Mediterranean gardens get much of their influence from Europe as the name implies. However these include Islamic gardens from the south of Spain during the occupation of the Moors as well as the formal gardens from France where you get the influence of Descartes, both styles incorporating formality and symmetry where the garden is “controlled”. In addition you also have the influence of the country style gardens from Italy, Greece and Provence which is largely influenced by the abundance of fruit orchards and vegetable/ herb gardens that the country dwellers used to provide food on the table, where the garden and the surrounding countryside blended so well. That is what makes Mediterranean gardening so diverse and exciting. You don’t have to stick to one style of gardening, but you can combine them or just use one style only. So for example you can mix the formal styles with informal gardens which could include herb and vegetable gardens. These can make the garden design so much more exciting.
Designing a Mediterranean garden
If you are going for a more formal design, ensure that the levels of the garden are flat. This may require terracing on slopes. A formal design never really works if it is built onto sloped or irregular surfaces. Should you wish to avoid working on levels surfaces then you may have to look at more informal designs with certain areas in the garden being levelled to accommodate seating or places to move into the garden. Where your space has courtyards or small rooms, then you can incorporate great Mediterranean courtyards with water features to provide a tranquil space to rest in or move through.
An ideal way to approach the garden is to divide it into rooms. Look at the house and let the house architecture tell you where to divide the garden. Garden rooms allow you to split the garden into formal, informal as well as vegetable or herb sections. Vegetables and herbs do require sun and good drainage so these should be incorporated into the main garden. By rooming them off with an entrance you can create mystery and interest in your garden. IN addition a seated area in these gardens can really provide a great place to get away in the garden surrounded by the aromas of the plants.
Mediterranean designs also incorporate pots – usually large clay simple pots without too much decoration on them. In courtyard areas you can also have fun with hanging gardens where you use wall baskets to take the colour upwards. Other hard-scapes include wrought iron garden furniture or wooden benches. These need to blend in with the rustic countryside feeling. Sometimes wrought iron pyramids with creepers add interest. Sandstone pillars with a gate can add to the country feel as well as sundials on a sandstone pillar. The idea is to use rustic and earthy looking objet in the garden. In time these age and become mossy which adds to the country feel. One great way to do up a closed off area is to create a pottager where you have a variety of shaped pots (keep them the same colour or make though) and in them you can plant a variety of succulents and cactus – although not Mediterranean plants it does add a different spin to the garden.
Other elements to use include crush – this is a fine crush that is 12mm. Use this for pathways or areas that you do not wish to have lawn. A Sandstone type of crush is ideal as it has a brown/ sandy colour which blends well with clay pots and the wrought iron or sandstone hardscapes you may use in the garden. Whilst crush is the most economical form of creating pathways there are other methods. Just remember when using crush to have a plantex underneath that allows water through and prevents weeds from growing and also use a cobble edging pavers (100mm x 100mm) to prevent the crush from creeping into your beds. There should be at least 10mm of crush over the plantex – plan for about four 20KG bags per square meter. If you wish to use a more permanent pathway you can use paving that is made in stone moulds to give that rustic feel. Other more contemporary ways of doing pathways is to place rounded pebbles into concrete screed. This is more technical and may require the use of a professional but it adds great texture to the pathway through the formal gardens.
Water features should be simple and rustic. These would normally include the two or three tiered water features. However for safety reasons a pebble pond could be installed. These incorporate a classical looking pot with water flowing over into a pebble pond – which is a pond disguised with pebbles so the pot looks like it is on a bed of pebbles and the water is below ground out of reach and site. These are easy to install and come in kit form. Other water features can include still ponds where plants and fish are placed into the pond providing wonderful fun interest. Still ponds have no running water but will require a pump to circulate the water within the pond. Water lilies and Water iris would add colour in flowering season. Water rills are also a great concept. These can intersect at the central water feature – a common design technique used in the Islamic design where a garden is divided into four quarters with these rills which are no more than 20mm wide.
Movement into the garden is very important. Mediterranean gardens are meant to be used. Seating areas, places for pause or areas which provide a focal point are important in the design. AS most Mediterranean gardens are built to bring the person into the garden, pathways and vistas should lead a person from one room to the next, allowing for some form of mystery and which would create surprises around every corner. This is why pathways and movement into the garden are so important.
A summary or checklist for hard-scapes to use as well as suppliers:
Pebble Ponds in Kit Form – Waterstone Garden Centre
Three Tiered Water Features – Gardens of Italy
Sandstone Crush – World of Rock
Plantex – Your nearest Nursery
Clay Pots – Plaisir du Jardin, Lifestyle Nursery
Wrought Iron Pyramids – Plaisir Du Jardin
Wooden Benches – Plaisir Du Jardin
Paving and Cobble Edging – Wonder Rock, Smartstone or Colonial Stone
Sandstone Products – Akzento products – Available at Leading Nurseries.
Colours in the Mediterranean Garden
The most obvious colours in the garden include blues, purples, and whites. These are largely influenced by the use of lavenders and similar European perennials. However I believe that other colours should be used to add to the vibrancy of the garden. For example, a Lemon or Citrus tree produces yellow or Orange fruit as the case may be. It would be great to bring the yellows and Oranges into the garden to link with the fruit. In addition, the blues and purples will provide quite a contrast with the yellows and oranges. The Hot and Cold colours providing a wonderful contrast. Pastels are often used in Mediterranean gardens. These also work well with the Blues/ Purples but a word of caution. It is important to stick with pastels in one room and the brighter colours in another as the richer colours always overpower the richer colours. A colour wheel is a great way to judge colour. Always use colours opposite or next to each other in a colour wheel and keep pastels separate from the deeper colours. Colours in a garden can be used to create a feeling of space. IN smaller gardens bring colours to the front of the bed and the darker colours to the back of the bed so as to create the illusion of distance. For larger gardens plant colours to the back of the bed and darker colours to the front to bring the garden closer.
