One of the hardest areas to deal with in the garden can be a windy spot. Winds are usually a problem for gardens near the coast, where there is little protection from the changeable weather. But gardens in hillside locations can also suffer with strong winds.
Wind can be very unpredictable and one minute a spot will seem calm, whereas a few seconds later you can feel as though you will be blown off your feet. This can be particularly challenging for plants which don’t have the ability to move to shelter.
One of the first suggestions for dealing with wind is to plant some tougher, fast-growing species to act as a windbreak, but you will need to select plants that put down roots fast, are happy if they are whipped about in the breeze, or have adaptations to reduce the water loss.
Here are 20 wind-proof plants which should be able to gain a foothold, even in blustery locations.
Trees for windy areas
1. Cupressus macrocarpa
Cupressus are vigorous, evergreen trees with aromatic foliage. They are often quite narrow and column-like but are quick growing and will spread out with age. They are a great tree to establish a wind break to give protection for any less rugged plants.
2. Crataegus monogyna
Hawthorns are probably one of the commonest hedging plants you see in the UK, and it is because they are incredibly tough and adaptable that they have become so ubiquitous. These deciduous trees have branches covered in tough thorns and deeply lobed leaves. In spring they are covered in white blossom followed by red berries. This tree is seeped in folklore, from tales of fairies living under their roots, to the flowers being an ill omen if they are brought inside. No garden in the British Isles should be without it.
3. Ilex aquifolium
Hollies are incredibly tough shrubs, and their thick waxy leaves make them less likely to dry out. They will need to be kept well watered while they establish, but a holly hedge can form a quick growing and dense barrier that will offer protection for anything planted on its leeward side. Add to that the fact that they are evergreen, burglar-proof, and if you have both male and female plants, they will provide berries for the birds, and you have possibly the perfect hedge.
4. Pinus nigra
Pine trees are often seen at the coast. Just behind the grassy part of the sand dunes, you may find a dense pine wood protecting the coast from the most extreme of storms. They are evergreen with attractive bark and their irregular shape can give them a fascinating gnarled and wizened appearance, even as a young tree.
Shrubs for windy areas
5. Hippophae rhamnoides
Hippophae rhamnoides is more commonly known as Sea buckthorn. These deciduous shrubs have narrow silvery leaves. Whilst their flowers are little to talk about, in late summer they are covered with bright orange edible berries. You do need both male and female plants to get a good crop of berries. However, they are incredibly tough, wind-proof plants and will have no problems coping with an exposed costal location.
6. Eleaegnus x submacrophylla
These large evergreen shrubs are often overlooked. Eleagnus can be found with foliage varying from pale silvers, through to bright yellow and emerald green variegation. They are easy to grow in almost any situation but will often not be noticed until the autumn when they produce clusters of tiny white tubular flowers. You probably won’t even see the flowers, as they are hidden where the leaf meets the stem, but you will almost definitely notice their scent, and be left stood wondering how such a ordinary looking shrub could be giving off such a divine scent.
7. Tamarisk tetrandra
This small deciduous tree is not a common sight away from coastal areas, but will be familiar as roadside planting in Northern France. They are surprisingly tough and can tolerate quite high winds. They have vigorous growth but light, open, wispy foliage and appear like candy floss when they are covered in pink flowers from late summer on their new growth. You will need to cut it back hard at the start of spring to stimulate lots of new wood, and prevent it getting too top heavy.
8. Griselinia littoralis
You could easily mistake this evergreen shrub for laurel with its light green, oval, waxy leaves. However, its stems tend to have a slightly zig-zagging growth habit that makes them look a bit more elegant. They do bear tiny yellow green flowers and ,if you have both male and female bushes, you may get small purple fruits, but they are mainly grown to provide a dense, evergreen hedge, tolerant of winds that and protecting anything on its leeward side.
9. Mahonia Japonica
The outline of Mahonia japonica (or the closely related mahonia x media) is very distinctive and once you know it, it will be hard to miss. They tend to have long, corky stems, topped with a whorl of large, spiny, leaves that look a bit like holly. In late winter and early spring, they are topped with long spikes of heavily scented yellow flowers that are loved by early bumblebees, and are sometimes followed by black or purple berries.
