This is the second in a series of blogs looking at using plants for creating different effects, and considers Mediterranean planting – i.e. the plants and scenery that you associate with holidays in the warm, sunny, dry climate surrounding the Mediterranean.
What is a Mediterranean garden?
It has to be said that the term Mediterranean does invoke different mental images for different people. Some people think about exotic planting like the palms (e.g. Chamaerops humilis) found on the French Riviera. Others think about plants in bright blue pots – although these are more likely to be found in north Africa than Europe. But for most people – me included – Mediterranean planting refers to those often evergreen, aromatic plants that thrive in the well drained, sheltered, sunny climes of southern Europe. Plants often growing in gravel, near rocks, alongside irregular stone paths, or in terracotta containers. Plants to be enjoyed whilst on holiday, chilling with a glass of wine!
As I write this blog, it is pouring with rain outside – but our climate is getting warmer. And the current summer started with long spells of hot dry weather, interspersed with the odd deluge – much like the weather in southern Europe. So, a Mediterranean type of planting is becoming more appropriate for our climate, as well as being simply good to look at.
How do you create a Mediterranean feel in a garden?
As ever, you need to work with what you have got. There is no point in trying to create a Mediterranean garden in a shady swamp. Somewhere sunny, away from cold winds, and well drained is essential. If necessary drainage can be improved by adding compost and grit.
The hard landscaping and accessories are important but subtle. Mediterranean gardens typically have a lot of gravel, with some natural stone paving or perhaps tiles of some sort, and weathered pots and containers (often old olive jars or similar) – nothing too uber chic.
So, what plants to use?
In terms of the planting, Cupressus sempervirens (pencil Cypress) and Olives are ubiquitous in the southern European Med. They look good in the UK too but can be difficult to keep looking good in the UK climate. Evergreen shrubs like Arbutus, Euphorbia mellifera, Pittosporum tobira and Bay often make better backbone plants. Then think about using Rosemary, and other aromatics and herbs such as Sage, Marjoram/Origanum, and Thyme.
The colour scheme is typically dark green and grey foliage (often evergreen) accompanied by flowers in pastel shades of pink, mauve/purple and white/cream/pale yellow. Think Cistus, Lavender, Phlomis, Santolina, Teucrium, Nepeta, Salvia, Helianthemum, Dianthus and perhaps Perovskia. Roses are also often found in southern European gardens, and although they might not be considered typically Mediterranean, they are remarkably drought tolerant and will provide a lot of early summer colour.
Climbers like Trachelospermum (evergreen with wonderfully scented white flowers), and grape vines are also an essential component.
The plants above are perhaps some of the key ingredients in a Mediterranean themed planting, but there are plenty of other plants that will work well with these, without spoiling the overall effect. For example:
- Grasses like Stipa, Festuca etc
- Perennials – Sedums, Helichrysum, Artemisia, Osteospermum, Achilliea, Alliums, Catananche, Iris germanica, Knautia, Anthemis, Stachys, Sempervivum.
- Small leaved Hebe, Olearia, Tamarix
- Tender perennials for pots e.g. Pelargoniums – often the brightest flowers in the Med garden.
If you want to add a slightly more exotic twist, consider palms (Chamaerops), Yucca, Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), Campsis, and maybe even plants like Agapanthus, which will add a lush leafiness.
And when planning your Mediterranean garden, don’t forget one final vital detail – a nice cosy spot to sit and chill on a hot summer’s day!
Photo credits: Tib, tato grasso, peterkok, Seán A. O’Hara, Ramin Nakisa, Leonora (Ellie) Enking, Hans, Pierre Bona, Ken Irwin, JH Mora, BotBln, A. Barra, Ghislain118, RASSIL, Forest & Kim Starr, Epibase, Dalgial, Joanbanjo, William Avery