We consider Mediterranean gardens in the widest sense; warm, dry gardens reminiscent of southern Europe, California or southern Australia. These gardens combine unusual desert plants, blue/grey palms and bushes with bright flowers such as Bougainvillea, Bird of Paradise and even Geraniums.
Think of a Mediterranean garden and one imagines warm, scented breezes, swaying palm trees, bright flowers and large spiky grey/green plants. Whilst achievable throughout New Zealand the Mediterranean garden is perhaps best suited to Hawke’s Bay and the Bay of Plenty with their warm to hot summers, ample sunshine and mild winters.
We begin the landscaping with palm trees. First the Mediterranean Fan Palm, Chamaerops humilis, is an essential. It’s a clustering fan palm that’s tough and comes in both a green and an incredibly slow growing rarer blue form. These palms are found all over the Mediterranean and parts of North Africa and with age assume an impressively broad if not tall stature.
Consider also Phoenix palms. The Cretan Date Palm, Phoenix theophrasti, is an attractive desert palm native to the eastern Mediterranean. Since this palm is difficult to obtain an alternative is the Date Palm itself, Phoenix dactylifera. With its grey/blue leaves this palm is a quintessential Mediterranean palm. There’s also the clustering Senegal Date Palm, Phoenix reclinata which will perfectly suit a Mediterranean garden.
Don’t forget the large blue-grey Jelly Palm, Butia capitata. Less common but worthy of note is the Palmetto Palm; either the trunking Sabal palmetto or the dwarf Sabal minor. Other palms that suit Mediterranean gardens include the tall Washingtonia robusta, the Australian Cabbage Palm, Livistona australis, and Livistona decipiens, the Ribbon Fan Palm, and in a warm garden the grey-red Triangle Palm, Dypsis decaryi.
Many cycads perfectly suit a Mediterranean garden. There’s of course the Sago ‘Palm’, Cycas revoluta, but other less common species deserve a mention. In particular the genera Macrozamia from Australia, the hardier Dioon species from Mexico and some of the Encephalartos species originating from South Africa.
When considering trees and bushes bear in mind some of the classic Mediterranean plants; the Cypress tree (especially the pencil-like Italian Cypress), figs, olive trees, oleander and citrus. For colour there’s bougainvillea and climbing roses as well as the Bird of Paradise, Strelitzia reginae, and some of the more unusual red hot pokers (Kniphofia).
No Mediterranean landscape would be complete without a mixture of Aloes (with their brilliant flowers) and big Agaves. Another plant worthy of consideration is the Ponytail Palm, Beaucarnea recurvata. These are often sold as tiny pot plants but ancient plants may reach a reasonable height with truly massive bulbs at their base.
As flowering plants the geranium is practically compulsory as a pot plant in Italy. There’s also lavender, orange-red gerberas and for ground cover mesembryanthemum.