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Thomas Writes: Designing a Mediterranean Garden

Influenced by the gardens, courtyards and natural landscapes of countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain and the South of France, the Mediterranean is now a popular inspiration for homeowners and businesses around the UK.


Mediterranean spaces tend to be highly attractive and picturesque with a harmonious combination of plants and natural materials (stone, terracotta and water). There are also the fragrances within a Mediterranean garden, such as the blossom of citrus trees and masses of herbs, which can best be described as fresh, calm and inviting.


Formal Vs Informal



Formal spaces are often defined by avenues of trees, structures for shade (arbours or pergolas), and tiles laid with straight linear lines. Water features appear along with clipped hedges and tall, slender cypresses. For inspiration, check out the Moorish style courtyards found in Spain.


More informal areas focus on recreating landscapes, areas filled with gravel and masses of shrubby vegetation (grasses, succulents and herbs), or structural groups like olives and vines, broken up with rocks and boulders. Muted colours like soft grey-greens, purple-blues and yellows calmly dress the area. For inspiration, look at Crete (pictured below), the South of France and arid areas around Southern Italy.


Urban


For more intimate spaces, terracotta pots instantly add a Mediterranean feel with walls whitewashed to create a calm backdrop. Rustic colours can also be used to simulate the feeling of a calming courtyard. Use containers to add raised planting to create key focal points.

Essentially, any outdoor space can be used reflect a Mediterranean feel, from large open plots to enclosed courtyards to even city balconies. Whatever the size, there are key design elements to focus on. So, starting simple, here are some of the key elements to consider when designing your Mediterranean garden...


Seating


Mediterranean’s love sitting outdoors with a coffee (or a glass of wine) taking in the sunshine. Therefore, if you are looking to replicate a Mediterranean garden, it's essential to have a seating area. Although we very rarely reach the temperatures of the Mediterranean, if you plan on spending regular time in your garden - shade is still essential to protect yourself from the suns rays. Pergolas are decorative structures that can look tremendous when they have plants entwined. However, if structures are slightly further than you wish to go, still think about placing a bench or bistro set in a shaded area.


Floors


The landscape is an integral part of the Mediterranean garden, broken up by splashes of vibrant colour. Many gardens forgo lawns in favour of gravel and tiles. This makes them a great option for smaller spaces, and for those who don’t want the hassle of regular ground maintenance.


In the hot climate of the Mediterranean, gravel is popular across gardens and driveways (with limestone being the predominant rock). Grass requires regular doses of rain and it struggles to deal with the long periods of intense heat. If you are trying to replicate a Mediterranean garden, gravel, paving, mosaics and even boulders in focal points should be aspects to consider within your area. Just avoid overly formal laying patterns if you want to keep a natural feel.


Terracotta Pots


Mediterranean gardens feature an abundance of terracotta, with larger jars acting as key focal points. Not only are they elegant features, they also work as the perfect homes for plants - but we will get on to that. The beauty of terracotta pots is that they are available in all shapes and sizes, ensuring that you can select a style and size that suits your look and the scale of your space. Just aim for larger-sized pieces, where possible.


Tuscany and Crete are two areas that produce the worlds most beautiful and high quality terracotta. The process of making terracotta pots on Crete goes back thousands of years with family potteries to this day still throwing their pots by hand. As one of the UK's importers of Cretan terracotta pots, click here to view my range... My next batch from the pottery is due to arrive in late June.


Water


Water features are another prominent feature across the Mediterranean. Save formal rills and instead focus on the relaxing sound of overflowing containers and enjoy the light reflecting off water bowls. Even better, birds and butterflies love water so you'll inadvertently attract life to your area.


Plants



Mediterranean Summers are hot and dry with the winters still remaining relatively dry. Native plants are generally surprisingly hardy however they detest sitting in damp, cold soil. South-facing for maximum sunlight is ideal but the big tip is...



'The key to successful growing is drainage'



Boarders / Planting into the ground


If you have existing beds you wish to reuse, you can improve the drainage by incorporating stones and gravel into the mix (gravel is also useful for deterring weeds) .


Whilst plants are a key aspect of a Mediterranean garden, you don’t need to go to the extent of filling borders with them, but a selection of carefully positioned key plants can be just as effective!


Many herbs we use today are Mediterranean, so popular examples such as sage, thyme, rosemary and oregano all enjoy the same growing conditions and can be planted together.


To set off a raised bed area, consider placing terracotta or other forms of pots around the perimeter and this will help to bring further attention to the area.


Focal Points


Use trees such as olive or palms as a focal points, then add shrubs and perennials such as the Portuguese laurel, euphorbias and genista. Plant fragrant flowers like jasmine and lavender and as their perfumes are released, they’ll conjure up happy memories of sun-baked escapes.


Terracotta Pots


As mentioned above, terracotta pots aren't just an authentic feature... if your ground soil is heavy and slow draining, terracotta planters offer your plants the chance to live in a more regulated environment - without having to turn your garden upside down rectifying the problem.


Terracotta is porous, meaning air and water is able to pass through, ultimately saving your precious plants from root rot and over-watering. In hot weather the evaporation of water from the exterior keeps the root ball inside nice and cool. In the winter the wall also provides insulation and helps avoid sudden changes in temperature. In a colder climate like ours, terracotta will draw the water out of soil to help it dry quicker. Ultimately a great help.


Specimens to consider


Trees

Olives, citrus (lemons, oranges and limes), vines, cypresses, holm oaks...


Plants

Grasses, succulents, herbs, yucca, agave, genistas, euphorbias, nerium, santolina,