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What are the Basics of Mediterranean Garden Design?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 16, 2024
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Say the words “Mediterranean garden” to five different people, and its very possible to conjure up five different, but correct, images. Everything from sumptuous Moroccan splendor to whimsical French decor may be considered Mediterranean garden design, since many different countries and cultures share borders with the beloved Mediterranean sea. Whatever the national or cultural style, however, Mediterranean garden design tends to revolve around similar plants and attitude toward climate, while allowing for endless variation in the smaller details.

One of the most common factors in Mediterranean garden design is a sparseness of water-loving plants. Whether drawing from North African, Spanish, or Greek design, this can be an excellent way to incorporate eco-consciousness into the garden. Gravel, sand, dirt, tile, or paved surfaces are frequently used instead of grass or moss, which can provide excellent savings on water usage. Plants are often displayed in containers or twined around pergolas and fences, rather than being planted in beds or simply in the ground.

Mediterranean garden design often has the added bonus of incorporating plants that are quite useful. Many herbs, such as lavender, basil, thyme, and rosemary, are associated with this type of garden. Citrus fruits, pomegranates, figs, grapes, and olive trees are also common elements, making the garden both a beauty to look at and a feast for the lucky owners. Climbing plants, such as vines and roses, are often incorporated to help dress up walls and other bare spaces. Flowering plants are typically less common in this type of garden, though many fruit trees and climbing plants provide heavy fragrances and beautiful blooms in the right season.

The layouts used in Mediterranean garden design often take advantage of the available light and warmth. The climate of the area is quite temperate, making gardens usable and enjoyable in all seasons of the year. While gardens typically provide some source of shade, such as a loggia or covered patio, much of the garden is usually designed to take advantage of full sunlight. The use of pale sand and dirt for ground cover also helps increase the light and bright look commonly associated with this type of garden.

Along with plant selection, garden furnishings and decor can help lend specific cultural character to Mediterranean garden design. Tuscan or French designs frequently incorporate delicate wrought iron fences, chairs and tables. Spanish-inspired design often makes use of beautiful mosaic tile and large water features. Moroccan gardens may include stunning tile birdbaths or fountains, or a covered pavilion filled with jewel-toned cushions and elegant carved wood furnishings.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for HomeQuestionsAnswered. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By kylee07drg — On May 30, 2012

I used tips from a garden design magazine to plan my Mediterranean garden. I live in a warm climate, so the conditions are perfect for it.

I planted a couple of orange trees first. I left enough soil around the base of them exposed so that they could get water, and then I covered the ground with crushed seashells that had been tinted bright teal.

Next, I planted some gardenias and jasmine. Both of these plants are highly aromatic, so I love being in the garden. I could sniff them all day long!

The teal shell mulch is very Mediterranean in color. Though I live in the U.S., I feel like I’m transported to a foreign land when I sit in my garden.

By orangey03 — On May 29, 2012

A water garden design would not be feasible in my area. It seems that every summer, we suffer from a drought. People are told to only use water when necessary, and watering the plants is the first thing we usually have to sacrifice.

So, my Mediterranean garden is designed with tiles and a few potted plants, rather than trees and bushes. I have a patio of earthy tiles, and the tabletops are also covered in these tiles. The patio furniture has colorful, elaborate cushions.

I keep a few geraniums in a couple of pots, so I don’t have much to water. I don’t have to worry about killing my plants during the dry season, because the little water that it takes to satisfy these plants will not put a dent in the community’s supply.

By cloudel — On May 28, 2012

@OeKc05 - Though flowers may not be the focal point of a Mediterranean garden, I think that plenty of people do include them. I recently saw a magazine featuring several small garden design ideas, and a couple of them involved this style but featured vines that bloom all summer long.

One garden had a climbing apricot rose. The yellow and orange marbled blossoms went well with the purple blooms on the lavender plants, and the roses kept blooming from spring until fall.

The climbing rose has plenty of foliage that wraps around a lattice, but its main draw is those huge blooms. I couldn’t help but think that they stole the attention away from the terra cotta pots and colored stones.

By OeKc05 — On May 28, 2012

I like the idea of using stones instead of grass, but I don’t think I could have a garden without plenty of flowers in it. To me, the very definition of “garden” involves plentiful blooms.

Even though Mediterranean gardens do have plants that bloom now and then, they don’t generally provide continuous color. I can’t imagine a summertime without hundreds of flowers spilling over in my garden, so I doubt I will ever attempt this style of gardening.

I would not mind using gravel as mulch, though. A few inches of it is probably great for weed control, so I might borrow this idea from the Mediterranean style.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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