How to create a Mediterranean garden – design ideas and planting tips for a dry garden

Transform a sun-drenched spot into a Mediterranean garden retreat – take inspiration from our design and planting ideas

Mediterranean garden with pergola and flowers
(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton)

Many of us have been on holiday to the Med and enjoyed the floral delights. In late winter you’ll often see acacias and citrus in their full glory, in spring crocus, annuals and cistus take centre stage, and into the summer it’s bougainvilleas, pelargoniums and oleander that we’re most familiar with. Then, in fall, there’s a smaller burst of beauty with the likes of cyclamen and fall crocuses, with rosemary often flowering the year round.  

With laid-back alfresco living at its heart, Mediterranean garden ideas are all about taking it easy – spending time outside with friends and family – and soaking up beautiful surroundings. Inspired by the gardens of Italy, Spain and Southern France, there are plenty of ideas to borrow from these – not always – sunny climes. 

Read on to learn how to create a Mediterranean garden in your own backyard, and once you have finished, head on over to our garden section for more advice and know-how.

What is a Mediterranean style garden?

Mediterranean garden with lemon groves

(Image credit: Future / Michelle Garrett)

By the Med we mean the countries that surround the Mediterranean sea – Spain, France, Greece, Italy and so on. Some plants that we grow are genuine Med natives, some are from similar climates in California, South Africa or South America but all are adapted to the Mediterranean climate. And, now that here in the Northern hemisphere the climate is changing with milder winters and a longer growing season, it’s becoming much easier and easier to grow these plants in our gardens.

In the wild, Mediterranean plants enjoy damp and relatively mild winters followed by dry sunny summers. Many grow through the winter, flower in the spring, set sees then take a break. In our gardens, most Mediterranean plants enjoy sunshine and good drainage for although they need winter moisture they hate winter sogginess. Many, especially bulbs, appreciate dry – even parched – summer soil.

What plants grow in a Mediterranean garden?

Mediterranean garden patio with pergola and seating area

(Image credit: Future / Simon Scarboro)

Whether or not you’re jetting off abroad this summer, you can bring a flavor of your favorite holiday destinations to your garden with some Mediterranean planting. Many of the plants you see in these summer hot spots will grow quite happily in a northern climate if given a sunny, sheltered spot and soil with good drainage. And as climate change starts to have an impact on gardens, parts of the US already have similar growing conditions – low rainfall, summer sunshine and dry winters – to those in the Med, making plants native to this area ideal for a hosepipe-free plot.  

For small growing spaces, a few simple terracotta pots – the classic choice for Mediterranean containers – planted with colorful pelargoniums and freshly-leaved succulents will recreate the spirit of a Greek balcony. Or you could transform a sun-baked seating area into an Italian-inspired terrace, surrounding it with herbs like oregano, thyme and bay. Add a pergola, then plant scented climbers, or grow a vine – the bunches of dangling grapes will also provide welcome dappled shade. 

How do you make a Mediterranean garden?

Mediterranean garden patio with pergola and seating area

(Image credit: Future / Simon Scarboro)

Creating a Mediterranean garden is easier than you might image. If you have room to spare and a mild location with free-draining soil, you could create a whole Mediterranean-inspired garden. Use a tree such as an olive or a hardy palm as a focal point, then add shrubs and perennials such as the Portuguese laurel, euphorbias and genista. Plant fragrant flowers like jasmine and lavender – as their perfumes are released, they’ll conjure up happy memories of sun-baked escapes.   

Mediterranean winters tend to be cold and dry, so native plants can be surprisingly hardy. But when prolonged cold is combine with wet, as it i so often in the Northern hemisphere, they will suffer. If your soil isn’t naturally free-draining, be sure to dig in plenty of grit; alternatively, consider building some raised beds.  

Growing these plants in containers is another option, particularly if you have heavy clay soil or live somewhere with high rainfall. Pots have the bonus of being easily moved under cover in fall.  

Whether you simple want to add a touch of the Med or embrace its planting wholeheartedly, it’s surprisingly easy to do. Garden centres will offer a decent selection for instant color now, while specialist nurseries not only have loads of plants, but advice and inspiration, too. 

