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Create a Mediterranean Garden
If you live where summers are dry and hot (or at least warm) and winters are warm and wet, a Mediterranean-influenced garden can be great: It's lush, inviting and generally low maintenance, filled with drought-tolerant plants that will thrive in your climate. These gardens invite you to live outdoors year-round.
This style also allows you great flexibility, whether you want the look of a classic Italian villa or a Spanish-inspired courtyard, the vibrant colors found in the homes bordering the Adriatic and Aegean seas, or the more exotic feel of a North African retreat. There's no rule against blending these styles, either, to create something that's entirely your own.
Basics of a Mediterranean Garden
There are certain core characteristics that define Mediterranean style. First, there's an emphasis on hardscape, with patios, courtyards, low walls and overheads defining the space. You won't find vast expanses of green lawn; instead, plantings are more contained, and even the larger areas are more likely to be filled with shrubs, perennials, annuals and ground covers than fescue or bluegrass. Earth tones are the dominant colors on houses and outdoor structures, punctuated by bright accent colors like red and purple. Tile is popular, for both roofs and outdoor "floors," though large pavers, gravel and materials like decomposed granite are often used.
The plant choice is huge. Citrus, olive trees, rosemary and lavender are almost a requirement for a true Mediterranean feel, but branch out with other herbs, grasses and grasslike plants, roses, vines and even tropicals. Look for foliage that's gray-green or a deep green (rather than emerald), preferably with boldly colored flowers. Though plants that originally hailed from the region are obvious inclusions, don't overlook plants from places with a similar climate, such as Australia. And throw in some edibles; they're a time-honored tradition.
Finishing the Look
The final touches include water features, pots and other accessories. Water features are key, but not the ponds of a natural or traditional landscape. Instead, put in a small courtyard pool or a fountain, either in the center of the space or on the wall. Nothing says Mediterranean like terra-cotta pots, both large and small. Rustic and contemporary furniture styles work well in these spaces, but be sure the pieces are strong enough to hold their own. Add a table and a couple of wineglasses, and you're set.
Finally, a weathered look is key. A true Mediterranean garden is where you live, not just something you view. It should show some wear.
8 Elements of Mediterranean Garden Style
1. Enclosure. Originating in ancient Persia, high-walled gardens offer protection and relief from the elements. With their inward focus and protection from drying winds, walled gardens still provide sanctuary in Spain, Italy and Greece, and have been adapted in Southwestern gardens in the United States.
2. Shade. Shelter from the intense summer sun is central to Mediterranean gardens. Structures such as pergolas, loggias, arbors and arcades have been passed down to modern gardeners from the Romans.
3. Celebrating water. Because of water’s scarcity in the Mediterranean, many water elements, such as narrow rills or dribbling fountains, offer only a trickle of water — just enough to prompt a feeling of relief from the heat. A larger water feature such as this one avoids excessive loss from evaporation with a burbling nozzle rather than one that cascades or sprays.
4. Living outdoors. The modern concept of outdoor rooms evolved from Mediterranean gardens, where indoor-outdoor activity can happen much of the year. A well-planned garden with mature trees and other forms of shade can be an energy-saving alternative to the air-conditioned indoors.
5. Local materials. Many Mediterranean gardens scramble up hillsides or are carved into rocky cliffs and feature walls and other features made from local stone. You can give your garden a sense of place and reduce its carbon footprint by sourcing materials locally.
6. Tilework and ironwork. When religious mandates forbade the representation of living forms as decoration for dwellings or gardens, early garden makers in the Middle East used colorful tiles to emulate flower colors and wrought iron filagree to suggest trees and shrubs. This tradition came to Spain from the Moors and continues in Spanish-influenced gardens today.
7. Edibles. Herbs, citrus, olives, grapes, figs — many of the iconic plants in the Mediterranean are edible, and indeed these gardens have incorporated food production since ancient times. Growing edibles close to living areas, where they can be seen, smelled and tasted, adds to the allure of the garden.
8. Finely textured plantings. Much of the foliage of Mediterranean plants has needles or is finely textured as a moisture-conserving adaptation. Many of the leaves are coated in a white fuzz, which gives the garden a light-catching, shimmery appearance.