A SALTY GARDEN
The winter storms earlier in the year brought winds laced with salt from the channel. They tore across Rye nature reserve and, to some degree, were halted abruptly when they hit the trees and houses of Rye and nearby coastal towns. Even the Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) on the front line down at Rye harbour fared badly and were badly scorched and knocked back by the salt. Living near the coast as I do, this sometime ingredient in the climatic mix should be taken into account when planting and it’s worth choosing a few specimens that cope well with the salinity.
One plant I have allowed to remain in my garden is a Tamarisk (Tamarix ramosissima). It was its shape rather than its flowers that captivated me (and in doing so saved its life) because it had been allowed to grow freely and assume an almost gnarled quality akin to that of an old and twisted apple tree, instead of being clipped into a more usual hedge-like form. It’s a plant that doesn’t seem to mind any amount of salty air being blasted at it and indeed the swishing noises any wind, salty or otherwise, makes as it races through its feathery foliage can be a fine sound to listen to. However, if you’re not taken by the Tamarix and would prefer to grow a tree that’s a little more traditional then think about growing a hawthorn or a rowan, both will cope very well with salt.
If you don’t want to be restricted to growing only salt-tolerant plants (or halophytes, to give them their proper term) it might be beneficial to plant a hedge or wind-break made up of plants that can take the brunt of the salt in the air and help stop it from reaching the main part of your garden. Generally speaking, growing a windbreak is often a good idea anyway, whatever your garden’s conditions, as it will help reduce the damage the wind can cause. As I said, the tamarix can be grown as a hedge, but you could think about mixing a few plants together to form a barrier. These plants should be evergreen to give the best effect and can include any of the Escallonia varieties which have flowers ranging from white through to the deepest red, or the silvery-leaved Elaeagnus x ebbingei which will in time form a very dense, almost impenetrable network of branches and foliage. Another salt-tolerant evergreen is Grisselinia littoralis. It has wonderful shiny, apple-green foliage although it’s flowers are pretty insignificant, so if you like plants that are distinctly floral then opt for Olearia macrodonta which bears large clusters of fragrant, daisy flowers.
Of course, as in any salt-free garden, the overall climatic conditions such as light levels and soil type should still be taken into account when planting, but as a walk along the coast will certainly attest, there are plenty of plants that can cope with salt. Crambe, Echium and Poppy are the obvious ones, but think also of Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima) Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantina) and Sea Holly (Eryngium variifolium) if your garden is a well-drained, sunny one. If your garden is shady then perhaps grow some large clumps of Japanese Anemones (of which there are many varieties in all sorts of colours) and perhaps some heucheras or tiarellas planted around the base of a few beautiful lacecap hydrangeas. With a little thought at planting time a salty garden can without a doubt be turned into something rather special.