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What is a Spanish Garden?

By Christian Petersen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A Spanish garden is a traditional garden setting that has developed over many centuries. This garden style has no hard and fast rules for its layout and construction, but several design elements are common. A typical Spanish garden is influenced by ancient Persian and other Middle Eastern gardens as well as gardens constructed by the ancient Moors in Andalusia. A cross, aligned with the four points of the compass, often divides the garden into four quadrants planted with fruit trees and fragrant plants. The entire garden is sometimes enclosed by a wall.

Water features are an important feature of many traditional Spanish gardens. The cross, which may divide the garden into quadrants, is often constructed of channels filled with water, simulating streams. These channels are normally tiled or lined with stone and are laid out with great precision. Other shapes are common as well. Long narrow pools, fountains, and small ponds with more natural outlines may be found in a Spanish garden, although the latter is unlikely to be seen in the more formal designs.

Pathways and areas around water features and plantings are likely to be paved with tiles or stonework, or they may be graveled. The hot and somewhat dry climate of Spain keeps most gardens from featuring large areas of grass. Shade is often used as a design element in a Spanish garden. Trellises, pergolas, and arbors provide places for visitors to escape the hot sun. Shaded sitting areas under small pavilions or gazebos are also common. Verandas or long shaded galleries may surround a formal garden, especially one at a large estate. Plantings along paths or walkways are arranged with smaller plants in front and taller plants in the rear.

Plants used in Spanish gardens vary widely, but fruit trees and flowering and fragrant plants are favorites. Tropical and sub-tropical plants from Spain and other parts of the world, such as cacti, yucca, figs, palms, and bougainvillea are also common. Herbs such as lavender and rosemary are found in almost every Spanish garden. Citrus, pomegranate, olive, cypress and other Mediterranean trees are also popular. Many flowering plants, succulents, and climbing plants can be found in a typical Spanish garden.

Spanish gardens have evolved over many centuries and have been influenced by many cultures and peoples. Different styles have developed, and although many features and plants are common, certain things distinguish them from each other. Andalusian gardens tend to have more brightly colored plantings, and the surroundings include boldly colored tiles and walls with very ornate fixtures, like lights and gates. Spanish colonial style incorporates terra-cotta tiles and planters along with ornate or unusual flowering plants. Mission style gardens are laid out in geometric patterns within a courtyard and feature vegetable gardens, orchards, and areas for relaxation.

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