We landscapers, often get asked by clients to use plants and design gardens that lend themselves to a Mediterranean feel, seeing as here in the Cape we also have a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and a short, wet winter. Mediterranean style gardens use plants that are naturally waterwise and hardy and these plants often have grey, olive-green, bluey-green and silvery leaves to conserve water, which is good news for us gardeners right now. The countries around the Mediterranean Sea are traditionally farming areas, growing crops such as Wheat, Olives, Sunflowers, Citrus, Grapes and Lavender.  The local plants are hairy or fluffy and often times small in size and dense in form and these characteristics are all signs that they have evolved in a hot and dry climate like ours.

Here are some landscaping tips for designing a Mediterranean garden

1. Minimise lawn areas.

Hot, dry climates like ours do not lend themselves to the easy maintenance of large, lush lawns. Mediterranean gardens tend to have limited or no lawns and rather rely on large groundcover areas or find gravels of the surrounding area’s rock to create level areas in the garden. The Greeks patented the outdoor tile and so when designing your outdoor entertainment area or horizontal planes in the garden, look to tiles, bricks, gravels, pavers instead. Use the soft grey indigenous groundcovers Dymondia margarite, or Sutera cordata and Falkia repens instead to give a soft, flat area. Other great exotic groundovers include Convolvulus sabatius syn C. mauretanicus, creeping Thyme or Penny Royal.

Mediterranean garden stylish!

Mediterranean garden stylish!

2. Use terracotta pots

A large number of non-Mediterranean plants thrive in our warm, sunny climate. Lemons for example are not from a Mediterranean climate but they do very well here as long as they are well watered. Lemons and Citrus trees grown in pots are great practical accessories for landscaping this style of garden. Terracotta is quite porous and so can dry out the soil in your pots unless you add a good layer of compost or organic mulch on the surface. Other plants that do well in pots and lend themselves to a Mediterranean theme are Lavender, Catmint, Artichokes, Olive trees and clipped topiary balls and mounds.

Old Olive tree makes a dramatic focal point in the garden

Old Olive tree makes a dramatic focal point in the garden!

3. Use Olive trees as focal or screening trees

Olives are a big part of the Mediterranean culture’s food and so if you too love the look of their silver edged leaves and characterful shapes, then use them as focal points in the garden, dividers or screens. Exotic, edible olive tree species include Olea europea Mission and Olea europea Frantoio. The latter variety comes from Tuscany and is considered the premier olive tree for making extra virgin olive oil. Our indigenous olive tree, Olea europea subs afrcicana does not bear edible olives, but it is easily available, attracts birds and makes a great tree for planting as a focus or screen against a fence and gives a similar feel as real olives.

Soft grey and purple plantings with pops of green!

Soft grey and purple plantings with pops of green.

4. Planting style

The best way to plant and landscape a Mediterranean style garden is to first choose a limited palette of exotic and indigenous plants that will give you the correct effect. Mounding greyish leaved plants contrasted with flowering purple plants and greens is a fantastic combination that works well and gives a great cohesive effect to the garden and lends itself to a Mediterranean style.

Keep your accessories neutral and natural

Keep your accessories neutral and natural.

5. Add form

Clipped mounds of green used rhythmically in beds or along a pathway, rows of pots with Lemons, converging pathways and garden symmetry give form and structure to an otherwise loose planting style. Tall accents like Cypress trees are typically Mediterranean and can bring formality and style to the garden in a more modern, minimalist version of the traditional style which is more rustic. Terracing large sloping sites is a common design theme of this style, using local rock for dry stacked walls and creating meandering pathways down the garden to contain borders or olive groves.

6. Start with silvery foliage

Silvery, grey and grey-green plants to choose from include Lavender varieties, Raghoda hirsuta which can also be clipped, Nepeta varieties (Catmints), Salvias of many varieties, Santolinas, Helichrysums big and small, Stachys byzantine as a mounding groundcover, Tulbaghia violacea, Westringia fruticosa and even Arctotis species, Stoebe plumosa etc.

Bright Bougainvillea and Geraniums add colour to a façade

Bright Bougainvillea and Geraniums add colour to a façade.

7. Add in flowering plants

Use large groupings of tall, flowering, purple spires of Salvia nemorosa, Salvia officianalis, Salvia leucantha, and many others including the white ones. Also Verbena bonariensis is a great addition as are fine leaved Agapanthus varieties that add a burst of colour. Add Lavender and Catmints to nearby pathways for a scented stroll, and use purple and white flowering groundcovers like Convolvulus mauriticanus, Campanulas, Liriope muscari, Erigeron karvinskianus, Plectranthus and Suteras. Even pink and white roses can be added into this theme. Use bright pink Bougainvillea and pots full of red and pink Geraniums to brighten up courtyard walls and near your driveway. Climbing plants that stick onto your house walls like Tickey creeper (Ficus pumilla), Boston ivy etc, are also typical of this style and help to blend your home into the garden and soften the façade.

8. Add herbs & edible plants

The Mediterranean garden is not complete without the herbs that make this region famous for its food. Along with Lavendar, use Rosemary as a structural plant for hedging or clipping into mounds and for its wonderful scent and taste in food. Add in Thymes of all kinds for their groundcover effect and smell. Even Echinacea flowers, Alliums and Sages work well in combination with the soft planting style and add interest in flowers, colour and texture. Clipped Bay trees are another styling must and can be grown in pots or baskets on the patio under a pergola planted up with Grape varieties or Star jasmines.

Potted lemons in the landscape add repetition and aesthetic, functional value.

Potted lemons in the landscape add repetition and aesthetic, functional value.

9. Use natural materials

Old wooden doorways and pergolas, rusting statutory, flaking terracotta urns, old fashioned farm implements all lend themselves to a more rustic Mediterranean themed garden. Use natural rock and gravels wherever possible for nearby cladding of walls, terraces, waterfeatures, pathways etc. Woven baskets are wonderful as plant containers and look great in groups of different sizes with herbs.