Gardening by the sea

Our September meeting focused on something which concerns most of us round here to some degree – trying to garden effectively within sight of the sea. Quentin Deakin is from Cambrian Coast Gardens in Tywyn, and himself lives within 150 metres of the coast, so he knows the problems: high winds, salt, sand, intense rain, intense sunshine…

But there are advantages too. By and large, coastal climates are milder, with cleaner air, good levels of sunshine and seaweed available as a fertiliser (only in moderation, see below). He tests various things in his own garden, and is using Rosa rugosa

rosa rugosa

as a hedge, though he is also experimenting with tamarisk, pruned to shape. Windbreaks, as he stressed, are essential – he pointed to the way trees will grow better close to the coast when protected by something like the gable end of a ruined farm building – and density of planting can also help.

When it comes to plant choices that will cope with the demands of a seaside garden, Mr Deakin stressed the value of looking at wild plants that flourish in our environment, whether that’s things like sea pinks,

sea pinks

seen here on the Mawddach Trail, or various sedums and sempervivums,

which can do very well indeed. What other plants are worth thinking about? Well, among others, buddleias and hydrangeas (he suggested some of the more unusual varieties) can cope, as can grasses (Zebra grass generally stays upright, often in the face of high winds) and things like cordylines. He also recommended chokeberry, and pointed out that cotton lavender often thrives as well. He has had success with hollyhocks, somewhat out of fashion at the moment, but spectacular, and with all sorts of sea hollies. He brought along one, E. agavifolium,

which went onto the raffle table and led to more ticket sales! (the photograph is courtesy of Beth Chatto gardens, who have it for sale… just saying, for those who didn’t win the raffle).

Footnote: using seaweed.
The collection of seaweed is illegal, but the laws are really designed to stop commercial, widescale depletion; the key, says Quentin Deakin, is not to be greedy. You have to rinse the salt off or expose it to rain, and then let it rot down, either in the compost bin (in smaller quantities) or in its own bin – he generally keeps seaweed separate. It can be used as a concentrated fertiliser. dug in to the soil in January or February, 


Dyffryn Gardeners’ Question Time

January is always a bit off-putting in the garden: it’s cold, it’s squishy underfoot unless the ground is rock hard and/or covered in snow. But it is a perfect time for assessing things and sorting out problems. So we began the year with our very own version of Gardeners’ Question Time, only without Bob Flowerdew and the the rest. We had our own team of experts: Guy, Sheena and Karen, all professional gardeners, and Tony, our previous chairman, to keep order.

Dyffryn GQT

We’d asked for questions in advance, so our three experts could at least do a little research (the same thing happens on the radio programme, as those of us who attended the recording at Portmeirion last year will know).

So what did we learn? Among other things…

  • The only real solution to a giant pampas grass too close to the house is a mini digger.
  • Now is the time to lime the soil if you have had stunted vegetables in the past (we have acid soil here) – but not for spuds.
  • Wood ash from a stove is good as a slug preventer, but not particularly thrilling as fertiliser. However, wood ash from a bonfire is much better as the soil-nutrition benefits are in the green wood, which is normally part of a bonfire.
  • Kiwis come in male and female – though there are some exceptions -and if your kiwi is failing to fruit it may be a lonely male (there’s more information about growing kiwis here).
  • Never overcook a sprout if you want to ensure it’s edible, along with several other tips. Interestingly, we did a headcount of the people in the room who loved or hated sprouts, and by far most people liked them – in defiance of reported statistics.
  • When to prune azaleas, and how to prune them into the delicate layered shapes beloved of Japanese gardeners.
  • Possible help for an extremely exposed hedge in which most of the plants specifically recommended for wild and windy coastal conditions had died. Elaeagnus was suggested, along with planting a shelter belt of willow.
  • When to plant gladioli in order to get the best blooms for the Show (this was answered very carefully – not that there’s an element of competition, oh no…)
  • Ways of stopping mildew affecting hollyhocks too badly.
  • How to identify bacterial canker on fruit trees (a sample was provided).
  • And you cannot use an overflowing septic tank as fertiliser (happily, a sample was not provided)!

It was a great evening, enjoyable as well as informative. Many people said afterwards that they wished they had asked a question in time, so we’re intending to repeat our own GQT. And January is the prefect time.