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25 Salt Tolerant Coastal Plants & Flowers for Your Seaside Garden

Photo collage of salt tolerant coastal plants.

There’s nothing quite like having a sea view, or breathing the sea air, or having the convenience of being able to often enjoy swimming in the sea. As much as they are powerful and to be respected, the seas can also be very relaxing, as the more peaceful the water is, the greater the tranquility they can instill in us.

Just think of how a walk along the seafront of a coastal town can, in bracing conditions, make slipping into bed afterwards the most luxurious and deserved experience imaginable. The sea air brings about a certain weariness that is very welcome indeed, with that feeling being part of the reason we seek out a coastal destination for a holiday. The overwhelming but richly earned sleepiness resulting from a day spent by the seas is a feeling that is incomparable to any other, and which cannot be mimicked in inland conditions.

The breeze which the oceans whip up are a tonic for the mind, body and soul, but it does come with some downsides for properties exposed to it which those that are landlocked don’t have to face. Given the salt content, the sea air is naturally corrosive, which spells trouble for the facade of a building. In addition, the same quality is not favoured by many plants, as these struggle in the atmospheric conditions that the sea air brings. As much as the oceans are essential for sustaining life, they are still capable of the opposite effect.

Which presents something of a dilemma for those of a green-fingered persuasion who find themselves and their gardens exposed to the harsh and salty sea air, as plant choices must reflect those which are hardy enough to flourish in challenging conditions. This is a routine concern for those fortunate to live in a coastal English town such as Brighton, where sea-facing roof terraces are often designed with planting in mind. Living like this is no barrier to enjoying a garden that comes into its own in the sea air, as there are many options which thrive in coastal conditions.

Here are 25 beach flowers and plants that are salt tolerant.

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1. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary plant on a wooden table.

For those who are interested in both gardening and cooking, this one will come as good news. Unlike the soft herbs, such as parsley or chives, the woody and resilient coastal rosemary is known as a hard herb, as it’s not at its best freshly chopped into food at the end of its cooking: instead it comes alive when simmered long and slow in dishes from start to finish, and removed prior to eating, though it’s not essential to do so, as when softened the leaves are easily digested.

Like oregano and basil, rosemary is a Mediterranean herb, so given the landscape and climate of that area, it’s no surprise that rosemary is known to be a robust and hardy herb not just in flavour, but also due to its resilience to the sea air. This is no impediment to its growth, so you can experience the pleasure of being able to go outside and cut your own fresh herbs even when living by the coast, something which is a true pleasure in life.

  • Sun requirement – favours sunny conditions
  • Water requirement – moderate need, but requires excellent drainage
  • Hardiness zone – 9

2. Sea Kale (Crambemaritima)

Sea kale plant close up shot.

Another one for those who like to combine sea air, gardening and eating, this plant typically grows wild along the coast of Europe, from the Black Sea to the North Atlantic, meaning it too is something of a tough cookie. Like the regular kale, sea kale is also perfectly edible, and is sometimes known as sea cabbage, as it comes from the Brassicaceae family. You’ll find it dies in winter, before returning once springs arrives again.

Sea kale gets along very well with the sun, and enjoys being planted in deep and fertile soil. Despite being a brassica, sea kale doesn’t taste like cabbage, with its stems instead resembling a cross between asparagus and celery. We should be grateful we can still try it, for this vegetable all but died out due to the Victorians being particularly keen on them. Happily though they’re now back on the menu, and are an ideal for not just coastal growing, but as a source of nutrients too.

  • Sun requirement – prefers full sun
  • Water requirement – prefers moist soils
  • Hardiness zones – 4-8

3. Ornamental Grasses (depends on particular species)

Ornamental grasses photographed in the wild.

It’s hard to ever imagine tiring of what are a common sight in coastal gardens and public spaces, as they’re so strikingly beautiful, especially when a breeze catches them and they sway gently along with its current. Thelong and sleek blades makes ornamental grasses a very tactile option, as their grace encourages them to be touched, so long as you can take your eyes off their gentle and calming movement.

