'Gardens & Landscapes' blogger Senga Lindsay's tips for creating a Mediterranean style garden

I love Europe—especially France and Italy. One of my favourite memories involves a 10-day culinary tour at the Villa Delia home of famous Vancouver chef Umberto Menghi (pictured left).

Here, a picturesque, 17th-century country estate sits among 75 acres of fragrant olive groves, gardens, vineyards and pine forests. The sun beats mercilessly down, but the overhead leafy canopies of shade trees served as good shade. The scent of lavender permeated the air as I lounged on one of many patios accented by terracotta pots filled with herbs and geraniums.

Overlooking the rolling hills of vines whose grapes ripened under the blistering heat, a nearby stone fountain provided cooling relief. In the distance, our teacher and chef made his way toward the kitchen garden via the gravel lane framed by stone walls and tall, dark pencil-thin Italian cypress.
 

What is Mediterranean style?

This look is inspired by such areas as the south of France or the more arid regions of southern Italy and Spain. If you are a purist, then look to each region for a very specific look; for example, a French country garden will look distinctly different from a Moorish garden in Spain. But in each region there are recurring elements and materials consistent within the Mediterranean style.
 

Key elements of a Mediterranean garden

Formal style


Italian Renaissance garden in New Zealand

Gardens and their elements are laid out in neat, ordered geometric shapes and square, sharp edges. The overall site design is usually symmetrical. Lawns and hedges in a formal garden must always be kept neatly clipped. Trees, shrubs, and other foliage are carefully arranged, shaped and continually trimmed.

The simplest formal garden would be a box‐trimmed hedge lining or enclosing a carefully laid out flowerbed or garden bed of simple geometric shape, such as a knot garden. The most elaborate formal gardens contain pathways, statuary, fountains, trellis and beds on differing levels.

Informal style


An interpretation of the Mediterranean style in New Zealand

Celebrates curves and gentle, wide arcs that flow from one view to another. Informal planting is softer and more relaxed. The planting is organised and coordinated, but the effect is more an attempt to imitate how it's done in nature, perhaps using flowing drifts of plants, bulbs poking up through the lawns and wildflower meadows.

Planting palettes

Many of the plants in the Mediterranean garden have small, textured foliage clothed in subtly greyish hairy leaves that conserve moisture and prevent damage from the hot sun. Some produce boldly coloured flowers—and, in some cases, fruits—that provide bright accents. These plants require well‐drained soil and full sun. This palette is perfect for xeriscaping.
 

Key plants adaptable to North America and associated with Mediterranean gardens are:

1) Lavender
2) Grapes
3) Thyme
4) Rosemary
grape vines grape vines
Lavender and thyme garden Grapes as vines (image: cascadechalet.com)

Hard materials:

1) Gravel or stone paving
2) Gravel mulch
3) Arbour or pergolas for Shade
4) Stone or stucco fountain and water elements
5) Large terra‐cotta, stone, or stucco pot or trough

All the Mediterranean materials come together in this patio space.

Garden elements:

1) Potager or kitchen garden
2) Herb garden
 

Kitchen garden in Italy

Herb garden in New Zealand

3) Shady seating areas/patios
 


Use arbours as overhead canopies and informal gravel patio surfaces to shade seating areas.

Sustainable features of Mediterranean-style gardens:

1) Water infiltration and permeability: Use of gravels for patios.

2) Low water use: Use of xeriscape plants.

3) Attract wildlife: Small water features are key to attracting wildlife and plants such as Lavender are wildlife magnets for birds and insects (bees and butterflies especially).

4) Edible landscapes: Potager, herb and vegetable gardens are often integrated into these landscapes.

5) No use of pesticides and fertilizers: Plants used in landscape are generally highly resistant to pests and actually detest rich soils so fertilizers are a no, no.

6) Recycle materials: Rustic arbours and furniture made out of tree limbs and mosaic ornamental pots made from broken pots and glass. Mosaic-like paving materials can also be made using broken pottery, concrete, glass—use your imagination.

Arbours made of trees trunks (recycled material) Fountains attract wildlife, and gravel surfaces create water infiltration

Looking for inspiration?

Here are some of my favourite historical gardens to get your creative juices flowing!
(Images: www.interamericaninstitute.org)
 

French informal and formal


Monet’s garden in Giverny illustrating formal layout of the gardens

Italian formal


Villa D’Este, Italy

Spanish formal


Generalife, Spain