Having A Ball With Alliums (Ornamental Onions)

They look like they hopped out of a Dr. Zeus book — bright purple balls stuck like lollipops on tall, sturdy stems. Ornamental onions (alliums) can be startling the first time you see them. That said, there’s so much to love about these magnificent plants, including long bloom period and resistance to most pests and diseases. And their curious appeal can really liven up a garden. Continue reading

Coastal Gardening: 12 Top Plants That Work

coastal home

Seashore gardening can present its own set of challenges. Plants that do well in the suburbs often perform differently at the shore. Still, there are many species to choose from that don’t mind drying winds and some salt in the soil. It just takes a little know-how and the right plants, and you can create a coastal garden that flowers non-stop from now until fall.

PROTECTING YOUR PLANTS

Strong winds are typical to the seashore – after all, that’s what produced them.  And coastal gardens often bear the brunt of these winds that can leave plants vulnerable to breakage. Salt spray not only can damage buds, stems and leaves, but can also lead to dieback. Often, these symptoms don’t show up until early spring.

In order to perform at their best, seaside plants need some protection. Screens are one way to protect vulnerable blooms. Another way is to site your garden close to the house or behind a stand of trees that can help break the wind and lessen its impact.

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My own seaside garden: a mix of mostly drought-tolerant plants 

IMPROVING SANDY SOIL 

If you’re growing plants at the shore, you are gardening in sandy soil. And sandy soil is naturally more porous. This means it tends to drain quickly and has trouble retaining water. You can combat this by adding compost, leafmold or other organic matter to your soil. This will not only help it conserve moisture, but also provide essential nutrients that your plants need to grow.

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Sandy soil drains water more rapidly

That being said, the number one way to ensure your coastal garden’s success is to choose mostly drought-tolerant plants. For those species that need more attention, make sure you’re around to water them. Or, install a drip line on a timer. All living organisms need water to survive.

COASTAL GARDEN COLOR

Bright colors show up better at the shore. That’s because bold hues stand out in strong sunlight, which tends to wash out lighter colors. Choose strong purples, blues, magentas, yellows and oranges for your coastal garden. And select plants with bold architecture like big leaves and strong stems for added definition.

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Bold colors show up best in bright sunlight

FALL PLANTING WORKS BEST

To give plants a healthy start, install trees, shrubs and large perennials in the fall when the soil is still warm. This will allow their roots to begin growing before the soil freezes.

Plant trees, shrubs and large perennials in the fall

TOP PLANTS FOR COASTAL GARDENS

ALLIUM (Flowering Onion)

Of the many allium varieties, ‘Purple Sensation’ is probably the bestl known. The giant ornamental onion has 4-inch rounded purple blooms that appear in late spring to early summer. Alliums, however, are a large family of bulbs that come in many shapes, sizes and colors. Yellowing foliage can sometimes be a problem, though, so pair them with large-leaved perennials to hide any decay.

allium

BLACK-EYED SUSAN (RUDBECKIA)

Black-Eyed Susans are some of the most heat and drought-tolerant plants around. Native to North America, these tall, golden wildflowers bloom from mid-summer until fall. Plant them in large masses in sun or part-shade for high-impact in the garden.

black eyed susans

DAYLILY

Daylilies seem to thrive in just about any condition. I’ve left clumps of them out all winter long and they still settle happily back into the ground come spring. Daylilies come in a wide variety of colors, from deepest purples to pinks, reds, yellows and even creamy white. There’s something for everyone.

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HYDRANGEA 

It’s hard not to think of a seaside garden without first conjuring up visions of round pink and blue flowers. Hydrangeas are synonymous with coastal living. My own hydrangeas flourish alongside my house where they feel safe and protected, faithfully producing blooms from June through August.

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LAMB’S EAR

In town, my lamb’s ear needs constant maintenance to look its best. When the plants receive too much water, their velvety leaves start to droop and decay. However, at the shore, my lamb’s ear adopts a new appearance, forming stiff, upright silvery-grey mounds.

lambs ear

In mid June, lamb’s ear often produces tall furry spikes of blue-grey flowers. They’re not to everyone’s liking, and many people remove them. At the shore, I leave them be so I can watch them sway in the ocean breezes.

LAVENDER

This plant is perfectly suited to coastal gardens. Lavender loves lots of sun and once established, thrives in near drought conditions. I’m constantly having to beat back my own lavender Hidcote to keep it in bounds in the border. Check out these great tips from Soleado Lavender Farm on the best species to plant and how to maintain them.

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NEPETA (CATMINT)

This hardy, drought-resistant perennial resembles lavender, but has a softer, more delicate appearance. It produces purple-blue flower stalks in May/June from above grey-green clumps of fine-textured foliage. I trim my nepeta back hard after its first flowering and enjoy a slightly smaller bloom in July. Nepeta’s soft grey-green foliage looks great paired with bright yellow daylilies and almost anything red or orange.

nepeta

PORTULACA

A low, creeping annual with succulent-looking stems and foliage, portulaca thrives in coastal gardens. Use it in the front of a border, trailing over a wall or in hanging baskets. Its bright colored blooms come in a range of shades from orange, red and yellow to bright white.

portulaca

RED-HOT POKER (Torch Lily)

I love this striking plant that sends up bright yellow-orange poker-shaped flowers on 3-foot stems. Drought resistant and attractive to pollinators, red hot poker likes lots of sun and isn’t picky about soil. It blooms in mid-summer. 

redhot poker

VERBENA

A perfect plant for coastal gardens, verbena’s large clusters of deep purple flowers and deep green foliage look good all summer long. The plant is primarily known for its purple blooms. However, you can now find cultivars in blue, pink, red and white that grow from 6 inches to 3 feet tall.

verbena

VERONICA

Also known as Speedwell, this long-blooming perennial with tall flower spikes is the perfect addition to a sunny coastal border. Best known for its intense, violet-blue flowers, it also comes in pink, rose and white. My favorite variety is the mid-sized Ulster Blue Dwarf, one of the truest blue perennials. Veronica is also a great source of nectar for bees and butterflies.

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YARROW

This elegant plant has flat-topped golden yellow flowers borne high atop asparagus-fern like foliage. Yarrow is especially captivating in seaside gardens where it sways softly to summer breezes. 

yarrow

Yarrow blooms from mid-summer to fall and in addition to the traditional yellow, come in shades of orange, red, pink and white. It also makes a long-lasting and sturdy cut flower.

DROUGHT-TOLERANT DOESN’T MEAN WATER-FREE

While most of these plants are drought-tolerant, they’ll still need watering from time to time. Give your coastal garden a healthy start by improving the soil with compost or other organic matter before planting. Mulch well to hold in moisture and use overhead irrigation whenever possible to wash off salt from the foliage. And avoid watering your plants during the hottest hours of the day, which can burn the foliage.