They’re particularly good if you’re something of a novice gardener, as ornamental grass is very easy to grow, due to them being able to tolerate a wide range of conditions and not needing much feeding. It’ll take a while to decide which plant is for you, as there are a bewildering number of ornamental grasses to choose from. But that’s all part of the fun, as it increases the chance of there being one which fits with your garden perfectly.

  • Sun requirement – there are grasses which prefer both sun and shade
  • Water requirement – varies depending on which grass is being cultivated
  • Hardiness zone – varies depending on particular grass

4. English Ivy (Hedera helix)

English Ivy plant crawled on the wall.

Now this choice really divides opinion, as its invasive nature means once it takes hold, it’s likely to grow wild and free. It doesn’t much care where this happens either as, being a climber, it will cover the most pristine of country houses as much as it will conceal a dilapidated garage and, being an evergreen perennial, you’ll have your work cut out discouraging its growth.

All of which is common knowledge, and it shouldn’t be enough to put you off opting to grow it, as there’s a certain sophisticated quality to a covering of ivy that no other plant can get near to replicating. If you want to avoid them taking over entirely, as is their natural inclination, then planting English ivy in hanging baskets is a good compromise, as it’ll look equally as dramatic as it cascades over the basket and towards the ground.

  • Sun requirement – prefers shady areas
  • Water requirement – keep moist when growing, but they tolerate dry conditions once established, which takes about 3 years
  • Hardiness zones – 4-8

5. Geraniums (depends on particular species)

Geraniums plant close up look.

How delicate these pretty little flowers are belies how tough they are, as they will obtain very nicely in coastal conditions, and give a much needed colour contrast to the more typical palette of the more sturdy plants you find by the coast. Also of appeal is their versatility, as these can also be grown indoors or in hanging baskets.

Geraniums are also easy to care for, should you be a novice gardener. Simply water them very well once planted, then do so again at least once a week thereafter, assuming you’ve planted them outdoors. They are very partial to sunlight, which keeps them thirsty, so bear this in mind when deciding where to plant them. An outdoor space that receives guaranteed sunlight for several hours a day will bring out the best in the geranium. You can even dig them up and bring them inside if the conditions change too much.

  • Sun requirement – they thrive in sunny conditions, preferring 4-6 hours of daily sun
  • Water requirement – leave to totally dry between watering, before doing so thoroughly
  • Hardiness zones – 10 and 11

6. Sea Buckthorn (Hippophaerhamnoides)

Sea buckthorn plant with its fruit.

The reputation of this plant has been growing steadily over recent years, which in large part is due to the rise in popularity of foraging for wild ingredients to cook with. This style of professional cookery originates from the Nordic regions, where access to wild coastal ingredients is not only readily available, but also incredibly diverse and as natural and organic as it gets.

Not being interested in foraging doesn’t mean you have to stick with the same old ingredients all the time, as sea buckthorn, which grows in abundance by the sea, is also suitable for home growing. It is very tolerant of salt in both the air and soil, but it does need plenty of sun in order to thrive, as constant shade will prevent it from obtaining. If the climate suits and you like sourness in both food and drink, then sea buckthorn will prove a big hit, as its sharp flavour makes a lemon taste trivial by comparison. Full of vitamins and minerals, it also has a host of medicinal uses.

  • Sun requirement – requires full sunlight
  • Water requirement – maintain even moisture
  • Hardiness zones – 3-8

7. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Thyme plant on a white pot.

Quite likely the most versatile of all herbs, the hardy and robust thyme is more than comfortable in exposed coastal conditions, and will thrive even with the barest of care and attention, as it tolerates drought well. Like other woody herbs, it will give off a fragrance that is difficult to resist, making it ideal to plant quite low down, so that when you brush alongside it as you walk by, its aroma will surround you.

Unlike some other herbs, thyme lends itself very well to being dried, so don’t think it can only be used fresh at its peak condition. It also freezes very well, and can be enjoyed just for its scent if you’re not a fan of its flavour, or just appreciated for its charming ornamental properties. Like many plants, thyme also has medicinal qualities, with the essential oils found in its leaves used as a natural cough remedy. Thyme tea – for which you need just thyme and water – is a useful treatment for common ailments such as a cough or sore throat.