10. Berberis darwinii
The police often recommend planting this evergreen shrub under windows to dissuade burglars. After encountering it, you’d know exactly why. The stems are covered in needle-like spines and even the leaves have a few prickles, ready to ward off any invader, ( or gardener for that matter!) They are covered with drooping, bright orange flowers in early spring and sometimes followed by small, blue-black berries.
11. Rosa rugosa
No garden would be complete without a few roses. But this rose is not a timid and delicate beauty like the tea rose. Rosa rugosa is a tough character with masses of upright , suckering stems that are bristling with sharp prickles and thick, almost leathery foliage which makes it a great plant to create a dense, impenetrable, but natural hedge. In summer they are covered with large fragrant flowers which are followed by big red hips.
Perennials for windy areas
12. Vernonia crinita
This easy-to-grow, late summer perennial deserves far more popularity. Its dark, upright stems are topped in late summer with tall purple flower spikes which are loved by butterflies and are followed by contrasting , fluffy seed heads. It prefers moist soils, but will tolerate most soil types. It gets its nickname, ironweed, from its incredibly tough stem, which keeps it standing upright, even in a gust.
13. Anthemis tinctoria
Athemis is a popular plant for costal gardens as, throughout the summer, it will produce a succession of lemon yellow, daisy-like flowers, above its aromatic, finely cut and feathery foliage. They appreciate a sunny spot and sharp drainage. However, with a little bit of shelter from the fiercest of winds, they should thrive. After flowering, cut them back hard to promote dense growth from the base of the plant.
14. Erodium manescavii
It would be easy to mistake this plant for a hardy geranium, and they are close relatives with similar flowers and seed pods. Erodium manescavii has a slightly tougher nature than the hardy geranium though, thriving in even the harshest locations. It has a looser, and more open habit and will happily wend its way through a border, rooting wherever there is a gap and producing a succession of purple flower throughout the summer.
15. Armeria maritima
Most of us will be familiar with thrift from a trip to the seaside. This low growing , evergreen perrenial plant clings to almost shear cliff faces forming mounds of tufted, grassy dark green leaves. In early spring their tiny drumstick like flowers emerge, topped with small Pom-Pom flowers in all shades of pink through to almost white. They do appreciate full sun and well drained soils, but will happily tolerate a battering from the wind making them perfect for coastal gardens.
16. Crambe cordifolia
Few plants can vie with crambe for sheer exuberance. This coastal plant is actually a member of the cabbage family. However, despite being well-adapted to living in harsh, exposed areas, it is most definitely the ‘peacock’ of the brood. In summer, from an unassuming cluster of grey leaves, there emerges the most enormous plume of wispy, white flowers like a cloud of smoke left by a fire work. It is like gypsophilla on steroids and will be a show piece for the border and a great background against which to display other flowers.
17. Eryngium bourgatii
Eryngium are sometimes known as sea holly. This gives some indication as to the location they prefer, with many species originating from coastal locations, colonising the shingle at the top of a beach. They have prickly, holly like leaves which are often grey or even blue with prominent white veins. In summer, they produce tall flower spikes bearing prickly thistle like flowers, which brown off and dry out during the summer. You can leave them on the plant right through the winter for the striking silhouette they cast, especially when rimmed with hoar frost.
Grasses for windy areas
18. Panicum virgatum
This tough grass from the North American prairie is an essential part of many modern planting schemes. The steely, grey-green, upright stems flower in late summer with a wispy purple head that creates a fine haze that dances in even the slightest wind. As winter approaches they take on a whole new dimension as they fade to a soft golden brown.
19. Nassella tenuissima
This popular evergreen grass is great for using in a sunny, well-drained position. For example it would work well in the edging for a deep herbaceous border. It forms small clumps of very fluffy foliage, like tufts of green hair. From mid-summer onwards it’s topped with slightly paler flowering stems which sway elegantly as they catch the breeze.
Annuals for windy areas
20. Eschscholzia californica
The Californian poppy is a specialist in hot dry locations. It will tolerate blazing sun, poor dry soil and even a bartering from the wind. They germinate easily in the spring with finely cut, silvery foliage and will flower through most of the summer with a profusion of their delicate flowers. They come in many colours, from cream to yellow and orange and even some pink varieties. Let them set seed along the edges of beds and paths and they will come back year in year out.
See all the sections in my Plant Guide here.