Creative ideas for sand dune gardens

SOME people love the sea, storms, sand and sun and believe that there is nothing more idyllic than living permanently or taking a few months holidays every year in a house or bungalow in coastal sand dunes or the inland dunes of Almeria. Their garden carved out from raw sand dunes created, weathered and shaped by high seas, wind, and rain for thousands of years. The ambiance only disturbed by sea gulls and passers by on the beach, and luckily not yet the cranes of coastal strip urbanisations. We visited such a situation recently and brainstormed some possible garden designs. We share five with readers. Some might even be tempted to purchase a few loads of sand to create artificial dunes if the current drought continues.

But before reviewing them reflect on the lifestyle you would expect within the sand dunes and the numbers of visitors that might be tempted to join you, invited or unexpectedly. Also the style of garden that you think would suit you, bearing in mind the inherent difficulties of constructing and maintaining a garden in such a situation.

Bear in mind the following potential problems.

  • Watering – Will the water be saline?
  • The possibility of shifting sands and erosion.
  • How to establish pockets of good soil for planting trees and shrubs.
  • The need for windbreaks and shade.
  • The need to provide for privacy and security.

 The five styles of garden we describe are entitled:

    • Retained wild dunes.
    • Enhanced sand dunes.
    • An oasis garden.
    • A Japanese style raked sand garden.
    • An old creek garden.



Why not, especially if your house is isolated and surrounded by wonderful natural views. Gulls and plovers your regular visitors and existing naturalised sea hollies, sand tulips and clumps of coastal grasses holding the dunes together. The main problem will be sand storms when gale force winds build up. But glass screens could be easily built around a terrace for eating, relaxing, siestas and sundowners.


Plant a few trees such as palms, pines, tamarix and holm oaks or a standard pittosporum that withstand salty winds. In time their natural windblown lean away from  prevailing winds would  add atmosphere to your garden. Along the boundary plant bamboos or a  hedge  of wildly growing lantana , oleanders, pittosporum, or purple bougainvilleas to provide a wind break. Tough grasses, thrifts, stonecrops, lavateras, euphorbias, pampas grass and capers  can all thrive in a sandy situation. Or how about a dune covered in  morning glory? Plants can be planted in good soil in buried containers, barrels or plastic lined trenches.

Develop interesting features from seashells, driftwood, pieces of old fishing nets,  fishing pots and floats etc. If you like the sun dig out sunbathing hollows.

Dry sand can get very hot and difficult to walk on . So construct wooden duck board pathways .They will look more natural than concrete slab pathways or stepping stones.


If  more adventurous consider developing an oasis with a round swimming pool or large pond as the central feature. Surround it with  tall palm trees and  beds of herbs, lantanas, hibiscus, pittosporum, irises, lilies, ground cover succulents and aloes.


A garden based on interesting rocks, drift wood, wind sculptured trees, clumps of bamboo and raked designs in the sand. If the sand is first bulldozed into an amphitheatre landscape, an impressive and secluded haven could be developed. Construct a tasteful raised boarded wooden terrace from which to see the best view. 


Many coastlines used to have numerous small creeks where birds would nest and an isolated fisherman left his small fishing boat. Why not reconstruct such a situation? If thoughtfully constructed from weathered materials it would not look like a film set. Dig out an area for a sizeable natural pool. Line it with pond plastic and fill with water. Hold the excess plastic down with weathered rocks or stones. Plant up  with flag irises, bull rushes and sedge reeds which will soon naturalise. Find an old wooden boat. One with holes will look more authentic. Place it partially in the water with the shore end in the reeds, tied to a post. Create a wooden slat terraced area  adjacent to the pool on which to build up a collection of oars, old fish pots and baskets.  Add a rustic trellis frame draped in old nets and coils of old ropes and you will have constructed a very special garden feature.


I look forward to seeing some more adventurous gardens when wandering along built up seashores in the coming years.




© Dick Handscombe July 2014


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