Mediterranean garden ideas – 12 design and planting tips

Take inspiration from these Mediterranean garden ideas to transform a sun-drenched spot into a blissful Mediterranean garden retreat

Mediterranean garden ideas
(Image credit: Future)

With laid-back, alfresco living at their heart, Mediterranean garden ideas are all about spending time outside with friends and family, soaking up the beautiful surroundings, and recreating the feel of sunnier climes.

From the sleek and stylish gardens of Italy's Amalfi coast, to the natural, rustic appeal of French farmhouse plots, Mediterranean gardens are brimming with garden ideas to borrow and recreate in your own home garden. 

Mediterranean garden ideas – where to start

Evoking the feel of Mediterranean garden ideas has a lot to do with the choice of planting, but the materials used for landscaping are also important when thinking about how to create a Mediterranean garden, as is creating alfresco sitting and dining areas.

Many mediterranean gardens incorporate garden paths and warm toned paving linking terraces and relaxed dining areas shaded by pergola ideas smothered in flowering climbers. Think pots filled with vibrant flowers, brightly colored mosaics, fragrant,  silver leafed plants lining pathways, and dappled shade from architectural tropical garden palms, yuccas, and citrus fruit trees.

You can find more inspiration from these Mediterranean garden ideas.

1. Choose low maintenance Mediterranean plants

mediterranean garden with pergola covered in climbing plants

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Plants for Mediterranean garden ideas are selected for ease of care, as well as for their year-long interest and drought tolerance, and repeat plantings that create an impact are typical of this style. 

Evoking the feel of the mediterranean offers the opportunity to experiment with an array of different plants, enjoying their colors and scents.

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 – perfect if you are wondering how to plan a dry garden.

Grey-green and silver leafed plants, such as santolina with its silver, aromatic leaves, reflect the sun's rays, conserving the plant's moisture and many drought-tolerant choices form communities of plants.

Good choices for a border include echinops (globe thistle), salvias – which are wonderfully varied, dianthus (scented pinks), ceanothus, Centranthus ruber (valerian), Cistus x cyprius (gum cistus), island beds of tall, drought-tolerant Euphorbia characias (Mediterranean spurge) with foliage in tones from acid yellow to lime green, ornamental grasses, and the woody-stemmed perennial artemisia. 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 baulk if you step on them.

2. Plan an outdoor dining and seating area

Mediterranean garden ideas

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Al fresco dining is at the core of Mediterranean garden ideas. 

Rustic, wooden outdoor furniture, or wrought iron garden dining sets are among the outdoor dining ideas that would perfectly set the tone for relaxed gatherings under the shade of a tree or covered terrace area.

Alternatively, flexible seating options will allow you to move to the coolest part of the garden as the sun tracks along the sky. 

Surround the dining area with colorful, fragrant planting to appeal to all of the senses and create a sensory garden space.

3. Design a gravel garden

Gravel garden with olive tree

(Image credit: Christopher Lee)

A gravel garden is a practical and low maintenance option to include in a sunny, weed free and well-drained position.

Gravel is available in a wide range of colors and styles, that can perfectly set off the Mediterranean planting, and can be chosen to complement other hard surfaces or materials of the house.

Allow some plants to self-seed among the gravel for a more natural look. Good plant choices to include in a gravel garden are herbs, such as ribbons of lavender and thyme, erigeron, stipa, euphorbia and nepeta.

4. Include a pergola for height and shade

pergola used for dining area among the flowers in a summer garden

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Provide dappled shade in a sunny garden or courtyard with beautiful pergola ideas.

'If you have the space, a pergola draped in colorful climbing plants, such as jasmine or Ipomoea, is a must,' advises celebrity gardener David Domoney.

Vertical interest is important as part of the planning for Mediterranean garden ideas, and pergolas are ideal for adding scented climbers and creeping vines under which you can position your al fresco dining spot.

While a rustic, wooden pergola is more reminiscent of a provincial, French farmhouse look, contemporary designs can complement a pared back and minimalist coastal garden style.

5. Create a Mediterranean garden on a slope

Sloping garden ideas

(Image credit: Future / Annaick Guitteny)

A sunny sloping garden is ideal for Mediterranean plants as rain naturally travels down a gradient and the plants can cope well with water run-off and dry soil conditions.

Drought tolerant plants that are well suited to gravel gardens can thrive on a sloping site. Verbena, gaura, euphorbia, achillea, artemisia, nepeta and erysimum are among the many choices. Look for plants with small, narrow leaves, or a reflective, glaucous waxy coating as these are indicators of a plant's drought tolerance and ability to survive in hot, dry conditions.

6. Decorate with potted plant displays

How to design a patio

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Container gardening ideas provide an easy solution to growing plants that like drier environments, as you can control the soil conditions and drainage. 

Colorful flowers, such as a mass of bright geraniums, osteospermums or agapanthus, or spiky architectural plants in terracotta pots running up a flight of steps or lining a terrace wall, are a mainstay of Mediterranean garden ideas. For maximum impact, include only a couple of bloom colors, as repetition rather than variety is key to this style. 

You can also create a strong focal point with oversized pots filled with vibrant blooms or citrus trees.

'A Mediterranean garden is always crammed full of pots. Plug any gaps on your patio areas with an assortment of colorful containers and large pots, too,' advises David Domoney. 

