What Is Mediterranean Gardening?

What image comes to mind when you hear the words 'Mediterranean garden?' If you picture a mosaic-tiled courtyard with stone walls, shaded by a vine-laced pergola with exotic flowers and scented by lush herbs in urn-shaped clay pots, youʼre already familiar with the essence of Mediterranean gardening. This beautiful and functional gardening style thatʼs so recognizable today evolved over many generations in the coastal areas of Spain, Italy and Greece. 
 
Although there are some distinctive regional design differences, Mediterranean gardens all share a common purpose as tranquil extensions of the adjacent indoor living spaces.

 

Traditional Mediterranean Gardening Basics

Many of the elements found in Mediterranean gardens today were originally used out of necessity because of the dry, hot summers in the region. Some of the key aspects of this type of warm-climate garden include a source of shade and shelter; comfortable open-air dining and seating areas; the use of stone, tile and similar hardscapes; fountains or other small water features; and plantings of drought-resistant trees and shrubs, as well as flowers, edibles and herbs for their color, fragrance and taste.

How to Create Your Own Mediterranean Garden

Even if you donʼt live in Italy or Greece, there are a couple of very good reasons to create your own Mediterranean garden. Not only does it require little maintenance and a limited use of water, but it also offers a warm and inviting environment for the outdoors. True Mediterranean gardening is best suited for areas of the country where the summers are hot and dry, and the winters wet and mild. Regardless of where you live, though, itʼs possible to adopt most of the elements of a Mediterranean garden and, if necessary, blend in low-maintenance plants that are recommended for the climate in your specific locale.
 
If youʼd like to add a Mediterranean feel and flair to your garden, here are some helpful suggestions on how to create your own getaway in the comfort of your backyard:
 
 
Create a courtyard or patio. Use stone, tile, pavers, colored gravel, decomposed granite and similar materials for patio areas and walkways, and for structural features like walls, terraces and stairs. If youʼd prefer the cozy atmosphere and privacy of an enclosed courtyard, consider building straw bale walls to mimic the thicker, mud walls often seen in the Mediterranean region.
 
Stick with a natural palette and a few colorful accents. For an authentic look, rely on the earth tones of natural stone and wood, the rosy shades of terracotta and the silvery green of plant foliage as your main palette. Then add brighter accents from colorful mosaic tiles and various flowers as pops of color.
 
Build an overhead pergola to support a natural canopy. Use unpainted wood and plant flowering vines like bougainvilleas that will grow up and over to provide dappled shade and a splash of vivid color.
 
Use traditional Mediterranean perennials. Before planting any type of Mediterranean plant in your garden, it's best to first check with a local greenhouse to verify that theyʼll survive and thrive in your area. If you live in an environment that's suitable for these types of plants, you can fill clay pots of various sizes and shapes with trees like fig, cypress, olive, myrtle and laurel, and herbs like oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme. However, avoid planting turf grass; use drought-tolerant ground covers instead, and plant perennials like sweet-scented lavender as a border.
 
Add the refreshing sound of moving water. Instead of a large pond or pool, opt for a small, courtyard-size fountain or basin that doesnʼt require or waste much water. Both freestanding and wall fountains mesh perfectly with this style of garden.
 
Choose a complementary style of furniture. Wrought iron chairs and benches paired with wooden tables is an attractive look that blends well with a Mediterranean theme. For extra comfort and color, you can add seat cushions to select pieces.
 
Relax and let the garden get a lived-in appearance. Mediterranean gardens are designed to be lived in and enjoyed, so donʼt worry about weathering or minor wear and tear; they just add to the overall ambience.