Coastal Gardening: Shade-Loving Plants for the Sea Coast

A collection of shade plants that grow well on the coast. from

A collection of shade plants that grow well on the coast. from

Sea coast gardening is challenging enough in full sun, but choosing wind- and salt-tolerant plants for the shade can be downright daunting. Most shade plants didn’t evolve in unprotected, windy zones – they are used to the shelter of trees. Not to worry – there are a few beautiful plants that can help give your shady sea coast garden a bold, colorful look.

Designing with a limited palette can actually be really fun – paradoxically, reducing your options can make it easier to create a gorgeous garden, because you needn’t spend a lot of time considering options that simply won’t work. Instead, you can focus your time on selecting between the variations in color and form found within a few types of plants.

Here are a few favorite options for a shady seacoast garden:

Hydrangea macrophylla Fuchsia thymifolia Persicaria 'Red Dragon'
Tassel Fern Phormium 'Tricolor' Hydrangea 'Nikko Blue'
Heuchera 'Velvet Night' Daboecia Japanese Forest Grass

(You can click on each photo to view larger) Clockwise from top left: Hydrangea ‘Blue Wave’/ Blue Lacecap Hydrangea, Fuchsia thymifolia/ Fairy Fuchsia, Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’/ Red Dragon Fleeceflower, Hydrangea ‘Nikko Blue’/ Blue Mophead Hydrangea, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’/ Japanese Forest Grass, Daboecia/ Irish Heath (part shade only, not full!), Heuchera ‘Velvet Night’/ Velvet Night Coral Bells, Polystichum polyblepharum/Tassel Fern, Phormium ‘Tricolor’/ Tricolor Flax in center.

Some other great choices are our native Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), native Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum), a few tough bulletproof Rhododendrons such as ‘Anah Kruschke’ (large) or ‘Dora Amateis’ (small), and Box Honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida), which tends to form more of a tight shrub in wind rather than its usual loose branching structure.

I also love Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’), Variegated Sweet Flag Grass (Acorus ‘Ogon’), Variegated Red Campion (Silene ‘Clifford Moor’), and Silver Astelia (Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’, best for part (not full) shade).

Want some more inspiration for your sea coast garden? Check out these other posts about which plants will thrive in tough coastal conditions:

Heathers and Heaths: Tough Plants for Your Seacoast Garden

Tips for Gardening on the Seacoast

Sturdy Perennial Flowers for the Seacoast

Hedges and Screening Plants for the Coastal Garden

9 responses to “Coastal Gardening: Shade-Loving Plants for the Sea Coast”

  1. Gen,

    Another wonderfully informative post about seaside gardening. I’m a bit jealous that I can’t grow all the plants you’re profiling here in my zone 6 garden or use them in my clients’ gardens. I am however very pleased to see another of my favorites on your list of seaside plants…Hakonechloa macra ‘Auroeola’. I bought 3 plants about 8 years ago (way before they were ‘in’ here) even though they cost $25 each for a 2-gal. container. Today, I divided a mature clump, again, into 4 pieces and decided to take a count of how many divisions I have in my garden all resulting from the original three. Believe it or not, I have 18 and that does not include the half dozen or so I’ve given away to friends and family. Not bad for my initial $75 investment. Even though I am able to use it in full shade to full sun and everything in between, I may finally be reaching my quota of Aureola.

  2. I have two hydrangeas in large pots on the East side of my McKinleyville home up against the house. They were gorgeous last year, a white and a pink so deep it looked almost red from the street. I really need a blue one too!

    The weather has been so strange here, I am hoping the chill in the air is gone for good.

    • Welcome, Cheryl! Thanks for saying hello! I love the crispness of white Hydrangeas… and that white and pink combo sounds lovely…

      I am with you in hoping for more reasonable weather! It’s very hard being a gardener in our recent rainy times!

      Debbie, how awesomely cool about Hakonechloa. I am thinking I may snag a few divisions from a mature clump of a friendly client and try them in my garden… I’m thinking the chickens probably wouldn’t eat them or be able to faze them much with all their kicking and scratching! That is, once they’re established. I’ll make a wire frame to start them out.

  3. I have fuchsia envy. Even though I live in Zone 8 on an island in Puget Sound, my hardy fuchsias still usually die to the ground in the winter. To see them taller than a backyard fence in your photo does indeed make me a little jealous. 😉 -TC