Plants for coastal environments
The typical notion of the rocky coast of Maine, windswept, menacing and uninviting to landscape plants, needs reexamining. Sure, not much can grow on barren rocks, but just add soil and this so-called “hostile” environment instantly becomes a potential home to a host of perennial and other plants.
It isn’t the temperature that makes gardening difficult along Maine’s seashore, it’s the poor, often acidic, soil, or lack thereof. But simply build a raised bed, or in fact, any garden bed, and the thermometer becomes an ally. Wind, however, especially on open reaches, can make it difficult for some plants. Even this, though, does not present quite as daunting a problem as many might think. Stagnant, humid air, such as we find in inland areas, stands as an ideal host for many plant diseases. At least the windswept coast does not often experience those conditions.
Typically, coastal temperatures remain a bit warmer in winter and cooler in summer, perfect for many favorite ornamental plants. So first establish a place to plant by introducing good soil, then go ahead and start a garden or perennial bed.
Although books are written on hardy plant varieties for tough situations, the plants listed here are all ones that I personally encounter on my meanderings up and down the Maine coast. Here are some perennial plants that will grow almost anywhere, including the immediate coast.
Many attractive daisy types are available. Try any of the cultivars of the Shasta daisy. These can grow to 3-feet tall and make a striking sight in early- to mid-summer. Or for a shorter, perhaps more durable daisy, go for ox-eye daisy. This, too, has several varieties, or cultivars. The yellow discs and bright, white rays (petals) seem to luminescence in full sunlight, which, by the way, is the best place to set them.
The obedient plant, or false dragonhead, a tough and hardy plant, grows up to about 1-and-a-half-feet tall and has four, symmetrical rows of tubular flowers. This highly-cooperative plant makes a good showing by being planted in groups, rather than singly or in rows. The same may be said for all the plants listed in this column.
Obedient plant, so-called because the flowers, when twisted around, “obediently” remain in place, spreads without any help from us. This requires pulling in order to keep it in bounds. But the pulled plants transplant easily, to either another location or to a friend’s garden.
Not at all favored by many who maintain formal gardens, or by daylily breeders, the old-fashioned orange daylily continues to stir the hearts of those who see it at its peak in mass plantings. This is the same lily that our ancestors planted “out back” and along farm lanes. But it really comes to the front when placed in a setting with groups of other perennials, such as those mentioned here.
The “duty piper” of the perennial flower kingdom, astilbe performs well in light or partial shade. This makes it good for semi-shady areas of the perennial bed. Blooming from spring to early summer, depending upon the variety (and there are many), astilbe stands as a good reference point for any garden design and being extremely hardy, makes a fine plant for seaside gardening.
Lady’s mantle, with its scalloped leaves, makes a great plant for tough conditions. This hardy plant even grows, unaided, in pure gravel. The leaves, being “unwettable,” hold glistening drops of water after a summer shower, which lends to their charm. When in flower, the yellow blossoms create a yellow haze when viewed from afar.
Wrinkled rose, or Rosa rugosa, as many prefer to call it, is an old standby for seaside plantings. It grows in wild profusion along town boat landings, breakwaters, rocky headlands and of course, in our seaside gardens. This is the quintessential rose of summer along the Maine seashore. It has a strong, heady fragrance.
For an ideal seaside shrub, choose any of the hydrangeas. There are a number of interesting varieties, but all have one thing in common; they are very hardy, perfect for seaside gardening.
Ever wonder about those perfectly blue hydrangeas you see here and there? These are blue because the gardener has added an aluminum-based soil acidifier to the soil. Pink hydrangeas grow in that color by the addition of lime. And left alone, hydrangeas will have white heads of lacey, pom-pom like flower clusters
While these plants listed here are certainly not the only ones that will do well in a seaside garden, they are good examples of what we have to choose from. In fact, working with only the varieties listed here, anyone could wind up with a perfectly beautiful and very hardy seaside garden.
Finally, these plants also do well in a variety of other settings. They are extremely hardy and require only a minimum of care.