By Sarah Giles
Our favorite Mediterranean garden ideas will bring a flavor of hot, sunny climes straight to your outdoor space. And, as it turns out, recreating the look is much easier than you might think.
In fact, many of the plants we already grow in our plots originate in hot countries. So, adding a Mediterranean vibe could simply be a question of arranging and adding to what you already have to highlight the theme. But it's not all about the plants – from rich color schemes and soothing water features to shaded alfresco dining zones, Mediterranean garden ideas inspire relaxed, outdoor living all year round.
Want to know more? Read on for easy ways to add a touch of the Med to your space, then head to our garden design ideas for more outdoor inspiration.
What is a Mediterranean garden style?
With laid-back alfresco living at its heart, Mediterranean garden ideas are all about taking it easy, spending time outside with friends and soaking up beautiful surroundings. Inspired by the gardens of Italy, Spain and Southern France, there are plenty of ideas to borrow for not-always-so-sunny climes.
Pale gravel, tiled patios and walls painted in vibrant shades of terracotta, mustard, azure blue and white all instantly conjure up the mood of these sun-soaked spaces. Plant with fragrant and silver-leaved beauties such as santolina, Caryopteris clandonensis, artemesia and of course – lavender and add in potted feature plants such as a stately Chusan palm or olive tree.
Scented and glossy leaved climbers clambering over a pergola will provide shade for an atmospheric spot for dining. And, dotted with flickering lanterns come evening it will be hard to recall whether you are at home or away.
These Mediterranean garden ideas below will fill you with even more inspiration...
1. Add a Tuscan-inspired outdoor kitchen
Rustic-style outdoor kitchen ideas are a surefire way to recreate the Mediterranean vibe. Pair deep terracotta details with pared-back furniture and decorative paving and your space will instantly be transported to sunnier climes. Cover the space with a wooden pergola for a more sheltered feel.
Of course, one of the best pizza ovens will make a wonderful addition, too.
2. Use repeat planting for your Mediterranean garden ideas
Unlike English cottage garden ideas, which tend to be a wonderful jumble of plants, Mediterranean garden ideas require a restricted planting palette with the same plant used repeatedly.
The plants used in this way often have a neat, mound-like growing habit – lavender and santolina, for example. After they've flowered, closely trim them and they will carry on adding architectural interest right though the year. Tightly clipped mounds of box, grouped in clusters or arranged in a row alongside a path, add just the right note too.
Try also repeating cistus, eryngium, hebe and euphorbia though the space. Euphorbia mellifera is a large evergreen that has small, amber-colored flowers in early summer. For even more impact, go for Euphorbia wulfenii – it has big, acid-green flowers in early summer and can be a real show-stopper.
Alternatively, Euphorbia cyparissias is very useful en masse as ground cover. With fern-like foliage and yellow flowers that last right though the summer months, it's low-growing and will spread slowly and manageably.
In a fairly large garden, narrow, upright Italian cypress trees look good planted at intervals along a pathway or used as punctuation points in a border (and although a less obvious source of fragrance, they give off a lovely pine scent when you brush against them).
Mediterranean garden ideas are made complete with a mass of potted pelargoniums. Use these vibrant beauties to liven up dull corners, a flight of steps or to pep up borders of silver-leaved stars such as lavender and rosemary. Although there are plenty of vivid shades to choose from, stick to the same color for maximum impact.
3. Choose low-maintenance gravel
Nothing sets off Mediterranean plants better than pale-colored gravel. And, if you use a good-quality, water-permeable weed-suppressing membrane underneath, it's a quick and easy, low-maintenance way of transforming even the most unpromising of spaces.
The light color of the gravel will help to reflect heat back onto the plants and you can soften the edges where gravel meets a pathway by allowing thyme, oregano or marjoram to spill over onto it. Cut them back as soon as they’ve flowered to keep them looking neat and fresh, and to prevent them sprawling too far. Add extra interest by arranging large stones and small boulders in a naturalistic way across the gravel. Contributing to the relaxed and easy vibe of Mediterranean gardens, pale gravel is also perfect for showing off tall, sun loving plants and vibrant blooms. Our small rock garden ideas feature has lots more inspiration.
Opt for angular chippings between 10mm and 20mm for garden path ideas or areas where you are likely to walk, as this size is less likely to get caught in wheels and under shoes. Finer shingle, measuring between 6mm to 8mm, is perfect for spreading around plants and on borders.
