South Hams - The Challenges of Devon Coastal Garden Design

Coastal Garden Border

We're incredibly fortunate to live and enjoy working in South Hams, but in terms of garden design for this area, it would be fair to say it has its challenges.

We are faced with the planting dilemmas that our amazing strong summer suns and decimating south westerly winds bring, then there is the sea salt, and the fact that we love nice gardens but everyone’s out walking, at the beach or gone for a sail. So when it comes to South Hams, it’s fair to say maintenance free is preferred. Finally to cap it all – when the nights draw in, the winter sun for some disappears and the wind steps up a gear.

How do you plant a Coastal Garden?

So how do you plant a beautiful garden to cope with all this? Well the first rule is always right plant/right location.

Rule no: 1 Right plant / Right location

For example - we would use something that copes in sun, shade or wind. However, plants that meet these categories still need to be interesting. So what would I pick?

One plant that we frequently specify for coastal gardens is Alchemilla mollis.

Alchemilla Mollis

It is a great low maintenance plant as it rapidly self-seeds (I love free plants) and it acts as a great foil to other plants with its chartreuse flowers. The leave shape is so distinctive it creates drama and the whole plant looks fabulous when wet. Did I mention South West Rain?

One plant – lots of impact

So one plant can create lots of stunning effects and it will survive and thrive.

Rule no: 2 Mulch Mulch and Mulch a bit more

All too often coastal gardens, especially in areas such as the Yealm, Dartmouth and Salcombe are too hot in the summer and plants can get fatigued. Also if the usual British weather of dry one, wet ten creeps in, then a real breeding ground for weeds is created.; So mulch! It helps trap moisture, it prevents weeds and it can condition and change the structure of the soil. we usually use compost (watch the mushroom compost as it can make your soil more acidic) or pea gravel. The latter can look great in a Devon coastal garden setting, and a ubiquitous use of some geotextile membrane hidden under the mulch can also help for the tricky to access/really low maintenance areas, your gardener will love you forever.

Rule no: 3

Look at the wind tunnels

It is always worth analysing your plot and identifying the wind tunnels. You can then adapt your planting/zoning of the garden around this.  So are you in a corridor of houses where the wind is funnelled between two properties? Do you have any shelter in front of you? Does the wind funnel over a solid fence on your boundary?

Once you have identified the tricky conditions of your site, you can start to filter and absorb the force of the wind.  Example of how to do this include: planting native shelter belts, replacing a solid fence with a partially open framed fence, or staggering plantings of hardier smaller shrubs to reduce the flow of wind.

Finally, as the border picture shows, a coastal garden can be a real thing of beauty and a good garden design should give you a pleasant picture for all 12 months of the year – albeit from inside the double glazing with a coffee as you stare out at the rain.