Made famous in the countrysides of France, Greece, and Italy, Mediterranean gardens have influenced many gardeners, with their soft colors, gravel walks, brightly patterned tiles, clipped hedges, informal and drought-tolerant plantings. And not to mention the delightful scent offered by the amazing number of Mediterranean plants with scented leaves.
Pleasing the eye, low-maintenance and typically water-wise, the Mediterranean garden look can be easily achieved through 9 key elements.
1. Shaded seating areas
The Mediterranean climate is so agreeable that seating areas are essential. They provide a place to unwind on a balmy summer evening or enjoy a coffee with the first rays of sunshine. However, in these sun-baked gardens, shade is vital. Pergolas are decorative structures that are ideal for providing necessary shade. They also make striking features, specifically when attractively covered with perfumed, climbing plants, which scent the evening air when you sit down and relax. Al fresco meals in the garden are a must and pergolas convert seating areas to inviting extensions of the house, adding intimacy and beauty.
Great plants to consider for pergolas:
- Campsis grandiflora (Chinese Trumpet Vine) with glowing orange or red, trumpet-shaped flowers in summer and fall and oval, toothed leaflets.
- Humulus lupulus 'Aurea' (Golden Hop) with golden leaves and pale green flowers in summer
- Ipomoea (Morning Glory) with heart-shaped leaves and vibrant blue, purple or red, trumpet-shaped flowers
- Jasminum officinale (Common Jasmine) with abundant clusters of delightfully scented white flowers
- Climbing roses such as ‘Albertine’ with strongly fragrant clusters of cup-shaped, double flowers, starting as reddish-salmon buds and opening to large copper-pink blossoms; ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ - a vigorous climber with long and graceful, trailing branches bearing drooping light green leaves and large sprays of small, soft lilac pink, double flowers.
- Vitis vinifera ‘Brant’ (Grape) a strong growing vine producing sweet, black grapes. Who could resist cutting luscious grapes while sitting outside on a late summer evening?
- Wisteria beloved for its pendulous clusters of divinely perfumed flowers in spring.
2. Pots and containers
Terra-cotta pots and jars are a famous feature of Mediterranean gardens.
Used as focal points or for container gardening, they come in all possible shapes or sizes, from the simple pot, to the large urn or classical garden vases. Select pots with a wide base to ensure they are not blown over. Favor clay pots that will remain cool by evaporation to plastic posts that will absorb the sun’s heat.
Remember to regularly water your plants. A potted plant has a smaller reserve of water than a plant grown in the ground.
Add a glazed saucer beneath your pot to hold water on which your plant will happily draw.
3. Gravel floor
In Mediterranean gardens, where gardeners have long coped with too little water for their plants and gardens or with drought periods, lawns have been considerable reduced or even totally eliminated and replaced with paving or gravel or a combination of both.
This considerably reduces water usage, but also has the incredible advantage of being low maintenance and making long-lasting, attractive mulches.
4. Water features
Water features are a must in Mediterranean gardens to cool the air in the heat of summer. The gleam of water also adds a delightful dimension to any garden. A trickle of shallow water and a mister on the hottest days are very attractive.
Whether in ornamental ponds, pools or fountains, the sight and sound of water always provides an enjoyable relief from hot, dry summers.
Butterflies, bees and birds enjoy water features too!
5. Pebbles and cobbles
Cobbles and pebbles can be woven into intricate designs, a lovely Mediterranean technique.
These pebble mosaics have a rich history dating back to ancient times. They were used for pavements and were the earliest type of mosaic in all areas of the Eastern Mediterranean. They still can be admired in many Mediterranean towns and villages.
Use stones of various colors and sizes that you may lay flat or on edge and create your own design, just like the Moors in southern Spain!
6. Mediterranean tiles
Reminiscent of the Moorish mosaic, glazed colored tiles are very decorative and may be used to decorate walls or patio floors.
Bursting with color, these create lively mosaics and can be used in a wide range of climates to create dramatic color accents with their rich combinations of pattern and color.
Here they beautifully brighten up the vertical surface of the risers.
7. Succulents and drought-tolerant plants
While there are different styles of gardens across the Mediterranean region and thousands of plants to be used, those immediately coming to mind belong to the tranquil color palette of grays, purples and blue-greens. Here is the list of heat-loving and drought-tolerant plants, favored by gardeners and admired by onlookers. It includes a variety of fragrant herbs as scent is important in a Mediterranean garden:
- Agaves - with their huge rosettes of spiky, fleshy leaves.
- Artemisia (Wormwood) - masses of aromatic, finely cut, silvery foliage
- Cistus (Rock Rose) - excellent evergreen, fully drought tolerant, with aromatic silver green leaves and large, rose like flowers.
- Cupressus sempervirens (Italian Cypress) - adds height and drama to the garden.
- Euphorbia characias (Mediterranean Spurge) - statuesque, evergreen perennial which enjoys months of chartreuse flowers
- Festuca glauca (Blue fescue) - wonderful dwarf ornamental grass, mostly grown for its finely-textured blue green foliage
- Genista hispanica (Spanish Broom) - spiny, gorse-like shrub with abundant clusters of bright yellow, pea-like flowers in late spring and early summer
- Laurus nobilis (Bay Tree) - lovely glossy green leaves great for use in the kitchen. Versatile plant that needs no watering in summer and is highly resistant to shade and salt spray.
- Lavandula (Lavender) - queen of the Mediterranean garden with its silver foliage and delightfully scented flowers
- Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary) - quick growing evergreen, aromatic and pretty in bloom.
- Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage) - prized for its ornamental and showy purplish and white flower spikes
- Santolina (Cotton Lavender) - with fine-textured foliage and yellow, button-like flowers.
- Stachys byzantina (Lamb's Ears) - grown for its rich rosettes of showy, velvety, silvery tongue-shaped leaves, resembling lamb's ears and bringing interest to the border
- Yucca - evergreen plant with sword leaves and beautiful, large, creamy-white bell flowers
Orange and lemon trees also add a Mediterranean touch. However, they will need to be planted in pots and sheltered overwinter unless you live in a Mediterranean climate.
8. Clipped hedges and topiary
They contribute to the garden’s architectural framework and make an excellent foil. Omnipresent of Mediterranean gardens is the Italian cypress (Cupressus Sempervirens), a very versatile, evergreen tree that adds height and drama, provides an attractive green backdrop all year round and is also ideal for privacy.
Clipped box is also currently used for low-growing hedges, providing both structure and basic ornament in all seasons.
9. Raised beds
Not only attractive, raised beds are all a fabulous opportunity for creating well-drained sites, an environment Mediterranean plants love.
They are also great at breaking the monotony, show plants off to their advantage and make gardening easier (no need to stoop!).
These raised beds can be formal or informal, dressed with gravel or mulch and even include larger boulders.