Planning a Seaside Garden

Update on House Planning:

The builders are asking me to outline just where I would like the garden beds to go on our block. Already? I thought to myself.

Before the house has even started and before the final plans for the house are even drawn, I have to envisage and draw up a garden plan. Not the easiest request to fulfill.

But this is the process of construction that we follow. So I comply. Here is my rough sketch.

My scratching of the garden placement in front yard

We have saline soil, it is also a silty clay, and it is reactive, meaning it is prone to movement – the ‘triple bunger’ of worst soils. Fantastic! Not really.

Even sandy soils would have been easier to deal with, I think. But the soil tests don’t lie.

Salty Silty Clay

Garden Design

What kind of Garden do I want?

  • One that is private, but not claustrophobic – some hedging plants
  • Plants that require little weeding or maintenance
  • Palms in pots?
  • A retaining wall or raised garden to improve drainage as the soil will become easily water logged.
  • A climbing plant espaliered along the fence?

Choosing Plants for Clay Soils

What plants would like to grow in poorly drained salty clay soil?

Beautiful lavender bushes at Amandine nursery

Lavender bushes will grow by the coast and will also tolerate salty soils, but need good drainage and thus a sandy soil. (which I don’t have). So they would have to grow in pots.

Perhaps I could grow some Bamboo in pots as a screening plant/informal hedge?

vegetables tomato salad

Apparently I could grow certain veges –

“..most productive plants require good drainage and soil that’s well cultivated to about 30cm depth for good root growth and development, beans and shallow-rooted vegetables such as loose-leaf lettuce can be grown in clay soil.

And then there is some ornamental species such as Day-lilies and Hydrangeas that like clay.

The BHG website describes Daylillies as Tough-as-nails. “It’s trumpet-shaped blooms each last only a day, but plants can bloom for several weeks because they produce many flower buds. Some varieties bloom several times through the summer.”

Grow Daylilies

Nandinas are also very tolerant of clay soils and there are loads to choose from.

Winner Winner!

I was hoping to grow something easy to maintain – like this Nandina – tolerant of clay soils

As clay soils can tend to water log easily, care should be taken with garden design to allow for good drainage. Few plants are tolerant of water logged soils. If I lay down a good layer of loam on top, some ground covers might thrive as long as their roots do not become water logged. I can also improve the soil with compost and organic matter to aerate the clay, but it still is salty.

There are not that many garden plants that tolerate salty soil in high concentrations.

Here are some:

  • Blanket Flower – sounds positively dreary
  • Lantana.- No – it is a noxious weed
  • Viburnum – maybe
  • Yucca – Yuk! Enough said
  • Cannas – I have an inexplicable aversion to these plants for some reason
  • Prickly Pear Cactus – Seriously? – This is a pest that threatened to overtake farmland in the nineteenth century. Why would anyone want this in their yard? A definite NO.
  • Lavender Cotton – previous info seems to exclude this range
  • Seaside Goldenrod – another new plant I wasn’t sure about

Flowering native shrubs such as the Bottle-brushes, Melaleucas, might do okay in moderate clay whilst two Banksias: spinulosa and ericifolia are apparently very tolerant of clay. Even a Westringia might cope and they are a coastal plant. Sounding better.

I have successfully grown Banksias before from seed. You have to burn the cones to release the seeds

Lomandras and Dianellas are tolerant of all but the heaviest clay soils. Some sites recommend the ornamental grasses such as Pennisetem, for heavy clay soils, but as I am highly allergic to grass, perhaps I should forget about that species.

I think the iconic Australian native plants prefer free draining soils, and will struggle in clay soils without some soil improvement. Yareena™ Myoporum parvifolium is a native ground cover tolerant of a heavy clay. That might be useful. But sourcing this could be a problem.

The Native hibiscus might survive and Lilly Pillies are reliable for hedges or screens in clay soils.

“Clay soils can be very heavy and hard to dig, with a tendency towards water logging. While heavy clay soils will need significant improvement before most plants will happily grow.. Improved clay soils can hold nutrients well and therefore can be very beneficial to plants which like a lot of water and nutrient, including many large leaved or tropical plants.”

Kate Wall

There seems to be hope that there will be plenty of plants that might grow successfully in my salty clay garden. Something I’ll Ponder About.

More things to research. Do you have any suggestions for me?

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38 thoughts on “Planning a Seaside Garden”

      1. Yes.. I do.. because we have a little garden too in my province.. i do love gardening.. we have in common plant.. I am not familiar with the last photo.. that’s lovely.. ☺☺ i think that’s rare one.. i don’t have that one.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It is an Australian native Banksia plant from my previous garden. I grew it from seed. They are not at all rare here. There are so many varieties, but I doubt that you would find them outside Australia. The plant became highly adapted to the bushfires in Australia, and so specialised that the seeds will not germinate unless they have been exposed to very high temperatures, like in a bush fire. The advantage for the plant is that the seed then is able to sow in the phosphorus rich ash soil after the fire is gone. Smart plant, hey?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Aw.. you truly save the seeds.. ☺☺ We don’t have that here in Philippines.. I am not sure. but i didn’t see like that plant here.. How lovely Banksia.. Yes it is.. ☺ ☺

            Liked by 1 person

        2. It is a Banksia spinulosa. Want to grow Australian plants….slightly acid soils, lots of compost and not too much water but enough to keep them alive. Water Crystals help. Avoid heavy clay and good drainage is essential. Vibirnums will do well Look at Australian Heath plants for salty conditions too. Hope this helps but I would prefer to use locally grown species, plants that would have grown there originally as they would do the best.

