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Mediterranean gardens, famous in the countrysides of France, Greece and Italy, are often defined by a classic mix of rustic furniture and scented, colourful and drought-tolerant planting. Tranquil water features, relaxed seating, patterned tiles, gravel paths, natural materials, plus earthy tones and sun-baked shades (hello, terracotta!) are among the key features of a Mediterranean-style garden.
A Mediterranean garden should be relaxed and informal with a strong emphasis on outdoor living and entertaining (food is central to Mediterranean culture) – think outdoor kitchens, fire pits and seating areas to create a seamless transition from home to garden. The Mediterranean aesthetic is warm, rich, nostalgic, calm and tranquil; it conjures memories of family, togetherness and the beauty of nature.
There’s definitely a growing appetite for Mediterranean-style gardens, as was seen in the Hamptons Mediterranean Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023 (pictured above). Capturing the look, feel and smell of sunny Mediterranean landscapes, and with a focus on alfresco dining, garden designer Filippo Dester created an outdoor kitchen with drought-tolerant ornamental perennials set against pale terracotta landscaping.
The often low maintenance aspect of a Mediterranean garden is hugely appealing to UK gardeners too. While this aesthetic can work in all outdoor spaces, this is a style that lends itself particularly well to container gardening, and will especially suit patios and courtyard gardens.
Recreating the look and feel of these subtropical atmospheres is not unachievable. Even as a bare minimum, ‘all you need is some free-draining soil, oversized terracotta pots, the right plants, a water feature and some imagination’, says Suhail Patel, founder of Luxury Screens.
Keep reading for ideas and advice on how to create a Mediterranean garden in a British climate.
1) Mediterranean garden idea: creating the right landscape
The Mediterranean landscape is characterised by its glaucous tones, architectural forms and evergreen, often scented, shrubs. The gorgeous scenes of rocky slopes, gnarled olive trees and punctuating cypresses are the product of a harsh and unforgiving environment. What is a joyful holiday destination for us, is a tough environment for plants and it really picks the winners from the losers – severe drought, high summer heats and poor gravelly soil are some of the influences that have made these landscapes such unique, beautiful places.
Award-winning garden and landscape designer, Harry Holding, who designed The School Food Matters Garden (People’s Choice Award winner in the All About Plants category) at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, says with just a few simple tricks, you can go a long way to emulating these magical Mediterranean scenes.
• Raised beds
‘By creating raised beds you can avoid the more moist, often nutrient-rich soils of much of the UK,’ says Harry. ‘Filling the raised bed with sandy, gravelly and nutrient-poor substrate will give you a great starting point for growing some Mediterranean plants. They will love our increasingly hot summers but most can’t stand our wet winters, so we can help them to establish themselves by keeping their feet dry.’
• Drought-tolerant plants
Curating a selection of drought-tolerant plants will help to evoke that Mediterranean feeling, says Harry. ‘These plants often have glaucous or silver foliage to help reflect light and these tones can bring unity to the planting scheme. Try mixing these with some evergreen sub-shrubs that will give structure to the scheme. Once established, these plants are incredibly resistant so be sure to not water them unnecessarily,’ he says.
• Gravel mulch
‘Try mulching your soil with a thick layer of gravel to emulate that feeling of being in a drier landscape,’ Harry suggests. ‘Mix larger gravel and small boulders amongst the gravel to achieve something more natural looking.’
2) Mediterranean garden idea: sheltered seating
To create a Mediterranean garden, incorporate stone into the design and invest in a sheltered seating area such as a pergola over a patio. The Mediterranean climate is so warm that shaded spaces are necessary, and creating these in your garden will give you a beautiful place to unwind and socialise in the summer evenings.
Earl of East co-creators and partners, Niko Dafkos and Paul Firmin, have created the ultimate retreat in their Med-inspired garden in east London. ‘In the summer our garden becomes an extension of our living space – we barbecue, eat and chill out there,’ says Niko. ‘Zoning the space with plant pots and seating helps create different areas for cooking, dining and lounging. Accessorising with cushions, rugs, and throws softens our urban garden and helps create a laid back Mediterranean feel.’
A natural extension to this would be a flowering climber on your pergola to help provide shade, vibrant colour, and a gorgeous aroma. Fortunately, many of these plants are not solely reserved for Mediterranean climates. For example, evergreen Jasmine (Trachelospernum Jasminoides) is a climber normally found in the south of France, or a grapevine is an instant crowd pleaser – try campsis, otherwise known as trumpet vine, which produces bright orange, yellow or red trumpet-looking flowers.
3) Mediterranean garden idea: plants & scent
Capturing the appeal of a Mediterranean garden lies largely in the plants, and once you’ve installed your flowering climber, enhance the look with other plants and flowers to create the perfect setting. The most basic condition for all Mediterranean plants is that they require full sun and well-drained soils. A south-facing garden is ideal in this situation, however don’t despair, as there are some plants that thrive in shade too.
You can plant colourful pelargoniums, fig trees, olive trees and lavender. To create the look of big leaves, plant a Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops Humilis Palms), which is extremely hardy and suitable for the UK climate.
Another trait synonymous with a Mediterranean garden is the gentle wafts of intensely aromatic floral scents that seem to hang in the balmy air. Plant herbs like basil, bay leaf, oregano, sage and rosemary to add fragrance to your garden and to use in your cooking, too.
You can even grow citrus fruit trees to bring a touch of the Med to your own space. Max Letek, managing director of Lost land Interiors and Garden-World, says: ‘Adding citrus fruit trees like lemons and limes is a classic way to add a Mediterranean feel to your home or garden. Perfect for conservatories and south-facing garden spaces, the fruit will last a long time on trees and bring colourful jewel centrepieces to a space.’
4) Mediterranean garden idea: terracotta
Pots are an essential part of the Mediterranean landscape, and with terracotta being named one of the garden colours of the year for 2023, these fired clay planters are The key to adding to the ambience of a Med-inspired outdoor space.
To create a beautiful Mediterranean-style garden, think about using terracotta tiles (from pink nudes to deep red-browns) creatively with patio circles, octagons and squares. Use it to zone an outdoor kitchen, paths, a small seating area or even swimming pool surrounds.
The Bert & May x Alitex ‘Greenhouse Edit’ offers a nature-inspired colour palette, perfect for greenhouses or other garden spaces. Available in Bert & May’s signature handmade cement tiles, it taps into the Mediterranean aesthetic, from muddy, warm-toned greens to rich and earthy terracotta tones.
Meanwhile, Westminster Stone have been manufacturing their Stonecast terracotta ranges for over 30 years and produce the most extensive range in the UK. A bespoke octagon design of their Provence Petit Lozenge was used in Dick and Angel Strawbridge’s folly and outdoor kitchen renovation, as seen on Escape to the Chateau.
5) Mediterranean garden idea: tranquil water features
Lastly, include a calming water feature (the gleam and trickle of water induces a sense of tranquillity) and edge borders and paving with rocks and gravel to mimic the coastline, which will also add a great ornamental aspect to the garden.
Michelle Hendricks, expert at Deckorators, says the features of outdoor living play an important part in a Mediterranean garden: ‘Unique features like smart storage, full outdoor kitchens, fire pits, and water features are not only enjoyable amenities but also reflect the Mediterranean sensibility of creating opportunities to live your full life alfresco.’
Kiran is a freelance journalist based in Kent. When she’s not tending to her vegetable garden, she’s attempting to sustainably upcycle and renovate her first house with her partner, Jack. She champions all things eco-friendly, loves a good countryside walk and dabbles in calligraphy in her spare time.