Mediterranean Gardens

Mediterranean gardens are all the rage and it’s a trend that’s likely to grow in popularity as we seek to capture the summery, hedonistic atmosphere of Spain, Italy, southern France or Greece in our backyards.

For many of us, the Mediterranean lifestyle has a laid back image, which is an irresistible antidote to the hectic pace of modern life. For others, the Mediterranean style is an appealing design trend, characterised by bright colours and contrasting earthy hues.

The typical Mediterranean climate has wet winters and dry summers – so it is important that you choose plants that work well in these conditions. And providing you work to a good design, this type of garden can be relatively low maintenance.

Think of Mediterranean gardens, and your mind probably conjures images of blue skies, sunbaked courtyards, and long, lazy lunches under vine-covered pergolas. In every good Mediterranean garden design the key ingredients are light, warmth, simplicity and relaxation.
The Essential Ingredients
The features of a Mediterranean garden can be diverse, but the one thing they don’t include is modern components (such as modern sculpture/furniture).
  • The main hard landscape materials are:
    • Stone, concrete and ceramics – these durable, earthy materials are used in abundance.
    • Timber is also occasionally used (usually for constructing pergolas and sturdy outdoor tables and benches).
    • Metal is rarely used – generally restricted to decorative cast iron lacework.
    • The only use of plastics is likely to be lightweight pots in ceramic colours.
  • The predominant colours have a sun bleached look:
    • White, or earthy shades such as terracotta and sandstone are popular.
    • Splashes of bright colours such as brilliant blues are used for contrast. (This also reminds the viewer of the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean Sea.)
  • Typically these gardens don’t have lawns (or only small patches of lawn). Lawns need lots of water in summer, which is the driest time of year in most Mediterranean climates. Instead ground surfaces are paved or covered with gravel.
  • Walled gardens and courtyards are popular. They create warm, sheltered and intimate spaces for relaxing and entertaining.
  • Overhead shade is a necessity – usually provided by pergolas and verandahs.
  • Outdoor furniture is essential for relaxing – for a rustic look use long timber tables and benches; in more formal settings, metal furniture may be preferred.
  • Water features are usually simple, often used for their cooling effect – swimming pools, fountains or ponds rather than watercourses or cascades.
  • Terracing is used on larger, sloping blocks.
  • Garden ornaments are either traditional and/or rustic. Examples include olive jars and traditional statues
  • Plants tend to be secondary to the hard landscaping. They are hardy and drought tolerant, often with silver-grey foliage typical of drier climates. Many occur naturally in the Mediterranean, or have been grown in the area for thousands of years, eg.
    • Lavender
    • Olive
    • Roses
    • Rosemary
    • Pencil Pines.
  • Container plants are popular, including window boxes with geraniums and large tubs or barrels planted with citrus or olives.
  • Topiary and other pruning techniques can add to the formal elements of a Mediterranean garden.
  • Splashes of bold colour are sometimes used – but not always. The preferred uses of bold colour are colourful tiles or bright painted walls, mosaics and tromp l’oeil – these should not be excessive.
Plants for Mediterranean gardens

Plant Foliage features Flower Features
Olives Deep green and silvery beneath Insignificant but followed with olive berries
Citrus Lush glossy leaves Small scented white blossoms
Lavender Silvery green & scented Scented blue spikes
Gazanias Low growing lobed green leaves Starry bright orange and yellow flowers
Rosemary Deep green dense scented foliage Small bluish flowers
Roses Divided glossy green leaves Variable coloured blooms in clusters or singular
Geraniums Rounded or lobed smooth or furry leaves Blooms borne above the plant in various colours
Cistus Silvery green leaves Bright single rose-like flowers in various colours
Grapes Climber with large lobed deciduous leaves Insignificant flowers followed by edible berries either black or green
Bay tree Firm green leaves on erect bush Insignificant flowers
Lilac Large lobed deciduous leaves Mauve, lilac or white upright clusters
Cypress Small dense blue-grey to green needles Insignificant flowers followed by cones
Pomegranates Small green glossy leaves Beautiful red flowers followed by red/orange rounded fruit
Oleanders Dull green elongated leaves with white sap Flowers borne over many months in warmer districts in various colours.

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