7. Plant flowering climbers

Bourgainvillea - in Mediterranean garden

(Image credit: Alamy)

The sight of the beautiful, bright blooms of bougainvillea scrambling up a wall or trellis idea instantly transport you to the French Riviera or Greek villages, while a grape vine winding its way around a pergola is reminiscent of so many areas of the Mediterranean.

Use any vertical surface to your advantage when planting some of the best flowering climbers, and these can soften the look of a sunny courtyard area or south facing wall by clothing it in greenery and blooms.

Plant more tender specimens  in containers, to be brought indoors or under glass in winter to protect them from the elements.

8. Build a dry stone terrace

A dry stone terrace in Provence with vines and a wicker sofa illustrating Mediterranean garden ideas.

(Image credit: Future / David Cleveland)

Hard landscaping is an integral part of the Mediterranean garden ideas, broken up by splashes of vibrant color.

Ideal for smaller spaces, a natural stone terrace, made from locally sourced stone, is an eco-friendly alternative to brick and will last a lifetime. Stone walls can also provide crucial homes 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), as well as a whole host of patio planting ideas.

'Soften the edges of any paved terrace areas by planting ground cover plants around the edges and allow them to spill over slightly onto the stones,' advises David Domoney.

9. Choose scented plants and herbs

Mediterranean garden with lavender

(Image credit: Future / Polly Eltes)

Mediterranean garden ideas include enlivening the senses with intoxicating scents to enjoy on lazy, hazy summer days.

Immerse yourself in the sweet fragrance of scented aromatic herbs, such as lavender, rosemary and thyme in a French-themed garden, or other fragrant flowers. Plant lavender in full sun and free-draining soil, perhaps even using raised garden bed ideas for easy watering, interspersed with light, feathery grasses, such as Stipa tenuissima, for a beautiful, textural contrast. 

Position the fragrant choices close to a seating area where you will be able to enjoy the scents, and use potted herbs to decorate outdoor dining tables, 'or plant herbs rampantly along a path for a fragrant and inviting walkway,' suggests David Domoney.

'Don't be afraid to prune lavender and rosemary after flowering as they can become woody and leggy very quickly,' advises Peter Jones, garden manager at RHS Wisley

10. Grow citrus fruit trees

lemon tree and chair in conservatory

(Image credit: Future/Brent Darby)

With their delicious scent, pretty blossom and sunshine fruits, citrus trees would instantly enhance the Mediterranean feel of your garden.  

Whether you've mastered how to grow lemon from seed, or prefer to buy a small lemon tree from a nursery or garden center, these  can be grown outside during the summer. 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.

They are hungry plants, so pot them up with specialist citrus compost and feed with a high nitrogen feed during the summer months.

11. Install a water feature

Shower in mediterranean garden

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Formal Italianate gardens often include fountains, and while not essential to Mediterranean gardens, water feature ideas are a lovely way to add sound, shimmering light and movement.

You could opt for a freestanding fountain as a central focal point, or a wall fountain for a more subtle watery presence. Added to which, a water feature will be loved by birds and insects alike, who will flutter to its cooling and thirst-quenching waters.

And, of course, while you're installing a water feature, why not find space for an outdoor shower? It's the perfect cooling off spot when the weather hits Mediterranean temperatures.

12. Decorate with pattern

Outdoor kitchen of Mediterranean garden

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Mosaics can be incorporated among paving, vertically on steps or walls, or add color and pattern to decorative bird baths, fountains or containers.

'These will make stunning centerpieces to your Mediterranean garden ideas,' says David.

Mosaics that reflect the bright colors of the Mediterranean, such as deep cobalt blues, rich terracotta tones, and vibrant yellows will enliven any outdoor space.

How can I make my garden look Mediterranean?

You can make you garden look Mediterranean by embracing some of the ideas above. You could either transform a small area of your garden into a Mediterranean sun-kissed retreat, such as a patio, swimming pool, or courtyard area, or transform your whole garden.

Start with drought tolerant planting choices. An easy way to add instant impact and color is with terracotta pots filled with colorful and vibrant blooms, orange and lemon trees, or architectural palms.

Changing hard landscaping will take more planning and time, but you can gradually add elements in stages until you achieve the desired result.

What plants are in the Mediterranean garden?

There are a large variety of plants you will find in a Mediterranean garden. Many of these are drought tolerant, hardy options that enjoy a sunny spot, including artemisia, agapanthus, salvias, ceonothus, euphorbia and many more.

Hardy palms and yuccas also lend an instant Mediterranean feel to a garden, as do ornamental grasses and citrus and olive trees.

Fragrant herbs are a mainstay of this style of garden, adding color, scent and beautiful scents to the relaxing and inviting scene.

Use a restricted planting palette with repeated plantings of the same choices for an authentic feel.

Rachel is senior content editor, and writes and commissions gardening content for homesandgardens.com, Homes & Gardens magazine, and its sister titles Period Living Magazine and Country Homes & Interiors. She has written for lifestyle magazines for many years, with a particular focus on gardening, historic houses and arts and crafts, but started out her journalism career in BBC radio, where she enjoyed reporting on and writing programme scripts for all manner of stories. Rachel then moved into regional lifestyle magazines, where the topics she wrote about, and people she interviewed, were as varied and eclectic as they were on radio. Always harboring a passion for homes and gardens, she jumped at the opportunity to work on The English Home and The English Garden magazines for a number of years, before joining the Period Living team, then the wider Homes & Gardens team, specializing in gardens.