The Mediterranean garden


By The Controversial Gardener  

We came to the Languedoc fifteen years ago to garden. To create our own garden as a showcase for plants and contemporary garden ideas. We actually bought a string of olive trees to plant. In those days there were no garden centres and we had to go to Spain to buy plants.

In our experience people retiring in the area wanted maintenance-free gardens, but now there seems to be a new breed of gardeners who are far more adventurous and creative.

What is a Mediterranean garden?

What I see around me has little to do with the Mediterranean. Very few of the plants we have in our garden are actually indigenous to this region. The good old olive originates from the middle east, probably introduced here several thousand years before the Romans arrived. Bougainvilleas were introduced by the Spanish adventures 500 years ago. They were discovered in Brazil, with a range as far west as Peru. Geraniums are from South Africa, eventually bringing with them the pesky Geranium Bronze Butterflies. Hibiscus, the national flower of Haiti and South Korea and the Photinia, red robin, originating from the Himalayas to Japan, are all anything but indigenous.

Now the palette is clear to grow whatever we desire. Let’s forget the olive tree slapped in the middle of the garden. (Olive oil comes in bottles from the supermarket). What is needed is inspiration to create a garden suitable to you and your circumstances. Let’s forget the repetition of the same old themes, you can Google most of these anyway, so I’m not going to bore you with those.

Plants will grow in most containers as long as there is a hole in the bottom. What container-grown plants do not like is direct sunshine. Beware of hanging baskets unless you are prepared to water them several times a day. If you want interesting containers look around a builder’s yard. Be very aware of buying plants in flower from these large commercial garden centres. Over-priced, housing pests and diseases, and many of them have been forced in large green houses. This isn’t what you intended for your garden.

Shape and form

Gardens are about colour, shape and form. A small area of tight planting using spot plants can look dramatic. Exotic plants can add a dynamic statement, but remember the exotic will be tender and will need to be nurtured through the winter. If you are not confident to do this, take cuttings in case the main plant doesn’t make it through the winter.

The early plant hunters had (and needed) imagination. To trek through Western China in the late 1800’s, being shot at, taken prisoner, tortured, facing deadly insects, snakes, wild animals and incurable diseases took some determination.

Perhaps we should reflect on that when contemplating the next plant purchase. It hasn’t come easily.

Pictures are:

1. Siberian Iris – originating from Siberia through to Turkey.

2. Hemerocallis – daylily

3. One of our new Brugmansia hybrids. Belle de Beziers. 

[The Controversial Gardner might upset you, he might inspire you, but he certainly won’t bore you. He’ll be back next time to talk about ‘the poor old caterpillar’ – can you eat them, should you squash them, should you nurture them? – Ed]