          Liked by 2 people

      1. My husband kills them off with too much water whenever my back’s turned. The terrace is more of a work in progress, as it’s also windy and very sunny, trying to find those that plants thrive rather than merely survive..

        Liked by 1 person

  1. While salty soil is not so good, clay can be used to great advantage. I am thinking of my home country Holland , which is basically the delta of the Rhine river with most of it reclaimed from the sea, so both salt and clay. Yet, it became one of the smallest but most fertile countries in the world and has managed to be one of the biggest exporters of agricultural products.
    The addition of agricultural lime is recommended to break down clay soils. In any case, I would seek advice on how the soil can be improved. It is an exciting prospect to plan a garden. I would also look at neighbouring gardens and see what is thriving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Gerard! Valuable insight. I will just have to follow the Dutch lead. Although I doubt tulips would grown in our heat. We are in a new development so it is a bit hard to look at the neighbours yard. The whole street is getting built at the same time, a few months apart and with different builders. However, I will remember about the lime. That is great advice. What other flowering plants thrive in the re-claimed areas of the Netherlands?


  2. I’m amazed that the builder is talking about your garden area already, but if that’s the process then okie dokie. We have clay soil and can confirm that daylilies grow in it. Once established they take over. However, if you have deer they consider daylilies to be the hot fudge sundaes of plants and will eat all the flowers off the stems, fwiw.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes it is early for landscaping plans, Ally. I rather like Daylillies but there is no danger of deer. We do have a few feral deer species but they are not native to Australia so rarely seen in cities. How frustrating for you that deer eat the flowers? I suppose we have their equivalent in eating blossoms though. We have the possums. Our Ring tail and brush tail possums are cute and cuddly but relish garden plants decimating the flowers on the verge seedlings before they fruit.


  3. I you’re going to build raised beds, check into building them with bricks and cement. A friend’s husband did that in Sacramento, California. He made sure there was good drainage, and then filled them with good soil. They don’t dry out as quickly in the Central Valley heat, and he made them high enough to be easy on their backs. As for plants, check with people in the area, and some nurseries as well. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey from bare soil to your own personal backyard paradise! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Sabine, that is a great idea. Thanks. We were thinking of those interlocking garden bricks. The builders put in a very basic timber edging so that will have to be adapted. I think the raised height would be a great asset to our back and muscular health! I will update you as we go.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m trying to remember the plants that grew well in my mother-in-laws garden. That was in the UK, but the soil was extremely heavy clay based. I remember she had a bushy shrub called cotoneaster. It had pretty bee attracting flowers, followed by berries that the birds loved. I had a friend near the ocean in Perth that also had one flourishing. So possible boy something worth considering. Fuschias also grew very well in the clay soil. Sounds like you have the right idea to keep your palms in pots.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Chris, for thinking of me. I have seen the cotoneaster trees and I do like them, so I will definitely keep them in mind. I would never have guessed fussy fuchsias grow well in clay. I suppose that is because they seem to turn their toes up in the humidity up here in summer, or the high temperatures. If I could grow them I would be very happy indeed. Worth a go I think. I imagine you have a very wide range of the wonderful native plants from your very special areas of SW Western Australia. The most botanically rich part of Australia for flowering natives. Do you grow any in your garden?


      1. We started off with roses in the front garden, and mainly native at the back, as well as my blue garden – plumbago surrounded by agapanthus. But that’s all changing a bit now with raised vege beds, and a few other additions. I suppose it’s a bit of eclectic mix. I love my garden, and change it around quite a lot.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That is the beauty of the garden. A few hours work and a few new plants and you can change the whole look to something else. I like the sound of the plants you chose. I am not a fan of succulents, which are very popular these days. I prefer lots of foliage. The agapanthus is beautiful in flower.


          1. There was a woman’s weekly garden pattern book in the 1990s that showed a garden of blue plumbago surrounded by blue agapanthus. It looked gorgeous, and I’ve wanted my own blue garden ever since. This is the first time I’ve had the room to plant one. By the end of this year it should be mature enough to be looking as I envisaged it. In the photo I saw, the solid agapanthus gave the straggly plumbago a structure that it lacks when planted on its own.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Good point. I will have to think about structure in the garden. I love the little blue plumbago but was wondering if it needs trimming?


  5. Just go with the native plants. People need to stop trying to reconfigure nature to suit their aesthetic needs. In the Southwestern U.S., for example, more home owners are planting cacti and other drought-tolerant types of vegetation, instead of grass and / or plants more suited to wetter climates. Our ancestors let nature take its course and thus, were able to survive for millennia. We modern humans think we know better, which is why we’re in such a precarious situation globally. And, of course, I’m sure you’ll make the right decision, Amanda.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Good Advice! I hope I will make the right decision, Alejandro. But I will have to look a little wider than the local area’s flora. Otherwise I would be planting a garden of Cottonwood and Mangrove Trees…. neither of which would be practical or desirable in a suburban seaside garden. Having said that, I will use species that are used in this region – hardy and salt tolerant ones. The developer makes us put in a garden. Whilst I love gardens, I don’t want to have to weed them in the heat of dinner when everything including weeds, grow prolifically. So a nature based small garden with some adaptations. Stay tuned!!


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