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Coastal Auckland Landscape Design

Red pohutuawa tree flowers

Auckland Landscape Design – Plants for Coastal Sites

During my Auckland landscape design career, many garden design projects I have worked on have had stunning coastal backdrops. With these gorgeous views, comes the challenge of putting together a landscape of plants aka a ‘plant palette’ that can cope with the salt-laden winds of the exposed Auckland coastline.

Agapanthus aside, there are plenty of plants that are hardy to salty breezes and that will thrive in the humid Auckland climate. This blog focuses on the larger plants (trees, shrubs and hedges) you might find suitable for your Auckland landscape design project. My second blog on coastal garden design focuses on smaller plants (perennials and groundcovers) and is also worth a read if you are planning a wind-swept coastal garden.

Coastal Auckland Landscapes – Wind Tolerant Trees and Shrubs to Consider

Every landscape design needs at least one tree for scale and impact. Iconic Auckland coastal trees such as Cabbage Trees (Cordyline australis) and Pohutakawa (Metrosiderous excelsa) are excellent coastal choices.

  • If you like the Pohutukawa look but don’t have space in your Auckland garden for a 10m+ tree, then consider one of its smaller cousins such as shrubby Metrosideros ‘Tahiti’, which flashes its brilliant scarlet-orange flowers from mid-winter through spring and makes a great coastal hedge when clipped. 

  • Another showy flowering shrub / small tree perfect for use in an Auckland coastal landscape design is Callistemon (Bottlebrush). Prized for their striking flowers, Bottlebrushes are great if you want to attract birds to your garden, as the nectar-rich flowers cover the shrub almost year round. While the older tree-like types are perfect for the larger garden, the new more modest-sized cultivars such as Callistemon ‘Little John’ and Callistemon ‘Macarthur’ make a better selection for the smaller Auckland plot. These can be used as small trees, large shrubs or hedged.

  • A good flowering tree option for your coastal site is the bird-attracting Kowhai. It has a lovely, airy form that can look amazing just underplanted with soft grasses for a very simple, coastal landscape design solution. Sophora longicarinata is one of the smallest tree-form Kowhai. It has a graceful weeping form and a mature size of approximately 3m – 5m.

  • Manuka and Kanuka are fast-growing ‘pioneer’ plants that can also provide shelter for other establishing plants. Ranging from 4m+ trees to rounded, sprawling shrubs, there are plenty of forms to choose from, with showy displays of red, pink or white flowers.

  • Leucadendron and Protea have spectacular flower bracts that are popular in floral design as well as being an easy-care landscape option. These South African beauties are not as well suited to our humid Auckland climate, however can sometimes be seen flourishing if localised conditions are just right, so don’t discount them.

  • For smaller foliage consider the useful, versatile and coastal-tolerant Escallonia. With its glossy foliage and fast growth habit, escallonia makes a great hedge alternative to buxus. It can also be grown as a shrub or clipped into mounds. Pink, white and crimson flowers are subtle but profuse.

  • It's hard to beat oleander when it comes to tough low-fuss plants. Fast growing and excellent for creating a  shrubby shelter belt for smaller establishing plants, Oleander can also be hedged.

  • If you're a fan of NZ native plants, consider tough Pittosporum and Corokia shrubs for adding bulk, screening, or shelter to windswept Auckland landscapes. Some cultivars make better hedging plants than others and for the coastal Auckland garden, best hedge outcomes are achieved with cultivars that have tight forms such as  Pittosporum ‘ Stephens’ Island’ and Corokia ‘Geenty’s Green’. The others are best grown in a loose shrub or small tree form. 

  • Another NZ native shrub that's a favourite for a coastal landscape design is ‘Fivefinger’ (Pseupdonax). With thick glossy leaves in deep green, burgundy-tinged, and even splashy variegated tones, 'Fivefinger’ are versatile plants. They are aesthetically well-suited to a number of coastal garden themes including the coastal NZ native garden and the coastal subtropical garden.

Auckland Landscape Design - Coastal Subtropical Garden Plants

A popular Auckland landscape design theme is ‘coastal subtropical’, a glorious mix of large foliage plants and tough palms.  Many of our lovely New Zealand native trees and large shrubs are particularly well suited to this design idiom, as well as being suitable for the coastal Auckland landscape. 

  • Puka (Meryta sinclarii) is a stand-out landscape feature tree, with distinct oversized glossy leaves just perfect for a sub-tropical design. It needs space to spread though and as we know the Auckland garden can often be spatially challenged.

  • If your landscape space is limited, take another look at many of our popular NZ native shrubs as with a little shaping, many of these bird-attracting shrubs can also be grown as small landscape trees. Plant families such as pseudopanx (Fivefinger), the faster-growing Coprosma (Karamu), and Griselinia (Kapuka) all have a multitude of big-leaved, wind-tolerant cultivars to choose from. These all also make ideal landscape hedges, if your design has a formal element or you need a windbreak or privacy solution.

  • Showy Hibiscus are popular in sub-tropical landscape design and with a little shelter from the harshest winds can also be suitable in a coastal garden design.  With so many to choose from it’s hard to know where to start. For the Auckland landscape, consider New Zealand-bred varieties by Jack Clarke, known as Clarke’s Hybrids. These are a cross between Fijian and Hawaiian hibiscus and are ideally suited to Auckland conditions. Hawaiian hibiscus is also suitable for the Auckland landscape, preferring a warm, sheltered, sunny spot.

  • Lemon-scented Michelia gracipes and the very similar Michelia yunnanensis are tough, shrubby plants much used in Auckland landscape design. Members of the Magnolia family, they make attractive shrubs for the coastal garden. Ideal as a hedging plant, Michelia can also be grown as a small specimen tree - perfect if you like the look of larger Magnolia trees such as M.‘Little Gem, but don’t have the space.  Like Magnolia, Michelia has glossy leaves with a furry brown coating on the underside that are great for repelling salt-laden winds.

One could go on, as there is an abundance of plants that are suitable to coastal positions and that could be included in your landscape design. Whatever you eventually decide on, give it the best chance of flourishing by ensuring the plant also fits other site conditions, such as soil type, drainage, and sun aspect. This will save you a lot of time and effort in the long run and you will be rewarded for years to come with a  gorgeous garden.

Stuck for ideas for your coastal garden?  Just get in touch and we will help you create a personalised garden plan.

Auckland landscape design company DIY Designs is located in the coastal setting of Titirangi, West Auckland. We also work online providing a range of affordable fixed-price landscape and planting plans so we can help get your coastal garden transformation underway regardless of where in New Zealand you live.