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How to Plant a Mediterranean Garden

mediterranean garden design
by Alison North Alison North

Whether you’re updating your garden, balcony or patio, Mediterranean plants are a breath of fresh air, with an emphasis on low maintenance plants and relaxed outdoor living. Need some inspiration? We show you how to bring a touch of sunny Mediterranean style to every part of your garden.

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Pots on the patio

Perhaps the easiest way to recreate the look of a Mediterranean courtyard is with a collection of pots on your patio. In this instance bigger is better and terracotta is the traditional choice. It’s a great material for warm, sheltered patios as it soaks up the sun well. Cheaper terracotta pots have a tendency to crack in winter however, so make sure yours is frost proof. Mix it up with some glazed blue pots, and arrange them in large groups or up a flight of steps. Mediterranean plants are naturally drought tolerant, which means that you can spend less time watering and more time relaxing! An ideal combination of potted plants will include small trees, taller perennials and compact, fragrant herbs to create three levels. You’ll also see lots of wall mounted pots around the Med - they’re a great way of maximising your growing space.

potted plants

Fruit trees

Fruit trees are some of the most evocative Mediterranean plants - figs, oranges, lemons and olives will all do well in large pots and smell wonderful. Most of these will tolerate temperatures down to about ten degrees, so in colder areas it’s best to bring them indoors over winter or protect them with a couple of layers of horticultural fleece or bubble wrap when a frost is forecast. Citrus trees will also need a high nitrogen feed to boost their growth over the summer. Figs actually produce more fruit when their roots are restricted in a pot, so you could be picking sun-warmed figs from your own tree within a couple of years.

lemons on tree

Foliage and flowers

Tropical looking foliage plants are a must in the mediterranean style garden - cordylines, phormiums, palms, yucca and ensete (banana plants) all fit the bill, giving you fresh looks and shade while needing very little maintenance. Once they’re established, you shouldn’t have to water these except in prolonged dry spells.

In terms of flowers, choose drought tolerant perennials such as Lavender, Eryngium and Echinops. Like a lot of Mediterranean plants, these have silver toned leaves which have evolved to deflect the heat of the sun, enabling them to conserve water. They also make a beautifully bright backdrop for your more vivid colour choices. Blue or white agapanthus is ideal, adding height to a border display and looking particularly elegant in an oversized terracotta pot. Stick to one or two flower colours for an authentic Mediterranean look.

agapanthus blue thunder


Plant pots of Mediterranean herbs near to your dining area not just for the scent, but for fresh garnishes. Use a sprig of rosemary to season meat and halloumi or throw it straight onto the barbecue coals. Mint leaves and lavender sprigs make wonderful garnishes for drinks. Other useful and aromatic herbs are oreganothymesage and basil. (Mint in particular needs to be grown in a pot otherwise it will take over your whole garden!)

In summer, add vibrant pelargoniums in shades of red, bright pink or white, and bring them indoors over winter.

mediterranean herbs

Architectural trees and shrubs

In your borders and along path edges, the key is simplicity and form. Trees are small and shapely (such as bay trees or olives trimmed into a ‘lollipop’ shape) or slender and columnar like a cypress.

Shrubs are neatly clipped into spheres or mounds, in clusters or rows along a path edge.

Lavender bushes are great for edging (trim them closely after flowering to keep the shape) and Cistus or Pittosporum can also be used to great effect. If you want a challenge, why not try that most formal type of tree pruning, topiary? It’s not as much work as you might think!

lavender hedge

Stay cool

A place to relax, eat and drink is an essential part of a Mediterranean garden, and it needs to be shady! We think the best way of building in shade is with a pergola above your seating area - it’s also a great means of adding climbing plants and extending your growing space. Train a JasmineGrapevine or Wisteria on your pergola now and within a couple of years you’ll have a cool green canopy with sweetly scented flowers or ripe bunches of grapes hanging above you. Add some solar lights to make those warm summer nights extend even further. If your pergola can be seen from your house, go for an evergreen such as Honeysuckle (Lonicera) or Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum Jasminoides) for year round interest.

grape vine

Hang in there

When you think of Spanish or Italian towns, it's often whitewashed buildings with ironwork balconies that come to mind, with collections of pots and lush foliage tumbling down towards the street below. If your balcony is large enough to sit on, scented climbers like JasmineWisteria and Ceanothus, teamed with aromatic herbs and lavenders in pots are delightful - you’ll also spot tomatoes growing on balconies (try tumbling varieties in hanging baskets), fig and citrus trees taking advantage of the sheltered location and the ubiquitous pelargoniums in summer.

balcony garden

Just add water

A fountain or bird bath makes the perfect formal centrepiece for a Mediterranean courtyard garden, but if you want to do something more contemporary, a solar powered water feature fits well. We like terracotta style pouring jars and bowls, which can be blended into the landscape amongst light coloured perennials such as Salvia and Achillea. Sphere-shaped water features also fit in well, echoing the neat form of your spherical shrubs.

Why not get creative by making a mini pond in a pot? They’re surprisingly easy to maintain and allow you to enjoy the calming sound of water in even the smallest of spaces. See how we made a mini pond and then fill it with plants for small ponds.

Feeling inspired? Discover our favourite Mediterranean plants for every garden.

water fountain

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