from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software
Hazy lavender, silvery foliage, aromatic herbs – these are the first plants to spring to mind when I think about a Mediterranean garden. But it’s not just the right selection of plants that will conjure up that holiday feeling. It’s the whole caboodle – the laid-back, make the most of the outdoor space, relaxed ambience of a week in Provence – I want to recreate!
For gardeners dealing with the real thing, Mediterranean climates can be problematic – trying to keep a collection of plants alive when every drop of water is precious. Fortunately, many typical Mediterranean plants are drought-tolerant and are often able to cope with nutrient-poor soil. With our increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, growing more drought-tolerant plants in the UK doesn’t seem too bad an idea.
Many drought-tolerant plants have silver leaves, which reflect strong sunlight. Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ (wormwood ‘Powis Castle’) is a low, evergreen shrub with gorgeous finely-dissected, aromatic silver foliage.
The Mediterranean planting style is influenced by the character of warm climates. Lawns need far too much water to stay attractive so, in hot climates, are reduced or replaced entirely by hard landscaping. Mulching with gravel conserves moisture and has the added advantage of creating a low maintenance garden.
In garden designer Beth Chatto’s gravel garden in Essex, the plants were soaked and well-watered in when first planted. Then left to their own devices. For details of the gardens, check out their website here.
Small pebbles and glazed tiles are also often used to add interest to courtyard areas. White, deep sea-blues and terracotta are particularly effective for painted walls and containers, contrasting with the sun-bleached planting.
Collections of pots always look amazing. Displaying small pots of herbs, succulents and bulbs on a rustic ladder allows for easy watering and provides vertical interest. Keep a watering can nearby to remind you that plants in containers need more frequent watering than those planted in the ground.
Needle-thin Italian cypress provides year-round colour and structure in Mediterranean areas. The classic Italian cypress is Cupressus sempervirens, forming a narrow column up to 20m tall. Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’ is a smaller variety, reaching 4m high. It holds an RHS Award of Garden Merit and has golden foliage to provide winter colour. You can grow cypress trees in large pots but will need to repot into larger containers as they grow.
The ancient art of topiary can add a strikingly contemporary edge to gardens. You can buy topiary ready-clipped into balls, spirals, lollipop and pyramid forms. Rotate the pot for even growth and trim in late summer to maintain the shape. The best plants are slow-growing evergreens, with a dense habit. These include box (Buxus sempervirens), yew (Taxus baccata), privet (Ligustrum japonicum), holly (Ilex) and Lonicera nitida. Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis), with its aromatic glossy leaves, looks good trimmed to a lollipop shape, providing an essential ingredient for Mediterranean cooking right on your doorstep.
Trees and shrubs bought ready-trained can be expensive but provide immediate impact. You can, of course, start your own topiary, trimming into shape as the plant grows. A half-way step is to use a topiary frame. Place the mesh frame over your plant. As the stems push through the frame, simply trim back to the framework.
More tender Mediterranean plants are not going to survive in harsher climates, but there are many traditional Mediterranean plants which are hardy enough to grow in the UK. Remember that less hardy plants, such as citrus and olive trees, can be grown in containers and then brought into a greenhouse or a cool conservatory to help them survive the winter months.
Of course, the whole point of a Mediterranean garden is that you will sit outside admiring it all, so an essential element will be an area for alfresco dining and an arbour or pergola to shelter from the heat of the day. Extend the day with a solar lantern or a sprinkle of magical fairy lights, trailed along a hedge.
A refreshing trickle from a cooling water feature will complete the effect – leaving you feeling as relaxed and refreshed as you were on holiday. Just grab a glass of wine and close your eyes – you could be back in Provence!
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