7 tips to create a Mediterranean style garden
So, we’re having a Mediterranean summer, with long, sunny days and hot, balmy nights – perfect for enjoying evenings in the garden.
Those with fast-draining or sandy soil may be in an ideal spot to create their own Mediterranean haven, going with gravel, tiles or paving to make a courtyard-style space rather than focusing on a water-guzzling lawn.
So, how can you get that Mediterranean feel?
1. Use terracotta planters
Think bright pink or red trailing geraniums tumbling over old terracotta or stone pots, or if you’ve limited space, attach some smaller terracotta planters to a south-facing wall and fill them with trailing drought-lovers which won’t need endless watering.
Alternatively, make a feature out of huge Grecian urns strategically placed in borders or as stand-alone features at the end of walkways or in the centre of small courtyards.
Permanent planters in the Mediterranean garden can also save you time, whether it be agapanthus or hardy evergreen herbs. If you situate them on gravel, plunge the base of each container a few centimetres into the gravel, which will encourage plants to root through into the soil underneath as well as keeping your pot stable.
If you have space – and somewhere to house them in winter, such as a conservatory – consider growing a pot of citrus such as lemons, to add a Mediterranean feel and scent.
You can grow dazzling bougainvillea in containers and bring it outside every summer, from early June to late September, then move it to a frost-free conservatory for winter.
2. Consider gravel or cool tiles
Gravel gardens are commonplace in the Mediterranean and in this country the gravel surface acts as a permanent mulch which will help prevent seed seedlings and conserves moisture.
Choose a sunny, sheltered spot and prepare the soil, raking it level and then spreading 5cm (2in) gravel over the surface.
Plant sparingly – don’t smother the gravel surface with plants. They can be placed here and there and perhaps embellished with stone or terracotta planters or an old wooden or stone bench.
Avoid bedding plants which are too thirsty. Instead, grow exotic-looking shrubs such as phormium and olearia or grasses with silvery leaves, as well as ground cover such as sedum and thyme.
3. Incorporate water
Water creates cool relief in hot countries and can be used not only to provide movement, but also reflective value. Stone fountains are a big feature of many Mediterranean gardens but at home, consider your surroundings.
If you have plenty of room, you might go for an ornate tiered structure, providing a cool cascade of water which you can run your hands through. With less space you might go for still water in a terracotta storage jar or a lined stone trough.
4. Create shade
Any Mediterranean garden worth its salt should offer shade during the heat of the day. Consider how you are going to achieve that naturally. Perhaps grow climbers that love heat, such as grapevine and trumpet vine, over a pergola with traditional seating underneath.
5. Use drought-tolerant plants
Peter Jones, garden manager for Hardy Ornamental (which include the Mediterranean terraces at RHS Garden Wisley) suggests cistus (rock rose), a lovely family of shrubs ideal for a hot sunny position, which will form mounds of green foliage and a profusion of simple flowers, from whites to deep pink.
Other great plants which will thrive in long hot summers include lavender, while for architectural value consider Cupressus sempervirens (Pencil Cypress) one of the archetypal Mediterranean trees, which grows to produce a tall slender green pillar of evergreen interest, perfect for that Med look.
Lagerstroemia indica (Crepe myrtle), which is rarely grown in the UK but quite suited to our climate, is a multi stemmed shrub/small tree with beautiful bark and glossy green foliage producing a profusion of crepe paper like flowers in colours from light pink to deep burgundy.
Another alternative is the pomegranate tree (Punica granatum), which originated in the region extending from modern day Iran through Afghanistan and Pakistan to northern India, and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean region.
This architectural small tree can make a fun alternative to an olive, with larger specimens having very characterful form.
Palms such as Trachycarpus fortunei also add that touch of Riviera glamour.
6. Don’t forget succulents
Cacti and succulents are regular features in the Mediterranean garden, growing out of old stone walls and rockwork. If you have a gravel gap between your house and your paving, a strip of sempervivums or other succulents will soften the line beautifully.
7. Use simple décor
Once you are surrounded by terracotta and old stone or tile landscaping, you don’t really want contemporary, shiny furniture. Choose simple wooden benches or seats which will weather with age, to fit with the look.
And grow herbs such as thyme and oregano near seating areas, which will smell delicious as well as add to the flavour of the food you serve your guests.
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