A Mediterranean Garden
The recent heatwave has turned my thoughts to Mediterranean gardens.
I think the English have a natural affinity with this type of landscape; most of us have holidayed in the Mediterranean numerous times, some of us dream of owning a second home there. There’s a Peter Mayle in many of us.
To explore and embrace the dryness, the oily leaved and aromatic plant palette that thrives in such a climate; the different natural materials, rocks and stones evident in the soil and the architecture which bind the two so naturally together – add to that the Mediterranean light.
So far, so romantic – l ought to consider the practicalities. What would my perfect Mediterranean garden consist of?
Water: A visit to the likes of Villa D’Este in Italy in mid-summer amply demonstrates the virtue and the value of water in this climate. The dramatic fountains of this opulent villa are well photographed, but modest caves of cool water and still, shady pools all tick boxes of form and function elegantly and discreetly. Water in any garden can be a real bonus if enacted well and sympathetically. Water also brings an added dimension to the space: the sky.
Shade: A Simple olive grove
Natural shade is so much nicer and cooler than anything artificial. Olives in their natural habitat look so ‘right’, and the idea of a ‘grove’ appeals to me in design terms; the order and logic of the plant spacing is pleasantly contrasted by their gnarly multi-stems. In my fantasy garden, a tradition would develop every harvest of a great extended family picking and pressing the olives then celebrating with an enormous feast!
Petanque: Quintessentially French
A game for all ages, grandchildren and grandparents this can be competitive without too much energy expended! Get the measuring tape!
Oh go on then, a swimming pool too!
Ooh…what plants would I allow myself?
Some of them we know and grow in sunny borders in the UK – lavender obviously, rosemary too, possibly with my beloved self-seeder and bee magnet, Eryngium giganteum. I like Guara lindheimeri planted en masse for a long season effect with great movement and texture.
Stipa gigantea and Digitalis ferruginea or possibly trial Sporobolus heterolepsis, the ‘Prairie dropseed’ for a heat-loving grass – and partner with a Scabious ochroleuca or columbaria, Euphorbia mysinites or wulfenii which are happy on poor, rocky soils.
Can’t stop now! Perovskia, Ballota, Alliums, Echinacea and Verbena Hastatea rosea… and, of course, Agapanthus!
Bougainvillea and creeping fig Ficus pumila, a honeysuckle and a Trachelospermum jasminoides.
My favourite has to be the umbrella pine (Pinus Pinea), the ‘Italian Stone Pine’. Not only stunning but you can also make pesto out of the roasted seeds! Add in the vertical of the Italian cypress and maybe some clipped bay and we’re cooking!
Carob trees (Ceratonia siliqua)are also rather wonderful – having been cultivated for over 4000 years with the promise of protein rich carob chocolate dangling from the pod!
Quercus suber, the cork oak is an elegantly small gnarled tree whose cork can be harvested every 10/12 years of so and looks fantastic when done. The idea that the trees are productive, be it olives, apricots, carob or corks oak for bottle stops gives these trees even more relevance and connection to man, and man’s connection with the landscape and seasons.
I also like courtyard pot gardening – perhaps growing plants, like citrus fruits, that we can’t grow easily in the UK.
If I’m allowed – in my modest Mediterranean garden – I’d have some hedgerows and meadows flowering with summer wild carrot and a hive or two of bees to make some Miel tous fleur!
I can be easily persuaded to indulge in a glass of red wine – and the aesthetics of a field of vines is just as alluring – like the intervention of Chinese rice terraces in how they show off the topography of a hillside. I’d enjoy the counterpoint of linear vines following the gentle ebb and flow of a field.
Better get saving!