Grow: Plants & Vegetables
After a visit to the coast with horticulturist Hope Sterling, of Sylvan Nursery in Westport, Massachusetts, host Michael Weishan comes away with six great picks for plants that thrive by the sea.
Indigenous to the Far East*, Rosa rugosa was introduced into New England in the late 19th-century. Since that time it has thoroughly naturalized itself along the New England coastline that many people wrongly assume it is a native species. Rosa rugosa can grow in pure sand, with roots that probe down deep to find moisture. Highly tolerant of harsh wind and salt spray, the shrub puts on a vibrant, fragrant bloom in June and maintains the show off and on throughout the summer. The size of a Rosa rugosa will depend on the atmospheric conditions: If planted near the coast the wind will sheer the shrub and keep it low; planted further inland where conditions are a bit milder, it can reach heights between 8 and 10 feet. Once established, these shrubs are almost indestructible. You can cut them back very hard at end of year and they'll come right back the next. The plant also produces rose hips, which are high in vitamin C and edible. Birds may find them tastier than you will, though some people do make jam from the flower petals and hips.
The fragrant bayberry's waxy leaf helps it tolerate the burning properties of salt spray in an exposed position. It also has deep roots that enable the shrub to grow in sand, but the bayberry will do equally fine in an inland garden, although you should be prepared for it to grow significantly larger.
Popular as privacy hedging, privet is a fast-growing, salt-tolerant semi-evergreen we recommend for seaside conditions primarily because of its ability to create a protective microclimate. Privet provides a barrier against the wind that will allow plants to thrive within its enclosure that would not survive full exposure to harsh conditions. In the summer it blooms with lots of little white flowers similar to boxwood in fragrance some people (Michael) love the smell, while others (Hope) finds the odor distinctly unpleasant. At any rate, privet is a hardy plant, and in fact can become a 20- or 30-foot monster if not pruned on a regular basis.
Another good seaside screening plant is the highbush cranberry. Hardy to Zone 4, its attractive plump berries are very popular with wildlife. Native to New England, this cranberry will reach a height of 10 to 12 feet.
Remember this beauty from your grandmother's garden? Though still a great choice for coastal conditions, this plant is very sensitive to soil pH when it comes to the color of its flowers. More alkaline soil will cause the plant to bloom bright pink, whereas a more acidic soil such as most of New England's will shift the color to blue. Thus it's one of the few flowers whose color you can choose yourself. If your soil tends to the acidic side, adding lime will help "sweeten" it and help the flowers bloom pink. Conversely, aluminum sulfate will help acidify alkaline soil to produce bluer hydrangeas.
The funky foliage of heaths and heathers offer a robust diversity of choices. These plants love the seaside climate, and since they come in so many varieties, you can use them to create striking waves of color and texture. Some grow 2 to 3 feet tall, while others remain tiny. Different varieties bloom at different times throughout the year, anywhere from January or February to August or September.
* Editor's note: The section on Rosa rugosa above was updated on November 14, 2002, to correct an editing error in which it was incorrectly stated that the shrub is indigenous to New England.
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This segment appears in show #2717.