4. Create some shade for your seating
The best Mediterranean gardens have somewhere shady to retreat to when the sun gets too hot. Using a sturdy pergola over your patio ideas is the perfect way to recreate this at home.
It's the ideal opportunity to introduce climbers to your scheme too, making the most of the often-overlooked vertical space in a garden. Try a grapevine, which will look fabulous when its fat, juicy bunches of grapes hang down over your seating area in late summer. Be sure to choose a sweet dessert variety – 'Leon Millot' is ideal. Or, train a stunning campsis (Campsis radicans) with its large, brightly colored, trumpet-shaped flowers, over the structure. The hardy variety 'Madame Galen' is a good choice.
Finish the scene with some stylish garden furniture ideas – you'll have the perfect space to relax and entertain friends alfresco in no time.
5. Paint pergolas black
Painting the timbers of your pergola ideas black will not only add drama and structure to your Mediterranean garden ideas but is great for highlighting climbers too.
Star Jasmine (Trachelospernum Jasminoides) will cover a pergola in no time and fill the seating area with a delicious scent, evocative of sun filled vacations. The glossy leaves are evergreen too, so perfect for added winter interest.
If you fancy something less delicate, you can't beat a passion flower (Passiflora caerulea). The striking star shaped blooms are also fragrant and followed with egg-size orange and yellow fruit in Autumn. Try variety 'Constance Eliott' for pure white flowers with striking stamens – it'll make a wonderful contrast against dark backdrops.
6. Go large with Mediterranean-inspired pots
Oversized pots and planters are characteristic of Mediterranean garden ideas and terracotta is the obvious choice, with its warm color, tactile feel and ability to soak up and reflect back the heat of the summer sun. Be sure to invest in frost-proof terracotta though. It's a little more expensive, but it will make it through cold winters unscathed whereas cheaper versions may shatter as soon as the thermometer dips below freezing.
Choose plants for your pots carefully. True Mediterranean-style choices will not only look the part, but they'll also be able to cope with near-drought conditions, meaning you’ll need to spend far less time wielding a watering can or best garden hose over the summer. Colorful pelargoniums are ideal (red or shocking pink varieties look stunning against the pinky tones of terracotta pots) and osteospermums and gazanias both work well too. These are all tender, so will need bringing into a cool, frost-free greenhouse or porch over the winter.
One plant that does better in a pot than in the open ground is agapanthus, making it an ideal candidate for a large terracotta urn. Opt for a variety with either pale or dark blue flowers, or go for icy white. Whichever one you choose will instantly add a touch of Mediterranean sophistication.
Fig trees produce more fruit when their roots are confined in a pot too – and what better way to remember a fabulous holiday abroad than being able to pluck a perfectly ripe fig, still warm from the sun, from your very own tree?
If you're short of planting space, bay trees are happy in large pots – and they have the added bonus that their aromatic leaves can be used fresh or dried in Mediterranean-style cooking too.
Looking for more inspiration? Head over to our container gardening ideas feature.
7. ...and use them to make a focal point
If terracotta feels a little 'meh' for your space, why not treat your pots to a splash of color? We love the deep cobalt blue and sunny yellow tones in the set-up above.
Fill with tumbling herbs and foliage plants such as delicate asparagus ferns (Asparagus aethiopicus syn. Asparagus densiflorus) and purple leaved Tradescantia – try Zebrina 'Violet' for stunning color – for a real head-turning focal point.
8. Choose Mediterranean plants for your garden
The foliage of plants native to hot countries is often silver-colored and there's a reason for this. It deflects the burning heat of the sun and helps them to conserve water.
While that may not be so vital when we grow them in a cooler climate, the great thing about silvery foliage is that it looks good on its own but also partners well with other colors, so it's a perfect starting point for a border.
Try these to bring an instant flavor of Mediterranean gardens to your outdoor space:
- Santolina, otherwise known as cotton lavender, has silver, aromatic leaves with an interesting, softly spiky look. In mid and late summer, it has yellow flowers. Plant it alone, arrange it in drifts across a border or have it dotted though a gravelled space.
- Caryopteris clandonensis 'Sterling Silver' has wonderful silvery blue-green foliage which set off its small, deep blue flowers perfectly.
- Eryngiums, or sea hollies, have a good, upright growing habit and spiky bracts around their small, greenish flowers. All have silver foliage but the most striking of all is Eryngium giganteum 'Silver Ghost'.
- Artemesia, particularly the lovely A. ludoviciana 'Silver Queen', has narrow, silver aromatic leaves on upright stems. Its only downside is that it has a tendency to flop over so it's best in a densely planted border, where other plants will be able to support it unobtrusively.
