A handsome, well-structured garden with moderate maintenance and irrigation needs is easily achievable! The Mediterranean garden combines all the above advantages, while entertaining all five senses, and creating an ambience that will make you feel like being on vacation at home all year round…
Elements of a Mediterranean garden
The elements comprising Mediterranean gardens arose out of sheer necessity. The need for food, the dry soil and the shortage of water led to the cultivation of specific plants which are resistant to drought, edible and offer fruits.
- An inner courtyard (patio) is one of the most characteristic images of a Mediterranean garden. While in the past it served as a safe area for family gatherings, its most distinguishable feature today is a pergola with climbing vines, bougainvilleas, and other climbers, or a big tree that will offer valuable shade during the long hot hours of its native area.
- Stone is the backbone of these gardens: alleys and terraces, low and dry walls, fountains, ponds, wells and cisterns, waterpaths… On the other hand, prefer smaller paved areas, as a large one would store heat.
- Water, although in shortage, is essential for life and for a hint of freshness in this little-demanding garden. A well, a fountain, a little cistern, even a few water paths, will create a wonderful ambience, where the promise of a cool sip of water will blend with the murmuring of running water, satisfying a number of senses at once.
- Extended plains and prairies are not what you would find in a Mediterranean landscape, so avoid grass lawns which, in addition, have greater water and maintenance needs.
- Another trait of this type of garden is the paved or cobblestone floors, as well as the colorful mosaics. A pathway laid with colored gravel or with compacted soil and gravel, so that good drainage is ensured, can also be interesting, especially if it leads to a charming secluded area or to a fountain.
- Landscape in Mediterranean countries is characterized by terraced slopes for the purpose of increasing the scarce cultivable ground. In your garden, you can build different levels and stairs, features that will contribute to better water management and to the development of different plant species (vegetables, vineyard, fruit trees, etc) according to your needs.
- Perennials (e.g. cypress, olive tree, myrtle, laurel, lentisk, rosemary, lavender, sage) are representative of Mediterranean areas. You can use them repeatedly in tufts.
- Remember that the Mediterranean palette does not include dark green, shiny leaves, or big, impressive flowers. Think of the olive’s green-silver leaves, of the different textures and the nuances of green, of small gracious flowers, of the play of shadow and light upon surfaces.
- Aromatic herbs play a huge role in this type of garden. Just close your eyes and bring to mind the smell of dried oregano, of lavender and thyme, of the beneficial influence of essential oils extracted from Mediterranean plants.
Italian gardens developed during the Renaissance, when rich and powerful monarchs and aristocrats wished to embelish their homes and surroundings in a showy manner. The gardens were geometrical with very well-defined shapes of beds, trees and shrubs.
Here we see two examples of Italian gardens in northern countries (both in the UK): the left one (Trevarno) reminds slightly of Pompeian villas, while the right one (Garnish island) is representative of the more austere, yet pretty elegant Renaissance style.
Those of you who have visited the Greek islands may remember the scorching summer heat and the glazing sunlight as two of the main features of the country.
Greek gardens are an enchanting picture of colorful dashes on white or earthern background, pergolas with vines and other climbing trees creating deep shades, as well as raised beds and pots of various sizes and shapes giving home to the arduous plants of the region.
Gardens and landscaping in Spain took off during the Arab occupation of the country. Some excellent samples of this trend can be seen at the gardens of Alhambra, Andalucia.
The outline of the garden is once again geometrical, usually in a cross-like form. Lines are straight and water plays an important role in the composition.
Plant selection for the Mediterranean garden
As we already mentioned, perennials prosper in Mediterranean climate, as very easy to cultivate in dry and poor soil conditions.
A Med garden is, above all, a fragrant garden: sage, thyme, rosemary will please both your smell and your taste buds, as you can use them in the kitchen… They’re not tall plants, and they are perfect for edging strips or in a mini rock garden, on well-drained and not too humid soil. You can also accompany them by succulents, like sedums with their countless varieties, or aeoniums and aloe plants whose beautiful flowers will make a wonderful winter ornament.
Citrus trees: If the climate allows you, dare to plant orange, lemon or tangerine trees – preferably near the house, so as to protect them from the cold winds. Imagine opening your windows and letting the elegant fragrance of orange trees invade your room during blooming season…
Oleanders make glorious fences: they bear lots of flowers in varied colors: from white to fuchsia and everything in-between, plus some more – a magnificent palette at your disposal. An additional advantage is that the blooming season may last up to six months.
The silver-green foliage and the twisted trunk of olive trees is, of course, the trademark of Mediterranean landscape. Despite generally accepted ideas, olive trees can grow virtually anywhere, as some species can withstand temperatures well below zero. One thing to remember: olive trees don’t tolerate stagnant waters; a well-drained, pebbly, light soil, as well as a maximum amount of sunlight, are necessary for their survival. During the first three to five years you must be careful of ice; covering of the roots in the winter is a good precaution in cold climates.
Beehive urn and lavernder, garden statue, Italian garden (Trevarno),
Italian garden (Garnish island), Mediterranean terrace garden, Cyclades bougainvillea,
Patio de la Lindaraja (Alhambra), fountain in Alhambra gardens, oleander flowers