CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A trip to the beach this spring gave me an idea for my garden: if a plant can survive the harsh conditions of the beach, it should be able to survive in my garden.
I took into consideration zones, as the Topsail Beach doesn't get quite as cold as our area. With that in mind, here are a few plants that can endure (and even thrive) in the harsh sun, drying winds and poor soils of the beach (and, alas, of some of my garden beds).
Dusty miller (Artemesia stellatiana) isn't native to the North American coastline, but this perennial is found in many areas along the shore. While it doesn't have great flowers like fellow members of the aster family, the foliage is beautiful.
Seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) is showy and is very tolerant of the salty beach conditions, making it perfect by a driveway or roadway that might be salted in the winter. Low maintenance, easy to grow and adaptable to poor environments, it prefers full sun, is shade intolerant and can withstand part-shade at best. It is salt tolerant and can be grown in environmental extremes ranging from dry seaside sand dunes, rocky crags and slopes, to wet marshlands.
Flower production will actually be best in poor soil, while overly fertile soil will encourage vegetative growth. It does not spread vegetatively, but can do so quite aggressively from seed. Cutting the stems back to the ground after flowering will tidy up the overall appearance of the plant and help control unwanted spread. This is a late-season bloomer, from July to October depending on geographic location. It also will thrive in temperature extremes ranging from Zone 4 (possibly colder) to 11.
I'm crazy about Gaillardia, a perennial also called Indian Blanket. The plants form a low mound of light green leaves, bearing upright stems of daisy-like flowers. These are attractive to butterflies, and are drought-tolerant once established. Removing faded flowers will encourage constant blooming.
I saw Hypericum (St. John's Wort) growing in the dunes and blooming during June. I've used this small, herbaceous shrub in a few spots in my garden with great success -- it's pretty and pretty tough.
Of course, there are lots of grasses that I saw dotting the landscapes of the beach homes in South Carolina that will translate well to our climate. If I close my eyes while standing next to some of the Indian Grass (Sorghastrum) in the front yard, I can almost hear the ocean when the breezes blow . . . well, maybe not, but they do remind me of the dune plants like Sea Oats and Salt Hay that I love.
I read an article in an old copy of Horticulture magazine that really puts plant names/plant tag information into layman's terms.