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Faux-Coastal Gardens

Even if you don't live on the coast, there's no reason why you can't have a beach garden in your own backyard.

by Marie Hofer, Gardening editor,

So you live inland but your heart's on the coast? Create a small "beach" garden and your seaside dreams can materialize in the backyard. Now's your chance to use the shells, driftwood, beach rock and polished glass you've collected. And to see a few beach grasses waving in the breeze.

  • Use plants that you'd typically find in a coastal garden. Seaside gardeners have to deal with wind, salt spray and very sandy soil, so they like to rely on plants that can take those conditions--plants such as lamb's ears, junipers, sedum, oleander, artemisia, thyme, butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), baby's breath (Gypsophila), marigold, salvia, geranium, cosmos, blanket flower, lupine, heath, heather and, of course, grasses.

  • Sometimes you need to use only suggestions of a beach garden to achieve the real effect. An undulating curve of sand or pea gravel, a select few plants and a piece of art that reminds of you the sea may be all you need to conjure in your mind the smell of ocean spray.

    From our readers: more "coastal" gardens

    My husband Matt works on a sand-dredge boat. We live on lake Erie, but don't always get to go to the beach, so we brought the beach to us. We planted sea grasses and scattered sand and seashells, a propeller from an old boat, an old fishing pole, some rocks and driftwood and made our own beach garden. It's a constant reminder of the beach. Our two-year-old daughter Elise calls the sand "daddy's sand" because she knows daddy's boat brings sand in from the lake. — Maria, Erie, PA

    My husband and I live in central Illinois, yet a small portion of a front bed consists of sand from Marco Island, shells from Marco beaches and a pelican standing guard. It brings a smile to my face each time I see it — and memories of great vacations in south Florida. — Cheryl

    There's a bit of the coast here in the Northern Nevada high desert. I designed my garden to look like the sea. The beds are curved, like the surf rolling in on the beach. There's alyssum to represent the sea foam, and flowers in shades of blue and purple. Unlike most gardens that are set against the house, this garden is set against the fence at the property line. As a result, I have a beautiful view out the window of my home office, and in the evenings we sit in the swing and enjoy our "ocean." At some point, I plan to add a small lighthouse, complete with light and foghorn! — Adrienne

    We would love to someday live near water but for now, we have settled for creating a little piece of Maine in our own backyard. Next to our pool, we "planted" the coast of Maine. We drug many large stones out of our woods, looking for rounded ones that appeared to have been washed over many times. we then planted some grasses and filled in between the rocks with sand and some seashells. The garden is bordered with pilings wrapped with an old rope from a tug boat.There is even a seagull perched on one of the pilings. We also have a large anchor laying across the rocks. On top of our pool house are several lobster cages. Hanging down the side are old painted buoys of different sizes and colors. That is our coastal garden in upstate NY. — Gail

    We live in northeast Mississippi on an intercoastal waterway (Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway). It seems I'm always picking up something for the yard with a coastal theme. I found an anchor while vacationing on Prince Edward Island, colorful fishing floats in Maine and a harbor bell. Locally, we have salvaged huge pieces of the rope (that's used to tie up barges along the water's edge) and wound them into circle "rugs" for the pier. We located an antique aluminum fishing boat, placed it in the yard and planted it with flowers; an old row boat rests on the pier. Lesson learned: if you see it, like it, get it! — Donna

    I love lighthouses and have several among my collection and in the yard of our modest home in Indiana. The ultimate is our chimney. For years I have seen a lighthouse whenever I looked at our brick chimney. After my husband retired a few years ago, he had the time to make my vision a reality. I drew him a picture of what I wanted, picked out the paint and he went to work. ----name unknown

    My garden has a coastal theme, and we live about 40 minutes away from the ocean. We have pilings along the road and a nice garden area that runs the length of it. We also made our own functional lighthouse with a captain overlooking it.
    We have a captain's wheel as well as a ship's bell and gauges. And of course a boat in the yard. We will be making a garden around that this year, so it looks as if it crashed into rocks and has been there a while ... We also made our own fountain from beach rocks. — LouAnn

    I have planted a small coastal-type garden under the window I sit by most.It is shaped like a small island with a palm tree on each end and a large elephant ear in the center with two conch shells for decoration. I still can't decide what to edge it with. Got any ideas? — Judy

    I recently put a fountain near my deck. Around the base I placed a six-inch border of cobalt-blue glass balls. And around
    the fountain I planted dark purple and blue flowers. Finally, the backdrop contains dark purple and green grasses, like the ones you would find near the beach ... When I was explaining my new landscape area to my family, I kept saying I am planting all blue "down near the water" ... I was of course referring to my fountain, which is as close to water as I will get in Dallas. I love it and can't imagine my backyard without the sound of running water. — Sarah

    We live in a large colonial house in the suburb of Annapolis. Although my house demands a more colonial garden, I have opted for the coastal look. I have many pelicans all over the yard. The large pelican in my front yard sits atop a large piece of driftwood that I brought back from Maine. I love to beachcomb and come back loaded with shells and driftwood. The driftwood is scattered about my gardens and the shells are in small piles. I even have a small lighthouse. My flowers and plants are very haphazard and blend well with the beach theme. I have many wind chimes as well as a bird-bath fountain. I also have many different grasses to create even more of a beachy garden. — Melissa

    My garden has a coastal theme, but I live on the coast. I live in coastal Georgia on three acres of swampland. On two sides of my yard is a large pond with anhingas and blue herons. In my yard are fig trees, plum, a Ponderosa lemon, 15 different ginger lilies, crinum lilies, azaleas, assorted hydrangeas and whatever else catches my eye. For a bit of whimsy I have a four-foot concrete dog named Rock, and I hang my empty wine bottles on my tea olive; I call it my bottlebrush — it's supposed to ward off evil spirits. — Sherle

    We recently moved from the west end of Catalina Island, California, to Florida ... We had all the vegetables we could want. I also had herbs and we planted flowers with the veggies just for fun, and at the bottom of the slope, strawberries...The only real problems we found were snails and deer, both of which love everyone's gardens. No matter what deterrent you choose, they find a way past it! We also found that direct sun is much more than you usually want/need on the coast — at least this particular coast. Our tomatoes liked being in indirect sun, which we found odd. — Ava

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