Sun-loving Mediterranean plants are tough and drought-tolerant yet beautiful. The natural planting scheme combines a tapestry of different colors and textures using perennial plants that like to bake in the sun.
Colors tend to be from a muted palette of soft gray-greens and mauve-blues that creates a painterly effect, but bright splashes of color are welcome, too.
Mediterranean plants like a sunny south-facing position if they’re going to thrive and they do well in poor soil, with many happy even to settle their roots straight into gravel, which, of course, makes them the perfect complement to your Mediterranean garden ideas.
The mild winters and hot dry summers of the Mediterranean lends itself to drifts of hardy and low-growing plants that like these conditions including lavender, herbs, succulents and grasses. So if your garden faces south and you have mild winters, these Mediterranean plants will suit your space.
The planting most commonly associated with Mediterranean garden design are naturalistic and wild, inspired by the landscape of Provence but also feature more formal schemes in the style of colorful Andalusian courtyards with terracotta pots filled with bright blooms.
Our pick of the best Mediterranean plants will suit whichever style of Mediterranean garden or flower bed ideas you end up choosing.
1. Nerium oleander (rose bay)
With clusters of pink, red or white flowers in summer on evergreen foliage, oleander is a highly prized ornamental shrub seen everywhere in the Mediterranean. It’s ideal in a container in a sunny spot on the patio, especially as some oleander shrubs are scented too for you to enjoy up close.
Height: 5 to 8ft (1.5 to 2.5m)
Spread: 3 to 5ft (1 to 1.5m)
2. Mediterranean spurge (Eurphorbia characias wulfenii)
Showy architectural perennial with spires of frothy lime green-yellow flowers that thrives in any gravel garden or sunny border where poor soil is not a problem. It loves baking in a sun-drenched spot where it will happily spread around to fill the space
Height: 2ft 9in (90cm)
Spread: 2ft 9in (90cm)
3. Geranium palmatum (Canary Island geranium)
The large magenta flowers of this pretty evergreen perennial bloom reliably from June to September and are a showy addition to the summer garden. The foliage is flushed with red in winter, too, for an ornamental addition to the garden. It thrives in milder regions and sheltered spots.
Height: 3 to 5ft (1 to 1.5m)
Spread: 1 to 3ft (0.5 to 1m).
4. Echium pininana (bugloss)
This is a true sun lover with its preferred location one of baking heat in a southern climate. It has giant ornamental spikes of either rose-pink, purple-blue or white flowers that bees and butterflies love. Once the flowers have faded, shake the seeds around the garden to get more plants.
Height: 5ft 9in (1.8m)
Spread: 2ft 9in (90cm)
If you love Mediterranean blues you’ll love exotic agapanthus, which come in every shade from pale powder blue to dark inky midnight hues. They need full sun and well-drained soil. Grow them in tall pots and overwinter under cover or protect crowns from frost in the garden.
Height: 1 to 3ft (30 to 90cm)
Spread: 1ft (30cm)
6. Santolina neapolitana
Also known by the charming name of rosemary-leaved lavender cotton, this aromatic dwarf evergreen shrub with feathery foliage is covered with cool lemon button-shaped flowers all summer long. It’s easy to grow in containers, gravel gardens and borders.
Height: 4 to 19in (10 to 50cm)
Spread: 19 to 38in (50 to 100cm)
7. Echinops 'Veitch's Blue' (globe thistle)
A favorite with bees and butterflies, this architecturally striking plant works best in a gravel garden or sunny border among other Mediterranean plants that also love parched conditions. It has globes of dark blue flowers in summer and the spiny gray leaves add interest, too.
Height: 3ft (90cm)
Spread: 18in (45cm)
8. Achillea ‘Taygetea’ (yarrow)
Clusters of large, pale lemon flat flowerheads appear on gently branching stems above grayish-green leaves in summer and autumn. These long-flowering perennials are the star of natural planting schemes, a magnet for attracting butterflies and attracting bees, and love a hot dry spot in the yard.
Height: 24in (60cm)
Spread: 18in (45cm)
9. Cotinus coggygria (smoke bush)
The feathery panicles of this easy-to-grow shrub add a hazy veil of color to summer borders as well as spectacular fiery shades in fall when the leaves turn sunset yellow, orange and red. The poorer the soil, the more this will thrive.
Height: 13 to 26ft (4 to 8m)
Spread: 13 to 26ft (4 to 8m)
10. Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’ (Jerusalem Sage)
The tall, dark upright stems of this robust perennial bear many lilac-pink flowers that look like frilled chandeliers. Once the flowers fade, phlomis retains a dramatic presence in the border with its architectural seed heads that look striking among late-flowering perennials and grasses.
Height: 4ft (1.2m)
Spread: 3ft (90cm)
What plants grow in a Mediterranean garden?
Plant that grow in a Mediterranean garden include lavender, rosemary and other herbs including mint, chives and parsley, shrubs like oleander, lantana, jasmine and plumbago, climbers including bougainvillea, passion flower and Solanum jasminoides, cacti and succulents, salvia, artemisia, catmint and blue fescue.
‘Don’t forget to consider trees for a Mediterranean garden,’ says Lucy Searle, global editor in chief of Homes & Gardens. ‘You could plant cypress trees, palms, or citrus trees as well as beautiful olive trees.’
What soil do Mediterranean plants like?
Mediterranean plants like very well-drained soil that isn’t too heavy – and you may need to improve drainage before planting them. Wet and waterlogged soil will not see them thrive. Many will tolerate drought conditions, but do check as some benefit from moisture-retentive soil during summer.
‘If you’re including gardenias and camellias, bear in mind that these need acidic soil,’ says Lucy Searle, global editor in chief of Homes & Gardens.
Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. As well as homesandgardens.com she's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc.com, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Her first job on glossy magazines was at Elle, during which time a visit to the legendary La Colombe d'Or in St-Paul-de-Vence led to an interest in all things gardening. Later as lifestyle editor at Country Homes & Interiors magazine the real pull was the run of captivating country gardens that were featured.
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