Mediterranean garden patio with dry plants and deck

(Image credit: Future)

How to create a Mediterranean garden?

We needn’t live in Italy or Spain to incorporate herbs, shrubs and flowers from those areas – a sheltered spot in a border or on the patio will do just fine. Here are a few Mediterranean garden ideas to inspire your next project.

1. Create a Mediterranean garden on a slope or driveway

Mediterranean garden with ornamental grasses with wild flowers

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton)

A sunny slope, like a Mediterranean hillside, is ideal for Med plants but any sunny area will work well. I’ve seen whole front gardens turned over to Mediterranean plants, with a gravel mulch to keep the crowns dry and to provide an appropriate background. If you have a gravel driveway, continue the gravel across the rest of the front yard and create a Mediterranean landscape. 

2. Be inspired by a beach broadwalk

Mediterranean garden with ornamental grasses with Pennisetum macrourum wild grasses

(Image credit: Future / Annaick Guitteny)

Evoke romantic windswept dunes by weaving a wooden broad walk through your dry garden. Edge with rugged rocks and gravel to reflect the coastline, and plant ornamental grasses and shrubs that mimic the wild scrubland found in these arid areas. Make the most of the soil conditions by planting a combination of Stipa gigantea (golden oats). Santolina chamaecyparissus (cotton lavender), nepeta (catmint), salvia and small hebes. 

3. Embrace French scents

Mediterranean garden with lavender

(Image credit: Future / Polly Eltes)

Immerse yourself in the sweet fragrance of lavender and lemon tree blossom in a French-themed garden. Plant lavender in full sun and free-draining soil, interspersed with light, feathery grasses, such as Stipa tenuissima, for a beautiful textural contrast.  

Lemon trees can be grown outside during the summer, so plant them in large terracotta pots and move them indoors, into a cool greenhouse or conservatory, from October to April to protect them from winter weather. Complement the planting with elegant wrought-iron benches and a bubbling fountain. 

4. Pot up a display

Mediterranean garden with a lemon tree in a pot in the gardens of the summer residence of Elena Piletra

A lemon tree in a pot in the gardens of the summer residence of Elena Piletra. Villa near Lucca in Tuscany, Italy

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton)

Containers make it easy to grow plants that like drier environments, as you can control the soil conditions more easily. To create your display, use lightweight containers with drainage holes and fill with a layer of broken polystyrene packing (plant trays work well). Place the plants in their original pots on top of the polystyrene – this allows rain to drain away quickly and enables you to transfer any tender plants indoors in fall. 

Position the pots in a sunny, sheltered area of the garden, and water only when the compost feels dry. Add cactus fertiliser once a month, from spring to summer. 

5. Opt for easy-care planting

Mediterranean garden courtyard with rockery

(Image credit: Future / Nicolas Saphieha)

Decorate a south-facing terrace with pretty flowering plants that will bask happily in the heat without the need for constant watering, leaving you free to sit back and relax. Good choices for a border include dianthus (scented pinks), Centranthus ruber (valerian) and Cistus x cyprius (gum cistus). A sprinkling of Erigeron karinskianus (Mexican daises) around the edge of the terrace will soon self-seed into the paving cracks, creating a sea of dainty blooms that will not balk if you step on them.

6. Build a dry-stone terrace

Mediterranean garden with slope and stone wall

(Image credit: Future / Polly Eltes)

Employ a specialist to terrace a sunny area. Made from locally sourced stone, this eco-friendly alternative to brick will last a lifetime and provide a refuge for wildlife, including beneficial insects. Terraces are also ideal for sun-loving plants that thrive in free-draining soils, such as alliums, Eryngium bourgatii (Sea holly) and perovskia (Russian sage).

7. Decorate a gravel garden

Mediterranean garden with gravel courtyard

(Image credit: Future / Amateur Gardening)

See: Patio planting ideas – add life to your outdoor space with plants

In a dry, sunny space, create a sanctuary in the shade of a tree or beside a fence or wall. Island beds of tall, drought-tolerant plants, such as Euphorbia characias (Mediterranean spurge), offers additional protection from the sun. Invest in flexible seating, allowing you to move to the coolest part of the garden as the sun tracks along the sky.