  • Sun requirement – likes hot and sunny conditions
  • Water requirement – tolerates drought well, and prefers well drained soil
  • Hardiness zones – 4-9

8. Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

Red bee balm plant close up view.

The red bee balm plant, an herbaceous perennial, is part of the mint family, and its aromatic leaves can be used just like regular mint. It is also useful in treating skin conditions, or made into a balm to treat bee stings. As the name suggests, bees cannot resist the bee balm plant.

  • Sun requirement – partial shade/full sun is their preference
  • Water requirement – keep the soil moist, but not wet
  • Hardiness zones – 2-10

9. Flowering Jasmine (Trachelospermumjasminoides)

Flowering jasmine plant photographed upside.

A woody evergreen, this plant has a very strong fragrance that bees also find irresistible. However, it is so strong that some people find it overwhelming, particularly those who are allergic to perfume. It is particularly versatile, as it can be used as a climbing vine or as groundcover.

  • Sun requirement – part shade/full sun, with the latter offering the best flowering potential
  • Water requirement – tolerates drought well
  • Hardiness zones – 9 or 10

10. Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Blackthorn plant with its fruit.

You might know the fruits of this flowering plant by the name sloe, an essential ingredient in sloe gin. It has a very tart flavour indeed, so requires plenty of sugar if used in cooking. The branches also make excellent fire wood, as it burns slowly and gives off little smoke.

  • Sun requirement – prefers full sun
  • Water requirement – water regularly when first planted
  • Hardiness zone – 4

11. California Poppy (Eschscholziacalifornica)

California poppy photographed in a wild.

This drought tolerant, flowering plant became the official state flower of California in 1903, with April 6 known as California Poppy Day, while Poppy Week is celebrated May 13-18. Its petals close at night, before opening the next morning, while their brilliantly coloured orange flowers are hard to beat.

  • Sun requirement – prefers full sun
  • Water requirement – water lightly until they become established, but avoid moisture once they do
  • Hardiness zones – 5-10

12. Beach Aster (Erigonglaucus)

Beach aster plant top view shot.

With a name like this, it’s hardly surprising that beach aster suits coastal conditions well. It is also known as Sea Breeze, should any doubt as to its natural habitat remain. It is especially hardy, given it can tolerate extremely low temperatures, though it prefers the sun and sea air.

  • Sun requirement – prefers full sun
  • Water requirement – soak before planting, and water well during first year of planting
  • Hardiness zones – 5-8

13. Apple Blossom (Escallonia)

Apple blossom plant photographed upwards.

Just like beach aster, apple blossom is just as able to tolerate extreme shifts in conditions, though it may struggle in very exposed locations. Its flowers are an attractive delicate pink colour, with neat foliage. It will give off a very pleasant fragrance, especially right after a period of rain.

  • Sun requirement – likes full sun, and shelter from strong winds
  • Water requirement – water deeply upon planting, but can go weeks without once it has established
  • Hardiness zones – 7-9

14. Lavender (Lavandula)

Lavender plant shot at a garden

Lavender has long been cherished for the calming properties of its fragrance, with its oil found in a range of therapeutic preparations. It is increasingly finding its way into sweet foodstuffs, such as ice cream. While its strong flavour is best enjoyed in moderation, an abundance of lavender looks more beautiful the more that are grown together.

  • Sun requirement – it does best in a sunny sheltered spot
  • Water requirement – soak thoroughly prior to planting, and water well during first year
  • Hardiness zones – 5-9

15. Round Leaved Pigface (Disphyma)

Round leaved pigface plant close up shot.

Now this might not be the politest sounding plant, so it’s fortunate that we judge them on their scent or appearance, rather than their name. Unlike the very blunt and unattractive name, this is actually a very delicate plant with a striking crimson-purple flower. It can be used for groundcover or in hanging baskets.

  • Sun requirement – thrives in hot overhead sun
  • Water requirement – tolerates extended dry periods well, but keep moist otherwise
  • Hardiness zone – 6

16. Hummingbird Fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica)

Hummingbird fuchsia close up shot.

This deciduous shrub will grow an abundance of flowers over a long period of time, which are followed by a reddish coloured fruit. The flowers are, unsurprisingly, very attractive to hummingbirds, who seek out the concentrated nectar found in them, as it contains high levels of sucrose.

