Our Coastal Garden

Our tiny coastal garden is a quiet haven in a bustling seaside town. It’s packed with subtropical plants and dominated by foliage of all shapes, sizes and textures. Exuberant flowers introduce drama and colour through the spring and summer. Sheltered on four sides, it’s a perfect place for entertaining guests and our many feathered friends. We use the outdoor kitchen all through the year, even in the winter. Our garden is what greets visitors to The Watch House and provides the picture we see daily beyond our windows. It’s calming, invigorating and uplifting all at the same time. Without our garden there would be no green between us and the English Channel and that’s why we love it.

The Watch House, Original LayoutLocation: Broadstairs, Kent, on the east coast of England.

Aspect: East facing. Completely protected from the west. Exposed to southerly winds. Surrounded by high walls and fences creating a sheltered microclimate.

Soil: Imported topsoil (alkaline) over solid chalk. The main terrace sits directly over vaulted cellars or “undercrofts”, hence the profligate use of pots and troughs.

Weather: USDA Zone 9a. Relatively dry and warm for the UK. 2011 max temperature 32°C, min temperature -1.4°C. Frosts and snow are rare, but do occur. Subject to strong, cold easterly winds in the winter.

Plants: Follow this link for a full list of everything we grow.

The Watch House Garden in August 2014, 6 Years after creation
The Watch House Garden in August 2014, six years after creation

Like my grandmother, who lived in Cornwall, something about gardening on the coast has always appealed to me. Perhaps it’s partly the challenge of battling the elements, but a stronger attraction has to be the opportunity to grow plants which might struggle further north or inland. Broadstairs exists in a microclimate, enjoying higher than average levels of sunshine, very few frosts and low rainfall. This suits many plants from New Zealand, South Africa, California, Tasmania and the Canary Islands.

Has anyone found a front door? I seem to have lost mine....
Has anyone found a front door? I seem to have lost mine….

Tender evergreens such as Agapanthus africanus and Melianthus major flourish, as do evergreen trees such as Lyonothamnus and Phillyrea. In exposed sites the wind can burn tender leaves and stunt growth. We are fortunate that our garden is protected on all sides, but when it blows, it really blows. The sea air has a balancing effect, keeping us slightly cooler than inland during the summer and reducing the likelihood of frost and snow in the winter.

Our outdoor kitchen was much commented on.
The outdoor kitchen is at the heart of our garden

Rightly or wrongly, my style is ‘more is more’. I like to pack the plants in and allow them to run riot. Nothing offends me more than plants which have evidently been controlled (I make an exception for topiary, in the right circumstances), preferring to rejoice in their natural habit.

The Watch House Garden in late July 2016
The Watch House Garden in late July 2016

Of course there has to be some intervention, otherwise we really would disappear beneath a slick of green custard, but I try to let things be as much as possible. By August there’s barely sufficient room for me and Him Indoors (pictured second from right), let alone our National Garden Scheme visitors who love to get lost in the foliage.

The garden was thronged with visitors on both days
The garden attracted 220 visitors when we first opened for the NGS in 2014

In early June 2015 we acquired a neighbouring property known as Polegate Cottage. We are drawing up plans to incorporate it with our existing home, giving us a library, more bedrooms and a conservatory. With the cottage comes a small yard measuring 20ft x 20ft, complete with derelict greenhouse and concrete paving. Although tiny, the wonderful thing is that this garden faces south west, enjoying sun from 11am until the end of the day. My plan is to create a garden that’s in complete contrast to the original – dry, open and aromatic – filled with Mediterranean and Antipodean treasures. Raised beds will be created to ensure sharp drainage, and the conservatory will be used to shelter plants less tolerant of cold and wet through the winter. The garden will be the last thing to be tackled, so as a temporary measure I have planted up some pots with sun loving succulents, annuals and tender perennials to make the threshold look a little more welcoming. If they are looking good enough in August we will use the new space to serve teas.

Polegate Cottage, pots, June 2015
Pots planted for summer colour outside our new front door

Read more about how the garden was made by following this link