April 2, 2019

How to create a Mediterranean garden

With a bit of planning and the right site, a Mediterranean garden is a very achievable goal for SA gardeners.

Rhododendrons thrive in the Adelaide Hills.

Mediterranean gardening is not just limited to the beautiful region in Europe, but the style and ideas can be undertaken and adapted anywhere in the world that has a similar climate: long hot summers with low rainfall and short, mild, wet winters that are relatively frost free. This ideal climate lends itself to months of outdoor living and alfresco dining, so it’s important to take into consideration plant choice, areas of shade, as well as ample seating and relaxing entertaining areas.

Gardening in our state can be a huge challenge as we have such a harsh climate and lack of regular rains, so it’s important when establishing a garden that we realise and accept that we may not be able to grow the lush green gardens like in the tropics. Gardening can be daunting and even very disappointing when we lose plants.

We do have a vast range of regions within our Mediterranean climate; from the cool climate plants like camellia, azalea and rhododendron that grow well in the Adelaide Hills, to the drought tolerant plants that survive in coastal and arid outback regions and on the Adelaide plains, anything from ferns to succulents will thrive depending on soil types, available water sources, sun protection if necessary and prevailing winds.

Having understood the basics of the Mediterranean style of gardening, it’s important to select a site that has well-drained soil, is relatively free from strong gusty winds and is not prone to heavy frosts. Plant choice is critical in establishing this style of garden and it may be worth a drive around your neighbourhood to see what plants grow well in your area before choosing.

Rosemary and conifers work well in a Mediterranean garden.

Soil preparation prior to planting, composting, deep regular soakings of water and mulching are the main vital elements to maintain a healthy garden. It would be foolhardy to forget or underestimate the value of mulching. Establish trees that provide adequate shade in outdoor living areas, lawns that are hardy and family friendly and paved walkways that define garden beds.

Grow the more fragile plants in containers so they can be shifted out of the hot sun or strong north winds – or moved to brighten up outdoor living areas if you’re entertaining. Comfortable seating is necessary and garden lighting can finish off a courtyard, patio area or garden room beautifully.

With a smaller area to work with, container plantings of Mediterranean edibles like olives, citrus, pomegranate and fig, as well as terracotta or glazed tubs of herbs, can add character to the courtyard and also be useful in the kitchen. Potted conifers, colourful annuals, striking cordylines and trimmed topiary specimens all create a true Mediterranean effect that can be not only manageable but very pleasing to the eye.

Other types of plants for this style of garden include lavender, rosemary, artemisia, euphorbia, buddleia, rock rose, plumbago, yucca and the list goes on. Most of these plants require very little maintenance, which leaves you more time for relaxation. A general tidy up and feed each season, a harsh cut back after the plants finish flowering and regular picking of edibles is almost the recipe to a successful Mediterranean garden.

Whether you are a contemporary gardener who wants to make a bold statement by using plants, stone, metal, and water features, or if you’re a thrifty gardener who just wants a beautiful outdoor area where you can relax without the worry of using excessive water, then a Mediterranean style garden would be the ideal choice.

For more information and to talk to like-minded gardeners, contact the Mediterranean Garden Society SA branch, they hold regular meetings, workshops, visits to gardens, plus an excellent seasonal newsletter with loads of valuable information and gardener’s notes.

This article was first published in the winter 2018 issue of SA Gardens & Outdoor Living.

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