shade, make it a harsh environment that most garden plants won’t like. Forget having a lawn, please!! The Pet peeve I have is going to seaside towns where everyone has a horrible patch of dry, brown lawn at their empty holiday house just for their pooches and kids to run around on once or twice a year. A lawn needs watering and mowing and most folks on holiday don’t like doing this at all and so lawns creep into neighbouring wetlands and fynbos areas where the soil retains more moisture, where soon they choke out all the myriad of indigenous plants growing there.
WOOD, STONE, SHELLS
The beach house should blend in with its natural surroundings and ideally be constructed of local materials and following local building methods to truly give it that holiday feel. A few towns along our West coast have some houses that have got the West Coast garden-style wonderfully right. Paternoster, Churchhaven, Elands, Grotto all have some beautiful examples and the outdoor spaces are treated just as ‘minimally’ as the interior, where natural woods, stone, shells, thatch and whitewashed walls lend a Mediterranean simplicity that is very appealing and calming. The West Coast is home to the most beautiful indigenous plants and every year attracts thousands of visitors who flock to see the veld turn into a rainbow of colour in Spring when the west coast flowers bloom. The brackish, slightly alkaline sand supports a wide array of flowering groundcovers, shrubs and perennials and even trees that can all be used in the West Coast garden.
When establishing a new garden by the beach, the first thing to do is plant fast-growing groundcovers and scrambling plants to stabilise the shifting sand. Most of these are used to being ripped apart by strong winds and so propagate very easily from cuttings. Good choices are Carpobrotus dimidiates and edulis, Scaevola plumeri, Arctotis auirculata and stoechadifolia flower with bright lemon yellow to bright orange blooms as well as Gazania rigens with its black striped markings. Other ones that do very well by the coast are Cliffortia feruginea, Geranium incanum, Helichrysum petiolare and cymosum, Jordaaniella dubia, Lampranthus roseus, Monopsis lutea, Pelargonium capitatum and Ruschia macowani with their pink jewel-like succulent flowers.
WINDBREAKS & SUCCULENTS
Creating a buffer from the wind is important for protecting your beach house and also for establishing more tender plants until they can tolerate the harsh environment. Good trees for buffering the wind are the Dune Guarrie (Euclea racemosa), the Wild Olive (Olea europea subsp. Africana), Salix hirsuta, the iconic Milkwood (Sideroxylon inerme) and the Camphor bush (Tarchonanthus camphoratus). Scrambling shrubs that grow big enough to buffer the wind are Chrysanthemoides incana and monilifera, Metalasia muricata, Rhus crenata, Brachyleana discolour. There are lots of wonderful flowering succulents for the beach garden in South Africa. Good choices include Cotyledon orbiculata (grey and green varieties), Euphorbia mauritanica, Lampranthus aureus and Othonna cylindrical and dentate.
PERENNIALS & BULBS
Of the flowering perennials, favourites include Arctotis ‘silver lining’, Eriocephalus africanus and racemosa, Felicia amelloides and heterophylla, Limonium perigrinum (see in our latest plant of the month here), Monopsis lutea, Osteospermum fruticosum, Orphium frutescens, Pelargonium betulinum, Salvia lanceolata, Scabiosa incisa. Beautiful bulbs for the West Coast garden include Amaryllis belladonna, Babiana stricta, the amazing Candelabra Flower (Brunsvigia orientalis), Chasmanthe floribunda, Lachenalia bulbifera, Watsonia marginatawith its pale pink blooms and Zantedeschia aethiopica. When putting it all together, look to nature to see what is growing in the sand around your beach house and copy its palette with a few spring-flowering bulbs and summer perennials to add into the mix to ensure your garden is pretty when you are there in the summer.
The simple charm of West Coast garden style can incorporate crushed beach shell pathways, sun-bleached river rocks amongst the groundcovers, driftwood pieces used as a sculpture or as a table adornment, old buoys tied to your gate post, old boat rope to mark parking areas and used as fencing, gum latte screens, pergola or awning, timber and whitewashed furniture, beach pebbles and collected beach glass art. Keep what you put together to a limited selection and combine the simplicity of white and pastel colours with natural materials. Wicker and the new range of plastic wicker outdoor furniture work well for the beach house feel, combined with hard-wearing canvas materials for sun shades, windscreens, day beds and chair cushions.
Decking, either real wood or the faux version, make the best patio and deck surfaces for the beach house, which can happily age to a silvery grey and are not too hot underfoot in the harsh sun. Real stonewalling works very well too in this style and ideally local stone should be used to enhance the braai chimney, built-in seating or fireplace surround if you are ‘accessorising’. Forget the little twirly seagull on the gate, leave your slip slops on or off and let the real seagulls and smell of the sea into your heart at your seaside getaway. If you like the beautiful beach house images pictured in this blog and you want to visit this piece of paradise, then research the Perfect Hideaways website of their Churchhaven accommodation choices.