Flowers in the Shingle
A visit to the stony beach at Shingle Street in summer is a 'must'.
From an apparently barren waste of stones, nature has conjured up
an astonishing artist's palette of colour not bettered by a garden
centre. Sea pea, sea kale, red valerian, herb Robert and yellow-horned
poppy are wild flowers of the shingle. They usually grow some distance
from the breaking waves, and are confined to a well-defined zone
of old shingle thrown up by winter storms lost in history.
At Shingle Street, the shingle plants may be out of reach of the
pounding waves, but they have no protection from flying salt spray
and screaming winds. They flourish in their spectacularly hostile
home without shade or shelter and are superbly adapted to their
harsh environment. A beach can be frigidly cold, or baking hot.
Tearing winds can desiccate leaves and loosen roots, and salt spray
is a constant hazard. They need fresh water to survive, and rainwater
that percolates through the shingle is absorbed at depth by the
deep taproots possessed by some shingle plants. Those same roots
give the plants a solid anchorage in the loose shingle.
Farthest from the waves, the older shingle has accumulated vital
nutrients - bird droppings and plant remains - that have washed
down deep into the stones and made life possible for pioneering
plant colonisers. Generations of plants have created a thin soil
where you will find patchy swards of short, rabbit-grazed grass
scattered with sea campion, ladies bedstraw, vipers bugloss, weld,
common storksbill, yellow stonecrop, sea spurge and English stonecrop:
wonderful old country names that have been passed down through the