My tiny coastal garden is a quiet haven in the bustling seaside town of Broadstairs. 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 home to lots of wildlife.
I use the outdoor kitchen all through the year, even in winter. The garden is what greets visitors to The Watch House and provides the picture I enjoy daily beyond my windows. It’s calming, invigorating and uplifting all at the same time. Without my garden there would be no green between The Watch House and the English Channel and that’s one of many reasons why I love it.
Location: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 plants I grow.
Like my grandmother, who lived in Cornwall, something about gardening on the coast has always appealed to me. Perhaps it’s 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.
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. I am fortunate that my garden is protected on all sides, but when it blows, it really blows. The sea air has a balancing effect, keeping the garden slightly cooler than inland during the summer and reducing the likelihood of frost and snow in winter.
Rightly or wrongly, my style is ‘more is more’. I like to pack the plants in and allow them to mingle. Nothing offends me more than plants which have evidently been controlled preferring to rejoice in their natural habit.
Of course there has to be some intervention, otherwise I would disappear beneath all the crazy foliage. I try to let things ‘be’ as much as possible. By August there’s barely sufficient room for me to move around, let alone the National Garden Scheme visitors who love to get lost in the foliage. So far, everyone’s come out alive and smiling.
In June 2015 I acquired a neighbouring property known as Polegate Cottage. By May 2017 I had knocked through from The Watch House to create a library, two more bedrooms, a bathroom (with another to follow) and a garden room. With the cottage came 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 original plan was to create a Mediterranean garden here, filled with aromatic plants. What has actually happened, as you can see from the photographs taken in August 2018 by Marianne Majerus, is that it’s started to become jungly too, although I think it has a very different atmosphere. Plants flower more abundantly here than in the Jungle Garden and the greenhouse provides useful shelter for seedlings, cuttings, succulents and tender plants. My first crop of tomatoes in the summer of 2018 was so bountiful that it even surprised me.
Now dubbed the Gin & Tonic Garden, because it’s where I like to end the working day with a drink in my hand, this space remains a work in progress. I expect it to evolve as time and money allows. In the meantime it’s somewhere I can experiment with new ideas and house more plants. They just keep coming and I have no desire to stop them. TFG.
Read more about how the garden was made by following this link.
Main Image Credit: Marianne Majerus