The recipe for a classic seaside garden is as tried and tested as that for the most British of cakes, a Victoria Sandwich. Take a sheet of tightly mown lawn, add a fringe of hydrangeas (preferably blue) and spike with a handful of cordylines (Cordyline australis). Add phormiums (a modern twist) or agapanthus to taste and then scatter with osteospermums and beach asters (Erigeron glaucus). For that finishing touch, season with a handfuls of crocosmia (not the invasive kind), Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus and Kaffir lilies (Schizostylis coccinea). These will give you colour in summer and autumn. A dash of daffodils will mean spring is covered and a well chosen camellia will give you flowers over winter too. Wrap the whole thing with an evergreen band of Griselinia littoralis or Escallonia rubra and, ‘Tah Dah!, the job is done.
This timeless concoction won’t scare the horses on the parades and drives of the South West, but the ingredients within it are worth knowing about if you’re trying to make a garden in an exposed spot.
When we were down in North Devon this weekend I was reminded of what a wonderful plant the beach aster, Erigeron glaucus, is. It’s tough, floriferous and will grow just about anywhere, especially if it’s vertical. It was greening walls long before Patrick Blanc came along and started glueing ferns and bromeliads to the exteriors of posh hotels and will be around for a long time after. The fuzzy-edged daisies are happiness in flower form, turning their faces upwards towards the skies whether they be grey or blue. The soft pink colour contrasts nicely with the slate greys and cool granites of the West Country, the old-gold centres even picking up the orange tones of encrusting lichen. Blooms will keep appearing for months. Interspersed with close relative Erigeron karvinskianus and red valerian (Centranthus ruber), you have a classic planting combination for a garden wall. The icing, if you like, on the cake.
Once you have it, Erigeron glaucus will seed itself into nooks and crannies without making a nuisance of itself. All the plant demands is a neutral, sandy or free-draining soil and lots and lots of sunshine, which by-and-large it gets down south. Erigeron glaucus is hardy to about -15 centigrade, but if damaged by frost will regrow from the roots. Named varieties include E. ‘Seabreeze’, E. ‘Roseus’ or E. ‘Elstead Pink’. All are pink, so if you live by the seaside it’s probably easier to ask your neighbour for a small plant or basal cutting and save your pennies for something fancier.
Seed is available from Chilterns Seeds.