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 historic 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 over time have become vacation destinations (like Cape Cod or the Florida Keys), while some have all kinds of summer attractions designed for locals (like the Jersey Shore or Delaware's Rehoboth Beach).
As ocean travel to the United States increased in the 18th century and beyond, 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 weather calamities and the destruction brought by coastal storms: Hurricanes Katrina, Bob, Sandy and others have wrought enormous damage in their respective areas but locals, with the help of federal disaster relief, have done their best to rebuild. In the aftermath of major storms, resident gardeners learn valuable lessons about how to build and plant to lessen future damage.
Coastal Paving Styles
Having pavers in the garden is useful for 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 sometimes used as an alternative to driveway paving in coastal areas, as stones are less vulnerable than asphalt to salt damage.
Plants to Include
There are a number of functions plants can fulfill in a coastal landscape. They 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, 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 otherwise encouraged, such as the abundant fragrant rugosa roses seen growing in the Northeast, commonly called "beach roses."
Some beaches have large rocky outcroppings as part of the landscape (like Maine and Oregon). Coastal landscaping often incorporate stone walls and structures that can hold their own against winds and sea water. Stone walls are a common site throughout New England, as they were moved from land to make it easier to grow crops, and the rocks were then stacked into low fences to show property boundaries. In addition to bring 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.
There's something endearing about the kinds of decor one finds in coastal gardens. Sometimes it's nautical (anchors, buoys), sometimes local (lobster traps, flamingoes), sometimes invoking wildlife (egrets or seagulls), sometimes just generally quirky. There may be collections on display: seashells, sea glass or other found beach objects, or sculptures along a theme. 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 (like Provincetown, with its Fine Arts Work Center), 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 fresh water 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.
Other Elements to Include
Seaside landscapes are for enjoying scenery and relaxing. Benches and chairs are therefore an important part of these landscapes. One often sees benches and chairs provided in public parks and along walkways by the sea in many coastal towns, so that visitors can rest and take in the scenic vistas and enjoy the sea air.