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Lay of the Landscape: Mediterranean Garden Style
Earthy, lush and warmly welcoming, a Mediterranean garden can thrive in any warm-climate landscape with a few adaptations
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.
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.
Look at your options. All the elements of a Mediterranean garden come together in this space. There are the adobe-colored walls and stairs, the wooden gate, the fountain, the pavers, an olive tree, gray-green plantings and the glimpse of a bright blue door. The result is distinctly Mediterranean and completely inviting.
Another traditional Mediterranean design, this one in Greece. Whitewashed walls are traditional, as are the bold blue doors that reflect the equally bright sky. A huge bougainvillea, trained as a tree, is an equally bold satement in an otherwise simple space.
For a blend of Mediterranean looks, there's this garden overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The white walls recall Greek architecture, but the garden is filled with grasses, shrubs and flowers, including a grapevine, from around the region. Note the glimpse of the classic red tile roof.
Decide on the design elements. This house is actually in Phoenix, but you'd think you were on a Tuscan patio with this amazing stonework. Both the water feature and urn are strong enough elements to not be overpowered by the surrounding walls, and their relative simplicity makes them stand out even more.
Look for patio pavers with a Mediterranean feel and specialty tiles at landscaping supply stores and tile shops. If you live in a cold-weather climate, be sure the tiles you choose can stand up to the winter conditions.
The Spanish influence is obvious in this tile floor with blue inlay. Bright-color pots add to the overall feel, as do the vivid plants. Almost hidden in the surrounding foliage, a fountain adds the refreshring sound of splashing water.
Planting note: Pink-flowered Mexican evening primrose is a great drought-tolerant choice, but it's also very invasive.
if you have room, add a traditional ball court. The game here is pétanque, but you could easily turn it into a boccie ball court.