Mediterranean gardens evoke a relaxed, ‘holiday’ feel. With their gravel paths, patterned tiles, clipped hedges and drought-tolerant plants, this budget-friendly style offers plenty of ideas for a sunny south-facing garden or border. And, because it’s low maintenance and water-wise, it suits our changing climate too. By Louisa Gilhooly
The typical Mediterranean garden is a place for relaxing, so for this garden I’ve embraced the concept of an outdoor room, providing for a bit of sunbathing and al fresco dining.
In sun-baked gardens shade is essential; a shaded seating area means the garden can be used all day, and is more comfortable for dining and entertaining. Pergolas and arbours make striking features, especially when covered in climbing plants. Parasols and sun sails such as the canopy used here provide a less permanent screen and can be removed in winter to let in more light.
Here we’ve gone for natural materials to create the seating areas and access paths: wood, gravel and natural stone for the patios and pathways. Or, you could recreate a beachy-boardwalk feel with decking and replace lawns with swathes of gravel.
Nothing says ‘Mediterranean’ quite like a few terracotta or colourful glazed pots in assorted sizes. Use them as focal points or for container gardening: they’re versatile, portable and have the added bonus that you can change the plantings. They’re ideal for collections of herbs by the kitchen door.
There’s a fantastic selection of plants to choose from: stick to those that hail from the region so they complement each other for a more authentic, cohesive look. Many drought-tolerant plants have adaptations that make them better able to cope with hot, dry conditions. Look out for leaves that are grey-green (glaucous) or silver, needle-like, or which have a hairy/waxy/oily leaf. These features protect them from scorching summer sunshine and help them conserve moisture and thrive in arid conditions with very little irrigation. Many of these plants are also wonderfully fragrant, visually striking and some are delicious to eat.
Cistus, santolina and stachys are ideal for adding texture and colour, while lavender and rosemary bring scent. Together they’ll provide plenty of nectar and pollen for visiting insects.
Fleshy-leaved succulents also perform well in hot, sunny locations: echeverias, sempervivums (houseleeks) and agaves look striking in containers. Sedums and hylotelephiums have fleshy, water-filled leaves and perform in late summer, extending the season of interest into autumn and winter.
Use drought-tolerant shrubs Rosemary, Genista lydia (broom) and cistus all hail from the Med. They’ll look sleek and glossy all summer, with colourful flowers loved by pollinators.
Create a plant screen This small screen stops you seeing the entire garden at once, making the space feel bigger. It also introduces the idea of zones – separate areas for different activities, improving the sense
Let fragrance waft indoors Planting lavender and other scented plants close to the patio doors allows the fragrance to filter into the house, adding an extra dimension to the garden and softening the boundary between indoors and outdoors.
Make a focal point This big terracotta pot has been left empty, but you could add a small tree or collection of herbs or grasses. Or, install a pump and solar fountain to create a water feature, to cool the air in summer and add reflected light and sound.
Create height and drama Three columnar juniper trees direct the eye upwards for a chic, Italianate look. Here Juniperus scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’ adds height and also screens neighbouring properties without taking up too much space.
Plant between the pavers Fill randomised gaps between paving slabs with low-growing thyme. This helps soften the paving’s appearance and brings fragrance to the dining area.
Add movement with grasses Grasses add height to a planting scheme without making a solid barrier. Stipa gigantea creates a ‘transparent’ veil between different areas and its elegant flower stems move gently in a breeze.
Hide walls Stop the garden from looking small and boxy by disguising walls and fences with fragrant Mediterranean climbers. Trained on wires, star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides, fills this small garden on summer evenings.
GET THE LOOK:
Aquart lux copper and cement garden shower £209 Made in Design 020 7692 4001; www.madeindesign.co.uk
Terracotta Egg Planter D43cm £39.99 Primrose 0118 903 5210; www.primrose.co.uk
Kookaburra waterproof breathable shade sail from £29.99 (3m triangle in 30 colours) Primrose 0118 903 5210
www.primrose.co.ukOleron solid teak sun-lounger on wheels £324 and Sunny cushion £66 Maisons du Monde 0808 234 2172; www.maisonsdumonde.com
Giant jars from £895 (H75cm/30in) Whichford Pottery 01608 684416; www.whichfordpottery.com
Denia wooden 4 seater dining set with 4 chairs £182 B&Q 0333 014 3357; www.diy.com
Olive Grove tile £39.50 per m2 Baked Tile Company 01792 439239; www.bakedtiles.co.uk
Shell pot feet from £11.50 Whichford Pottery 01608 684416; www.whichfordpottery.com
PLANTS TO USE:
Lavandula angustifolia ‘Imperial Gem’ Compact, bushy English lavender with silver-grey foliage and masses of tightly packed, dark purple flowers July-Sept. Neat, compact form. H60cm (2ft) S45cm (18in)
Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’ Perennial with rosettes of large, silvery-white, felted leaves from which soft spikes of woolly, purple flowers rise June-Sept. Loved by bees. H45cm (18in) S60cm (2ft)
Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Sissinghurst Blue’ Upright, medium-sized evergreen shrub with aromatic, needle-shaped leaves and blue flowers in spring, summer and autumn. H1.5m (5ft) S1m (3ft 3in)
Santolina chamaecyparissus ‘Nana’ Compact ever-grey shrub with aromatic, dense silvery foliage and yellow button-like flowers hovering on wiry stems July-Aug. H50cm (20in) S1m (3ft 3in)
Juniperus scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’ Elegant, columnar evergreen conifer with dense grey-blue foliage. Easy to grow in full sun in most soils, but doesn’t tolerate soggy ground. H6m (20ft) S1m (3ft 3in)
Verbena bonariensis Tightly packed clusters of lilac-purple flowers top tall branching stems June-Sept. Open, transparent branches ideal for screening or front of border. H2m (6½ft) S45cm (18in)
Stipa gigantea Majestic grass with arching stems of golden, oat-like flowerheads above clumps of slender, evergreen, grey-green leaves. The flowerheads last well into winter. H2m (6½ft) S1.2m (4ft)
Cistus argenteus ‘Silver Pink’ Drought-tolerant ever-grey rock roses form a neat mound and produce masses of papery, silver-pink flowers June-July. H and S1m (3ft 3in)
Trachelospermum jasminoides ‘Star of Toscana’ New star jasmine with butter-yellow scented flowers June-Aug and glossy evergreen leaves tinted bronze in winter. H9m (30ft) S3m (10ft)