- Stachys byzantina – or lamb's ears – is a low-growing, gently spreading perennial with gorgeous velvety, grey-green leaves. It makes good ground cover.
- Echinops, or Globe Thistle, has spiky silver foliage and spherical, bristly flowers in both blue and white. Reaching up to 1.5 metres tall they are truly striking and adored by bees. 'Veitch's Blue' has tight, deep blue blooms while 'Arctic Glow' is ghostly white.
Looking for more flowerbed ideas? Take a look at our feature.
9. Mix in some Mediterranean colors
In hot countries, pastels and ochres look fantastic as the backdrop to plants. But, in countries like the UK where the skies can be grey as often as blue, these tones can look a little washed out. So, when it comes to your Mediterranean garden ideas, consider ramping things up a notch or two when it comes to painting walls, garden fence ideas and shed ideas by introducing a vibrant color. Mid-blue works well, as does purple. Don't overdo it, though. Most of your color should come from the planting itself and the backdrop shouldn't fight with that.
Painting a single wall or alcove a vibrant shade is often enough to conjure up that hot and sultry Mediterranean mood. Use it as a backdrop to show off a single stately palm or tree or add rustic timber shelves to line up potted treasures. As Ruth Mottershead, Creative Director at Little Greene says, 'You don't need to revamp the whole facade to make an impact, a simple update such as painting an exterior wall to offset patio furniture can make the whole home feel renewed.'
'"Carmine" or "Smalt" look fantastic paired with green foliage and terracotta pots, or update a tired brick wall with "Ashes of Roses" which is a fantastic color for adding a warm Mediterranean feel to any exterior,' she adds.
Raw and tactile materials such as brick, limestone and acacia will intensify the color further and help create a permanently sunny and laidback vibe.
10. Improve your soil
If your garden has light, sandy soil, you're all set. But drought-loving plants for Mediterranean gardens hate sitting in cold, wet ground over winter, so if your garden is on clay it's best to mix in plenty of gravel before you start as this will help with drainage.
Where frequent waterlogging is likely, it’s best to put plants in pots or in raised garden beds rather than in the ground.
11. Opt for fragrant herbs
On a Mediterranean hillside in high summer, the first thing that hits you is usually the wonderful scent of lavender and thyme. By positioning them in full sun, so the essential oils in the foliage will be drawn out to the max, they will quickly fill your garden with their aroma too.
Other woody herbs such as rosemary, sage and winter savory (which has a similar fragrance – and flavour – to thyme) also work well. Plant them next to a path or seating area so you can enjoy the delicious scent, or pot up smaller herbs such as thyme, marjoram and oregano to display on an outdoor dining table.
Need a hand getting started? Check out our guide on how to create a herb garden.
12. Add extra foliage with an olive or palm
If you have space, an olive tree works brilliantly as a focal point. Although they grow on sun-baked hillsides in the Med, they will cope with a cool winter in a sheltered spot. If you live in a colder climate, it's best to grow an olive tree in a pot and bring it under cover once the weather begins to turn in autumn.
Hardy palms and yuccas lend an instant Mediterranean vibe to the space too, or how about the feathery foliage of a tamarisk with its froth of pink flowers in summer? In spring, you could have a similar cloud of pink with a Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum), which will be smothered in small, pea-like flowers on bare branches in April and May.
If you love the idea of blossom, be sure to take a look at our guide on the best flowering trees.
13. Or, try planting a citrus tree
Citrus trees with their delicious scent and iconic fruit simply ooze Mediterranean charm. Happy to grow in pots, most varieties of orange and lemon can stay outside where temperatures are above 10°C, although kumquats can tolerate temperatures as low as 7°C.
Move them into a greenhouse or conservatory during colder snaps. They are naturally hungry plants, so pot them up with specialist citrus compost and feed with a high nitrogen feed during the summer.
14. Try a soothing water feature
If water can play a key part in your Mediterranean garden ideas, so much the better. Its presence will add a cooling feel and the sound of it gently trickling over a surface is extremely relaxing.
Self-contained water features are hassle free and perfect for gardens big or small. Choose a freestanding design for the perfect centrepiece that can be enjoyed from all sides, or a neat back-to-wall fountain, such as this design above, which is ideal for courtyards and seating areas. Complete with a concealed reservoir and recirculating submersible pump – most designs simply plug into an outdoor power point.
Find more inspiration in our water feature ideas feature.
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