A Combination of Climate & Culture
The history of the Mediterranean garden owes so much to a multitude of influences drawn from a region that spans the three continents of Africa, Asia and Europe. It evokes feelings of spiritual retreat that stem from the early gardens of the East as a refuge from the harsh, barren deserts that surrounded them. It provides us with wonderful images of the cultural rebirth during the renaissance when our relationship with nature was reset and expressed in more aesthetic and artistic terms. And it also encourages us to find function in form through sections that each have a purpose to grow, to refresh and to offer shelter all year round. The unique ecosystem of the Mediterranean regions created the perfect environment for these gardens and outdoor living spaces to thrive. However, with the right ideas, planning and imagination it’s always possible to fashion your own version of a Mediterranean garden wherever you are.
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East London Parasol Company has created the essential guide to getting started with our Mediterranean Garden ideas.
The Poetry of Symmetry
One striking element of Mediterranean garden landscaping that is shared by each individual geographic influence is the use of order through sections and symmetry. From the incredible geometric patterns of the Eastern Mediterranean, creating their gardens in quadrants around a central water feature, to the classical Greek architecture of repeated patterns in harmonious order, there is a common theme that we can look to replicate. No matter what size Mediterranean garden you are creating or developing, always try to begin by dividing the space into separate locations, each with its own specific purpose.
This could be a shaded area for respite from the midday sun at the height of summer, a space for vegetation to prosper, or a more bucolic haven that invites contemplation and relaxation in the evening. Try to fully understand what you want from this outdoor space and get sketching and experimenting. If possible, it always helps to approach a Mediterranean garden project from an elevated perspective to appreciate what’s possible and achievable, so spend a while looking at the space from above as you plan too.
Image credit: Garden Club London: RHS Chelsea 2023
New Paths for Classic Sustainability
There is a pioneering sustainability aspect associated with Mediterranean garden design that appeared purely as a result of the climates they evolved in. Long summers and dry, humid environments meant that large grass or lawn areas would be especially difficult to maintain without access to huge amounts of water at all times. This led to the use of gravel, stones or pebbles to create ornate pathways and markers for the separate sections within the garden landscape. Using tiling or mosaic patterns underfoot is a classic Mediterranean style choice that builds on this for some genuinely remarkable and beautiful wayfinding paths.
Image credit: Better Homes & Gardens. Marion Brenner
Emulating these design ideas is also the perfect way to bring your own personality and influence into the space with a long-term goal of low maintenance and water preservation built in. Remember, that the materials chosen to house any plants or features will work in a similar way. Terracotta and clay pots will keep plants cooler in areas that are open to strong sunlight, so you can explore some luxurious container garden possibilities for your Mediterranean garden with serious modern sustainability credentials.
Plant for Perfection
Mediterranean garden plants and vegetation are historically drought tolerant to thrive in locations of rainy winters and long dry summers. However, with a little research it is possible to find lots of attractive crossover plants that are equally at home in the more unpredictable and harsher climate of the UK.
Climbing plants are a superb way to bring this aesthetic into your design with Common Jasmine being a great place to start. This semi-evergreen little wonder can be grown as a vine to sprawl over pergolas with rich green leaves and fragrant flowers that bloom all summer.
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The eternally enduring Sempervivum plants can also survive much colder weather, as their nickname Liveforever suggests. These can be a vital addition with vibrant purple and red tips that change colours in different growing conditions for some eye catching surprises.
Although traditional Mediterranean edibles such as olives and figs won’t be possible, you could look to add an herb element through Basil, Thyme & Oregano that will thrive in containers and add a distinct fragrance to your space in the summer months.
Image credit: Gardeners World
Set Dressing for Outdoor Space
There is always scope for a subtle sense of theatre in your Mediterranean garden accessories. The natural landscape of these original gardens provided opportunities to augment and dress what were already naturally pleasing vistas and you can allow yourself to do the same thing.
A Roman influence of statues, sundials and even water features can be summoned, informed by the Renaissance attitudes that sought to bring order and structure to natural beauty.
Image credit: Hortus Varius
Whitewashed masonry and manicured topiary is often used to great effect with a mix of pristine and distressed to straddle the ages and promote a timeless quality to the space.
This is your chance to be bold. A more ambitious and modernist twist can even be achieved through clean lines and the introduction of timber and glass, where the setting and accompanying architecture is sympathetic to doing so.
Encouraging your own Eden
The idea of creating an earthly paradise appears again and again within the language of Mediterranean Garden design. With thousands of years of civilisations, cultures, philosophies and styles as the ingredients, it’s easy to see how this vision is conjured.
Keep in mind what your own paradise needs to be in terms of the function, setting and view as you develop your ideas. It may grow and change alongside you, as all good gardens do, so keep an open mind alongside your Mediterranean sensibilities and always let yourself be guided by the journey!