Coastal landscaping is designed to emphasize location above all else. Living or vacationing next to the ocean is something many people seek out and even romanticize. The ocean's weather and elemental challenges are second only to its vast beauty and power, so coastal landscaping has some very specific features. Whether the charming villages of Cape Cod, the leisurely beaches of the Mid-Atlantic, the lush seashore communities of Florida, or the lively landscapes of the California coast, coastal landscaping is a well-loved motif and aspect of outdoor life. This article explores the many ways coastal landscaping design can be expressed and achieved.
The History of Coastal Landscaping
As regions of the United States were settled, coastal areas were often used as seaports and points of entry before they became residential towns. Some coastal towns retain the flavor of their past function as ports for trade or commerce. Some towns like Salem, Massachusetts or St. Augustine, Florida, settled in the 17th century, integrate authentic garden designs into the grounds of historic destinations. Some coastal communities have become vacation destinations, while others like the Jersey Shore or Delaware's Rehoboth Beach are designed for locals.
As ocean travel to the United States increased in the 18th century, lighthouses were built to guide boats at night or during foul weather. Some coastal towns still have these lighthouses and they're an iconic part of the landscape. The history of coastal settlements almost always includes a story of destruction brought by coastal storms. In the aftermath of major storms, resident gardeners learn valuable lessons about how to build and plant to lessen future damage.
Using pavers in the garden helps prevent soil erosion which can be an issue with sandy coastal soils. Aesthetically, pavers can be chosen to reflect the local landscaping styles; for example, on Cape Cod, a rustic look is often preferred and salvaged stone or bricks are used for an old-world feeling. In Florida, cedar mulch is sometimes used in and around pavers to keep insects at bay during the summer months. Gravel is an alternative to driveway paving, as stones are less vulnerable than asphalt to salt damage.
Plantings can prevent wind or water erosion, offer privacy, provide shade, attract wildlife, and provide beauty. Choose plants for their best functions but also consider the usual factors such as hardiness zone or watering needs, and design elements such as color, the timing of blooms, and size/scale. Sandy soil conditions, salt air,and wind present challenges and should also be considered.
Many coastal locations provide abundant sunshine, so gardens full of sturdy sun-loving perennials, such as sedums, Shasta daisies, salvias, coreopsis, and dianthus, can allow even Northern gardeners to indulge with plenty of flowers. Some of the hardiest coastal plants can be invasive (such as purple loosestrife, which spreads rapidly in coastal wetlands), and should not be encouraged to grow. Native plants are always welcome such as the abundant fragrant rugosa roses seen growing in the Northeast, commonly called "beach roses."
Some beaches like those in Maine and Oregon have large rocky outcroppings as part of the landscape. Coastal landscaping often incorporates natural boulders, stone walls, and structures that can hold their own against winds and seawater. In addition to being useful for structures, rocks are often seen as a desirable aesthetic on their own, also, keeping with the easygoing and natural landscaping elements that many beachfront property owners enjoy.
Something is endearing about the kinds of decor one finds in coastal gardens. Sometimes it's nautical anchors, lobster traps, and buoys, sometimes invoking wildlife like egrets, seagulls, or flamingoes, sometimes just generally quirky. Collections are displayed: seashells, sea glass, or other found beach objects. This kind of personalized decor goes hand in hand with the idea that coastal landscaping often defines a place where fond memories are made and savored. Many coastal villages are home to artists' communities and all that creativity is often reflected in garden decorations.
It may seem strange to have a water feature in a garden near the ocean. But having a freshwater pool or pond can be a welcome respite from all the salt water at the beach. In hotter coastal climates, swimming pools are considered almost necessary to help keep cool during sweltering summers. Surrounding water features with plants gives them a sense of place in the garden landscape, and using container plantings allows for flexibility of design, as well as allowing easier movement of plants to protect them in coastal storms.
Fencing is a fact of life for coastal landscaping. Some fencing is designed to prevent erosion or protect from wind, while other types of fencing act as safety structures for walkways or stairways. Some beaches have dense housing and fences also provide privacy. Fences are often built of teak wood which is impervious to salt and water and weathers to a pleasant patina. Fences also provide a vertical landscaping option in tight spaces and a place to display climbing roses or flowering vines.
Seasides are for enjoying the scenery and relaxing. Benches and chairs are therefore an important part of these landscapes. Choose weather-resistant materials that can withstand salty air.