Colour is not just in the flower but also in the variegation of the leaf. Leaf variegations provide all year colour and interest in the garden.
Plants in the Mediterranean Garden
Planting is very important. Try and use fewer varieties for more impact. Also combine plants that provide a variety of texture. For example strappy leaves near broader leaves.
Plants to use in the garden are very diverse. Here are some ideas.
Small Hedges 30mm high
For hedging try and avoid using Lavender as this can die back suddenly leaving a big gap. Rather use Westringea for the grey hedging effect. Other plants that make great hedging include:
Abelia grandiflora (Green Leaves),
Abelia grandiflora - Francis Mason (Gold Variegation in leaves),
Buxus sempiverens “Faulkner” – this is more resistant to diseases but is slow growing,
Cuphea species – no hedging is required here and is a lower maintenance form this perspective but some plants can die off suddenly.
If Lavender is to be used, then use a compact Lavender such as Lavender Stoechas, Murraya Exotica,
Duranta - Sheenas gold,
For Larger Hedges 1m plus
Tecomaria Capensis species (Cape honeysuckle)
Some tips on hedging – Always clip at a slight angle so that the lower part of the hedge is wider than the top – allowing the lower part of the hedge to get sun.
If you are looking at building a herb garden and want some formality then look at sowing Thyme seeds along the edge of the herb bed. These will not only deter unwanted bugs but will provide a lovely natural low growing hedge you and cut and use in the cooking.
Mass planting that would provide your skeleton plantings should include
Hemerocallis species (Day Lilies) – Oranges, Yellows, Pastels
Agapanthus Nana – Blues or Whites
Bearded Iris species – Purples, Whites, Blues
Felicia Amelloides (Blue Daisy) – Blue Flower
Osteospermum (Cape Trailing daisies) – Whites, Yellows, Purples.
Liriope Muscari Variegata (Green and White variegations – Blue flower)
Liriope Muscari – Big Blue (Green leaves, blue flower)
Limonium Perezzi – (Purple paper flower)
Lavandula “Margaret Roberts”
Gaura species – Whites, Pinks
Dietes Species (Yellow and White)
Bulbine Species (Yellow flower)
Geranium Species (Rich colours and Pastels)
Erigeron – White flower and great ground cover
Scabiosa – Pink and Blue perennials
To add real interest why not add your own variety of plants such as Echiviera (Rock Roses). Whilst these are not Mediterranean plants they look stunning in pots. Also look at using our very own south African aloes to give the garden a bit of a local touch. Succulents work very well in the pottager garden which is very much part of the med design.
In addition, look at creating that meadow effect by interplanting some plants – for example Bulbine amongst Liriope Muscari Variegata or Agapanthas nana mixed with Bearded Iris. Keep the mixes very simple and they will be more effective. Try not to have too many species as this will complicate the garden even more.
Freylinia Tropica – Blue and White flowers – Great for Screening as tall growing shrub
Brunfelsia (Yesterday, today and tomorrow) – Pinks, Blues and Whites
Pittosporum (Great Screening)
I do recommend our own indigenous trees before I recommend exotics. The most ideal tree for Mediteranean Gardens is the Hemerocallis Natalensis (Lavender tree) – It has leaves that smell of Lavender when you crush them and they are an idea substitute for the exotic silver birch – They are also ideal for small gardens as well as large. If however you wish to use a silver birch then these are also great. The Olea Europea subs. Africana (Wild Olive) is for obvious reasons ideal as well. Other trees for consideration include
Combretum Species – For medium and large gardens.
Vepris Lanceolata (White ironwood – Evergreen). Small to large gardens
Nuxia Floribunda (Forest Elder – Evergreen). Small to large gardens
Celtis Africana (White Stinkwood) – Medium and large gardens
Lemon or Citrus trees. Small to Large Gardens
Conifers and Cyprus Species (Spray for Cyprus Aphid)
A mediteranean garden would never be complete without a grove or small forest of trees within which you could have a seated area. The Lavender trees are ideal for this as they can be grown in close proximity allowing that country feel.
Trees are very important in Med gardens. For example two Tall Conifers standing on either side of an archway are like two exclamation marks saying “something is happening here”. Nothing is without purpose. Shrubs cut into balls in a pot to forma topiary are like full stops, telling you where one section of the garden comes to an end and another begins.
For small gardens you can use any combination of the hardscapes and plants to achieve the theme. Instead of large pots, you should scale the pots into the space. i.e. Look at the size of pots. A great way to see how pots would look in a space, is to take a digital picture of the area and then with tracing paper over the picture, draw the pot into the space. You will get a very quick idea of whether it will work or not. You can do the same with plants if you know how big the plants get.
I great combination follows of the above plants allowing for all year colour and interest:
A Box Hedge of Abelia Grandiflora – within the box hedge you can place one or three clay pots and in these pots plant lemon trees. At the base of the lemon tree plant erigeron so that the white flowers “fall” over the pot. Around the pots plant a combination of Liriope Muscari - Big Blue, interplanted with Yellow Day lilies. It will look like a meadow with daffodils, except we have that meadow feel throughout the year.
Another combination would be to plant up a lavender forest and beneath Liriope Muscari Variegata with Bearded iris in spots. Towards the edge of the bed plant Blue Daisies and some scabiosa for the finer effect. It will again give that country feel.
Finally for the more traditional, a field of Lavandula Margaret Roberts, with Plumbago Auriculata – “Royal Cape Variety” in the background. To the front you can border with Erigeron.