Coastal garden design incorporates natural textures, weathered finishes, a loose and relaxed planting style, and places to stop and enjoy the ocean views stretching out in front of you.
Although an ocean view can present difficult conditions, it also offers the opportunity to grow crops that thrive in the salty, windy and exposed location, creating a design that is second to none.
The beach is a place of escape and reconnection with nature. So incorporate some of these key elements into your backyard ideas to create an outdoor space that perfectly complements its surroundings.
Coastal garden ideas
The most important aspect of designing a coastal garden is to use the ocean and the conditions it creates as a source of inspiration. Make the most of the natural, rugged beauty of the landscape and work with it.
“If you have a view of the sea from the house, the star of the show will be the water. The task for the garden then is to stay fairly still, reduce the visual noise in the foreground and focus on the water and take in the view,” advises garden designer Helen Elks-Smith (opens in new tab).
1. Plant with a palette inspired by the environment
When it comes to the plant color palette for flower bed ideas in a coastal garden, take inspiration from the seaside setting. “I like to look at the sky, the sand and the materials and influence the colors from there,” explains garden designer Jo Thompson (opens in new tab).
Incorporate wide swaths of coastal plants that will tolerate the prevailing salty, windy and dry conditions and add color, texture and movement to your garden landscape. Using colors that reflect the marine theme helps the garden blend in better with its surroundings.
“Silver, olive green, purple, white, blue and yellow are typically the colors found in native coastal plants, but splashes of vibrant, hot color can also be introduced with Kniphofia,” adds garden designer Sue Townsend (opens in new tab).
2. Use local materials
When planning the harsh landscaping in a coastal garden, “use local stone where possible to reinforce the connection to the landscape – local materials will draw from the same color palette of the soil and blend calmly into it. If the budget doesn’t allow it, choose an alternative material from the same color palette,” suggests Helen Elks-Smith.
Add boulders and other landscape ideas with rocks to define areas, or act as impromptu seating and use local stone for garden path ideas.
Like any other garden, hard landscaping should complement the architecture of the property and connect with the surrounding landscape. “If you find yourself on a rugged, rocky coast, repeat the rock you see around you. or if you’re near a shingle beach, source pebbles or gravel from a local quarry,” adds Sue Townsend.
3. Protect yourself from the elements
A coastal garden can experience strong, salty winds. So if you have the space and are able to plant a windbreak of fast-growing shrubs and trees that can withstand these elements, this will help provide some shelter.
“If space is limited, a sturdy hedge can help filter and slow down the effects of wind, or another option is to create mounds or sunken areas in the garden,” advises Sue Townsend.
The degree of protection required depends on whether the garden is directly on the coast or a little further back. “Protecting the entire garden is likely to spoil the view, which is best avoided. Blocking the wind in a coastal garden is likely to cause air turbulence, which can create new problems. Slowing down the wind and focusing protection on key areas is likely to be more successful and produce more predictable results. Larger plants are very effective at slowing down the wind,” says Helen Elks-Smith.
4. Use fences for shielding
If you’re looking for garden fencing ideas, a slatted frame can offer some protection from the wind, suggests Sue Townsend.
“Hit-and-miss” fences – where the boards are alternately attached to the front and back of the rails – whether vertical or horizontal, will likely withstand the wind better than a solid fence and cause less turbulence. Bespoke fences that play with ideas from the coastal landscape are also worth exploring,” advises Helen Elks-Smith.
5. Build raised beds
Raised beds are typical of a coastal style and a solution to dealing with the poor soil of many coastal gardens and are also a solution when designing a sloping garden as many coastal properties are.
When it comes to materials to use, look for reclaimed wood from local prospecting yards or local stone from quarries. Work with materials that you know will work in the area and take stock of what appears on site,” advises garden designer Jo Thompson.
Also, consider recycled farm feeding troughs or old, reclaimed boat hulls to reinforce the nautical theme.
6. Plant in gravel
To recreate the natural feel of plants growing randomly out of sand and gravel like you would find on the coast, create a gravel garden by planting locally sourced gravel or gravel with a selection of drought tolerant plants. Choose both ornamental grasses to add height and ground covers to climb over the rocks. The gravel also acts as a mulch to help retain moisture in the soil.
“I import compost and mulch to improve the soil under the gravel or gravel, and then move the gravel back—always with what’s there,” says Jo Thompson.
‘Plant in a weed-free soil and then lay gravel or gravel 40mm deep. If you stick to this depth, the weeds will have a hard time germinating – any that appear over time tend to be airborne and are easy to pull out. Planting this way gives you more ease and flexibility to lift and move plants and add bulbs over time, rather than wrestling with cutting holes and planting in geotextile membranes under the gravel,” advises garden designer Sue Townsend.
7. Design with decking boards
“Wooden decking does well in a sunny spot in the garden and has a wonderful coastal vibe if left to the weather to turn it silver,” explains Sue Thompson.
Perfect for a sloping garden, deck ideas can be set at different levels to enjoy different views.
“In practice, make sure all metal fixtures and fittings aren’t corroded by the salty winds—lights, balustrades, and screws made of marine-grade stainless steel would work best,” adds Sue.
“Use hardwood, make sure it’s not slippery and that it will last,” says Jo Thompson.
8. Comb the beaches
A coastal garden is peppered with finds from wreckers, along with collected shells, rocks, driftwood and salvaged artifacts.
Add to that old wooden crates and weathered pots for container gardening ideas, filled with plants suited to the conditions, like succulents like Aeonium and Sempervivum, which work perfectly in a seaside context and work well in salty winds.
9. Plan for a seating area to enjoy the view
Creating a seat in the garden to enjoy the sea view is paramount when designing coastal gardens.
“Once you’ve found the perfect spot with great countryside views and windbreaks, the next consideration is to make sure that same space blends into the landscape,” explains Helen Elks-Smith.
Planting to elevate the view of the landscape and soften the view of the home’s seating area and furniture is key.
10. Include naturalistic curves
Reflect the natural lines of the surrounding landscape in your coastal garden design, allowing the garden to blend into its surroundings. Just as coastal paths meander along the shore, design garden paths and borders to feel carefree, loose and gently undulating.
What are Coastal Gardens?
Coastal gardens are those that are situated next to or near the ocean on the coast and are therefore exposed to the winds, salty air and often dry, sloping soil conditions associated with the site.
The choice of planting must therefore take these conditions into account to ensure that the plants chosen for the site can cope with the conditions. Coastal garden design can also help protect plants and create better growing conditions.
“For many coastal gardens, adjacent plots and trees will slow prevailing winds and reduce salt spray and provide a greater variety of plants,” explains Helen Elks-Smith.
How to make a garden by the sea
You can design a seaside garden by incorporating any of the above design elements. In fact, you don’t have to live by the sea to create a coastal garden design, and even inland and urban gardeners can still recreate the feel of a patch of sea by planting with coastal plants that work well in many conditions and have features, materials and textures, connected to the coast.