Beach Gardens and Family Secrets


Recently the weather was too glorious to resist going to the beach for the day, especially since it was mid-week and the kids were still in schools – no crowds!  So off to Rehoboth Beach, DE, where I walked the boardwalk and then rented a bike so I could cruise around and look at the gardens.  Sadly, what I discovered was that of the yards with any landscaping to speak of, 90% of them were dominated by Knockout roses, most of them paired with Nepeta.  Now I’ll confess, even to sophisticated Rant readers, that I’ve grown Knockouts and recommended them to clients, but it didn’t take long to get good and sick of them that day at the beach.  They were almost all red, too.


Imagine the scene above multiplied all over town.   At least this landscaper above (I’m guessing a professional) had the good sense to use light pink for a change.


This landscaper used that reddish Knockout I’ve come to dislike but I’m a big fan of the Ice Plant blooming here in purple.  It probably needs no supplemental watering at all.


I finally found a front-yard garden that looked like none other, and might even have been designed by the homeowner.  I almost left a thank-you note.  I’m just sorry this shadowy photo doesn’t do it justice.


One of my favorite plants for the beach is the architectural and suitably drought-tolerant Hollywood Juniper.  I tried growing one of these once in my former garden and soon learned that deer love them just as much as I do.  For rubbing, not eating, though rubbing destroys them just as quickly.


With no room for a garden, these restaurant-owners got creative.



Now for a trip down memory lane.  This beach town brought back memories of the one my family vacationed at when I was really young – Buckroe Beach, near Norfolk, VA.  The cottages were small and funky and the only plant I remember ever seeing in front of them was the mophead hydrangea.   So I looked for them in this wealthier, more professionally landscaped Delaware town and finally found just one.  I wonder if hydrangeas are less popular because they need such frequent watering, or simply because they can’t compete with repeat-blooming landscape roses.

buckroe beach

The highlight of every trip to Buckroe Beach for us kids was this amusement park, which opened in 1897 and lasted almost 100 years before it was torn down.  It had all the classic American games and rides, even a roller coaster!

Priate Beach-001

My Great-Aunt Pearl owned a small cottage right on the beach, which as you can see was “priate.”  We thought that misspelling was hilarious, and loved the cottage even more for it.  This photo of my older sister and me was taken in the early 50s, a few years before a hurricane left the cottage in shambles, never to be rebuilt.  The next summer we tried Nags Head, NC for the first time and loved it, though it was too far from our home near Richmond for weekend trips.

Many years later when I was all grown-up my mother gave me one more reason to fondly remember the old family cottage at Buckroe Beach.  She confided with an uncharacteristically suggestive smile that I was conceived right there on the porch, just above the piers and that misspelled sign.  As much as we’re all loathe to think of our parents having sex, this is the exception for me.  Sea air, the lapping of the waves, relatives sleeping in a nearby bedroom, and making a baby?  How could I not love that, or love the beach?

Amusement Park photo credit.


  1. Knockouts are truly dullsville, but I have a funny story that softens my opinion of them a bit. My almost-90 great uncle has been growing veggies and fussy roses his whole life. Recently my mother went to his cottage to see if she could help with the gardening.

    He told her the roses were fine because now he’s growing those “power roses.”

    She quickly deduced that he meant Knockout roses. I thought “power roses” was a much better name, and if a 90-year-old man is still gardening and wants to use Knockouts, more power to him. He’s still got the tomatoes to contend with, after all.

    About 10 years ago I visited Edinburgh, and was just struck by the beauty of the hydrangeas there, and the dazzling variety of roses. I’d try to mimic the look in my own garden, but hydrangeas (and most roses) aren’t winter hardy here.

    I wonder if Knockouts have arrived in the UK?

  2. Rehoboth has lost much of its charm in the last 15 years or so. The old cottages are being demolished and replaced with enormous ugly vinyl monstrosities that reach from property line to property line. Layout the ghastly knock out roses and start collecting the summer vacationers rent money. Route 1 is a disaster with chain restaurants and outlets lining every square inch. I used to love Rehoboth, but it’s disheartening to visit anymore.

  3. Great post! I especially loved the creation story. 🙂

    I don’t get too worked up over Knockout roses, I guess because I don’t see a zillion of them here. Yet. It is disheartening that homeowners aren’t more creative. That said, nepeta is all over the place here in Colorado, including my garden (hey, it’s easy, drought-tolerant, happily re-seeds, and the honeybees LOVE it).

  4. Little compares to the beautiful and delicate petals of a vibrant-colored rose. These roses are easy to grow, require little care and adapt to any landscape. They are disease resistant, heat tolerant.

  5. There are still quite a few hydrangeas around Rehoboth, more on the side streets than in the few commercial streets just north and south of Rehoboth Ave. I love them – they are the beach to me. I moved to this area in 2009 after being a summer resident for many years. I agree that Rehoboth has lost much of its charm, especially compared to the little beach town it was when I was a child, but it’s still a great little town. Lewes is amazing too. Some really gorgeous gardens there!

    I totally agree that there is a lot of uninspired landscaping here. I work in the office of a company that does a lot of it. Ugh. If I never see another swath of begonias planted in precise rows it’ll be too soon. That said, a lot of these homes are owned by people who are only part time residents, so it’s difficult to maintain a garden that needs much more than occasional weeding, mulch, and mow and blow.

  6. Great article! I’m not crazy about the ubiquitous red Knockouts, but I’d rather see them than sod. Loved the brief trip down memory lane…I , too, have lots of fun beach memories, many illustrated with hydrangeas.

  7. Great article! Rehoboth Beach was where my Mother grew up and she mentioned the same thing as Tina – it’s just not the same anymore.

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