  • Sun requirement – adapted to shadier conditions
  • Water requirement – could be daily, but depends on the amount of heat and light it’s exposed to
  • Hardiness zone – 6a-9b

17. Darwin’s Barberry (Berberis darwinii)

Darwin's barberry close up view in the garden.

This evergreen thorny shrub takes its name from the naturalist who discovered it in South America for the first time in Western science in 1835, although prehistoric natives had eaten its berries for millennia. It is an invasive species though, with New Zealand considering it a threat to indigenous ecosystems.

  • Sun requirement – full sun or partial shade
  • Water requirement – avoid waterlogging
  • Hardiness zones – 7 and 8

18. Sea Thrift (Armeriamaritima)

Sea thrift plant on a garden.

In 2002, the conservation charity Plantlife chose sea thrift to be the country flower of the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago off the coast of Cornwall. Although its natural habitat are coastal cliffs and craggy islands, the salty atmospheres of inland coastal areas are also ideal for this pink wildflower.

  • Sun requirement – full sun in northern climates and partly sunny in the south
  • Water requirement – requires little once established
  • Hardiness zone – 4-8

19. Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissusquinquifolia)

Virginia creeper photographed on the wild.

Like English ivy, this is an ornamental plant that is prone to aggressive growth. Given its ability to propagate due to its extensive root system, it can be difficult to eradicate once fully obtained. It is not related to true ivy though, being instead a species of flowering plant that belongs to the grape family.

  • Sun requirement – grows in full shade or full sun
  • Water requirement – minimal required, but keep in well-drained soil
  • Hardiness zones – 3b-10

20. Horned Poppy (Glaucium flavum)

Horned poppy flower plant close up shot.

This ornamental and short-lived perennial will flower from June to August, though its root is poisonous. It dislikes shady conditions, but can tolerate temperatures as low as -10°c. The horned poppy is also resentful of root disturbance, so once you have decided where best to plant one, it is best left alone.

  • Sun requirement – full sunlight
  • Water requirement – minimal care needed
  • Hardiness zones – 3-10

21. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow plant photographed in the garden.

A native of Eurasia, yarrow is found widely from the UK to China, as well as in North America. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, it is toxic to dogs, cats and horses, as it can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, depression, anorexia and hypersalivation in each.

  • Sun requirement – full sun
  • Water requirement – yarrow does not tolerate wet soil
  • Hardiness zones – 3-9

22. Hawthorn (Crataegus)

Hawthorn plant with its fruit.

The Crataegus species consists of shrubs or small trees, which provide shelter for many birds and mammals. The fruits – or haws – are edible to humans, and can be made into jelly or homemade wine. When still young, the tender leaves are also edible, making them an ideal salad ingredient.

  • Sun requirement – full sun
  • Water requirement – water during dry spells in first year: drought resistant thereafter
  • Hardiness zones – 4-11

23. Confederate Jasmine (Trachelospermumjasminoides)

Confederate jasmine top view.

This evergreen woody liana is native to eastern and south-eastern Asia, but is also commonly grown in California and the south-eastern United States, or the former Confederate States of America from which the name derives. An ornamental plant, it can be used either as a climbing vine, or for groundcover.

  • Sun requirement – anything from full shade to full sun
  • Water requirement – moderate
  • Hardiness zones – 8-10

24. Periwinkle (Vinca)

Periwinkle flower plant close up shot.

You’ll have to be careful with periwinkle, as it is invasive to some areas of the world, such as parts of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, particularly the coastal areas of California. They are a low plant which spreads quickly, so are ideal for groundcover purposes.

  • Sun requirement – prefers partially shaded, but also thrives in a range of sunlight conditions
  • Water requirement – drought resistant
  • Hardiness zones – 4-8

25. Butterfly Bush (Buddleja)

Butterfly bush close up view.

There are over 140 species of butterfly bush to choose from, so there really will be something for everyone, as the colours of the flowers are also diverse. They are very rich in nectar, which means the flowers often smell strongly of honey. Unsurprisingly, the butterfly can’t get enough of this plant.

  • Sun requirement – full sun
  • Water requirement – needs thorough watering
  • Hardiness zones – 5-8

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