This blog reviews the latest products, plants and innovations in gardening. It also provides a link for my many gardening friends who are members of the GardenMessenger and Seedmessenger Yahoo groups and their sub-groups that I moderate.

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Location: Australia

I am a semi-retired UK botanical garden curator and former international horticultural consultant, who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia. I spend part of the year in Australia and part in Europe, mainly due to family and work commitments. I earn my living from writing and editing Internet copy, articles and books. I have written over fifty books on gardening and have been translated into twenty-four different languages. I am a former UK Garden Writer of the Year and a previous Quill & Trowel Award Winner from the Garden Writer’s Association of America. I am interested in developing gardening communities on the Internet and I manage the popular GardenMessenger Yahoo group, along with its various sub-groups like PondMessenger and SeedMessenger. I also edit International Water Gardener and its associated regional web-sites.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Seaside Gardening, Annual Flowers and the Festival of Fruit

Hydrangeas are great seaside plants

One aspect of gardening that is rarely addressed, but very important, is the affect of the proximity of the sea upon a garden and the problems that salt spray and salt in the air bring to the plants. Although having been brought up in the UK, an island nation with a great number of gardens along the coastline, it took many years to fully appreciate the difficulty that seaside gardeners have and the restrictions that salt places upon what they are able to grow. It is even more remarkable in colder climates with really hostile winters. My aunt and uncle, who lived near Sydney on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, always had a lovely garden not far from the sea, and yet one winter when I visited them the temperature was way below zero, the rose bushes were all tucked up with protective cut branches of conifer, and the snow lay thick on the ground. My first experience of snow shoes and driving a skidoo, also of really cold temperatures.

Tamarix can be very useful

Despite the combination of cold winter temperatures, a short season and salt laden winds the garden was remarkable, much of it depending upon annuals and herbaceous plants. In the winter salt spray did not seem to be such a problem as for the most part it was so cold that there wasn’t any! Not like in the more temperate parts of Europe and the United States. Salt spray in more temperate areas during winter can be devastating, especially to evergreens, clogging up their leaves and causing severe burning that takes the plants most of the summer season to recover from.

I have never had a garden right on the sea front, but I have spent two years within the sight of the sea, probably a couple of miles away, and that still had some influence upon the plants that I was able to grow. For the most part cypress-type conifers were out, but pines were fine. Hydrangeas were brilliant, as were escallonias, although some were cut back quite severely in cold winters. Tamarix, which in some areas is regarded as a noxious weed, is excellent in those places where it can be trusted. When well grown it is an elegant large shrub or small tree, depending upon species, with delicate sprays of pink blossoms.

Calendula 'Orange King'

For the seaside garden though, one of the best options are annuals. They are also much under-valued for gardens anywhere. There has been a trend amongst gardeners for many years to look to low maintenance planting and this has been promoted by the gardening media. Annuals fall outside that trend in that they require a bit of labour input in the early stages, but the rewards can be fantastic. There is nothing more colourful than a well planned and maintained annual bed or border. Annuals also have the additional value of being able to add almost instant highlights to dull permanent plantings.

Hardy annuals are wonderful colourful plants for providing a summer-long display. Some kinds can also be sown during autumn with a view to providing late spring and early summer blossoms, especially in warmer districts. However, there are insufficient different kinds available that will respond to this method of cultivation to enable a border solely of early flowering annuals to be created in cooler areas. Here autumn-sown annuals are more usually grown to create highlights in the mixed border. However, it is generally conceded that in most gardens spring sown annuals are the only option available to the gardener, especially where the soil freezes solid during the winter and there is heavy snowfall. Few over-wintering annual flowers can endure such conditions. Not that this is much of an impediment, for most gardeners agree that an annual that is raised from seed that grows on unchecked into the summer is likely to make a better plant, even if later flowering, than one that has over-wintered, even under mild conditions.

Lavatera 'Loveliness'

Annuals should be sown on soil that is crumbly and will rake out into a fine tilth. In order to achieve suitable soil conditions preparations should be made well before sowing. When spring sowing is proposed turn the soil over in as large lumps as possible during the autumn and winter and allow it to weather. It will then break down into a crumbly tilth in the spring that is perfect to receive the seeds. For most annuals the incorporation of well-rotted garden compost or manure into the soil is beneficial when digging, as it will then have time to decompose properly before the seeds are sown. However, leave it out of any areas where plants like nasturtiums might be expected to grow. These much prefer a lean hungry soil. A rich soil promotes lush leafy growth at the expense of flowers.

Cosmea 'Sensation'

With the soil raked and levelled, shuffle across it with the feet from side to side. This creates a firm seed bed and does not compact the soil and make root penetration difficult. Rake the soil gently to level it and then mark out the areas designated to each annual with a trail of sand. Make bold groups rather than intricate patterns, generally arranging the taller kinds to the back of the border. When sowing the seeds, rather than broadcasting or scattering them over each designated area as is traditional, create short drills at the distance apart at which the plants should eventually be spaced. Sow the seeds, covering them by about their own depth with soil. By sowing in drills it is then easy to determine which seedlings are annuals and which are weeds in the early stages of growth. As the annual seedlings grow they should be thinned to final spacing in the row equal to the spacing between the rows.


New Zantedeschia
A new Zantedeschia called ‘Captain Chelsea’ is being launched at the Chelsea Flower Show in London in May by Kapiteyn BV. The Dutch company are wholesale producers and great innovators in the global bulb market, both floral and consumer gardening.


2006 Festival of Fruit
Year of the Healthful Grape
5th-9th September
San Luis Obispo,
Details: click here.

Green is Life 2006
25th-26th August
ExpoXXI Center,
Pradzynskiego Str.,

Organised by the Polish Nurseryman’s Association with
Agencja Promocji Zieleni Sp. z o.o.
Al. Jana Pawla II 80 lok.71,
00-175 Warsaw,
Tel: +48 22 435 47 20
+48 22 435 47 21
Fax: +48 22 435 47 20
Details click here.

Happy Gardening



Today’ Sponsor

Hydrangea and Tamarix: Wikipedia
Annual flowers: Suttons Seeds
Zantedeschia: Kapiteyn BV

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To visit the SeedMessenger seed exchange web-site
click here

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