Pacific Fruits and Vegetables | The Mediterranean garden: image, style or cultural expression (2023)

Min the editorial1.The word evokes a variety of pleasant images. Valmares, sunny beaches covering a blue sea. Arches of exotic flowers whose fragrance wafts in the gentle, warm breeze. thick-walled, whitewashed buildings with red bougainvillea protruding from secret courtyards. Ocher-yellow, red-tiled villages interspersed with black-green cypress trunks. Towns adorned with palm trees and villas wallowing in lush green vegetation. intimate Andalusian courtyard, cooled by the stinging water. or rich, aromatic food accompanied by cool wine in the shade of an ancient olive tree… These are images of a paradise that humans have created or sought since the dawn of time.Mediterranean Sea. Paradise. Eden!

The Mediterranean area, which surrounds the sea of ​​the same name, has always been coveted and contested. No other region in the world, save perhaps Hawaii or Fiji, evokes such powerful, alluring images of paradise. And of the other four regions of the world with a Mediterranean climate, only California achieves the same vision of paradise.

Recent interest in Mediterranean gardens on the West Coast is partly due to the continuing need for water-conserving landscapes and a plethora of fascinating books about the Mediterranean. Two conferences sponsored by Pacific Horticulture,Gardening under a Mediterranean sky I & IIThey asked the question: what is a Mediterranean garden? In the search for answers, countless images are created, inspired by examples from Spain, Italy and Greece. The focus is on plants, particularly gardeners and gardeners - with lavender, rosehip, oleander, olive, roses, thyme, pomegranate and rosemary as the core palette, all of which cater to the constraints of a dry summer climate.

There is certainly more to it than a Mediterranean garden. Such a narrow view of horticulture leads us to believe that style and fashion in gardens is achieved simply by choosing the right plants, be they Mediterranean, English or Japanese. So what is the framework for a Mediterranean garden?

I believe that gardens emerge from the interplay of culture and climate. While the common denominator is the climate, the gardens of Spain differ from those of Italy or Greece. Adaptation to the region's climate is based on a cultural interpretation that incorporates intellectual and spiritual thoughts and values. Similarities appear in outdoor spaces that meet basic human needs: shade and coolness in summer, warmth in winter, acoustic and visual delights in contrast to the arid landscape beyond, and foods prepared from a rich variety of native or climate-adapted edible plants become. The Italian terraced garden on the hillside imitates the Spanish oneCarmenA garden like the Spanish courtyard resembles the Greek peristyle. All reflect cultural adaptations to climate, with variations in detail and ornamentation.

But what about California, with its great cultural diversity, wealth and heavy reliance on technology? Does a garden with native California plants count as a Mediterranean garden despite the lack of olives, rosemary and lavender? Is our addiction to a green bordering on Mediterranean plants a valid model? What are the primary forces that could serve as the basis for designing a Mediterranean garden in any Mediterranean space?

The Mediterranean garden is about the relationships between people and the unique characteristics of the Mediterranean environment, between modern culture and historical traditions, between us and the garden as an expression of our lifestyle and the fulfillment of the functional and design potential of the garden. The summary below, which covers five important considerations, can be helpful when planning a Mediterranean garden. Each will be discussed in more detail later, with particular reference to the California garden.

Personally and culturally— A garden is a personal expression of the gardener or designer - a natural response to the need for space, privacy, protection and relaxation, as well as to individual preferences for sensual qualities. This can include inspiration from historical models in the Mediterranean, adapting to our needs without being merely eclectic.

climate and geography— A garden is both a response to and a reflection of the larger landscape—its climate and microclimate, its topography, and its soils. In a Mediterranean climate, this means that garden design takes into account the summer heat and drought, limited rainfall, prevailing wind, generally alkaline soil and other features to provide human comfort and pleasure, and sustainability with limited resources.

Functional design A garden is conceived as one or more outdoor spaces for a variety of human activities throughout the year (including gardening), made possible or even encouraged by the Mediterranean climate. This requires walls and edges, paving, protection from the sun and wind, views of the larger landscape, and providing edible benefits for both humans and animals.

sensory properties The garden is an art form that expresses the striking qualities of a Mediterranean climate - light, smell, colour, sound, feeling and spiritual refuge.

regional expression—A garden reflects the characteristics of regional differences in the Mediterranean landscape, giving a unique sense of place.

Personal and cultural influences

Of the five Mediterranean regions, the Mediterranean Basin is unique in that it is a collage of cultures. Fifteen countries on three continents (Europe, Africa and Asia) embody different but interconnected histories, religions and beliefs. Thus, the cultural history of the Mediterranean is profound and interwoven with spiritual beliefs whose personal expression is adapted to the climate. The other four Mediterranean regions (South Africa, Chile, Southern and Western Australia, and California) are all in a single country on a single continent. All of these are places where indigenous cultures were dominated by immigrant explorers and exploiters, mostly from northern European cultures.

By eliminating our blind reliance on technology and seemingly unlimited resources, we can glean insights from these gardens that can help us better understand how we and our gardens can adapt to the Mediterranean climate.

We can learn much from the early gardens of the eastern Mediterranean, even if they originated in a desert. These gardens served as a refuge from the harsh, arid landscape and were an expression of a culture based on spiritual beliefs (Islam) or simply based on irrigation patterns, as in Egypt. To fully understand the meaning of the Islamic concept of paradise, we must try to understand the context: the landscape of barren plains, hostile mountains, heat and glare from the merciless sun. In such an environment, the cool shade of some plane trees and the murmur of a stream create an oasis for body and soul.

Key elements of the Islamic garden include: desert relief; cooling shade from the sun. Renewal in the sight, sound, taste and feel of water. cool green in the eye; rest for the tired body; and sanctuary for the spirit, with the promise that the future will be even more refreshing and comforting. The Koran emphasizes the garden as a symbol of paradise, the ideal components of which are water, shade and fertility. The four rivers of paradise - pure water, milk, wine and honey - form the basis of the square garden so characteristic of the Islamic garden.

Thus the earthly paradise - the garden that accompanied the progress of Islam around the world - takes shape. It is no coincidence that people of this culture (and its offshoots) settled in either desert or semi-arid Mediterranean climate regions along the coasts of North Africa and Spain, in Mexico, and finally in California.

We can also learn a lot from the early Greeks in our city gardens. Although not known for their horticultural expertise, they gave us a model that the Romans and Moors developed, that of the peristyle courtyard garden. Located at the back of houses in densely populated neighborhoods, this garden offers privacy and refuge from the city, as well as protection from the summer heat. The Spanish courtyard and its contemporary forms can still cater to these personal needs in urban California.

California's cultural heritage is complex. Apart from the early Spanish missionaries and the recent influx from Asia and Latin America, immigrants come mainly from temperate climates in northern latitudes. The early English settlers rejected the architecture and gardens of their Spanish-speaking predecessors. The garden and landscape ideals they brought with them were created in a humid, moderate climate. Aided by artesian wells, their gardens celebrated a newfound paradise with a tropical or subtropical flair. The brown California landscape was rejected as these gardens turned inward, typically ignoring mountain or sea views.

This important cultural statement is almost as true today as it was a century ago. Coming westward, the Orientals encountered a landscape very different from their own—a landscape whose scale was overwhelming, whose colors were unknown, and whose arid climate was utterly alien. As Wallace Stegner observed, "The people of the East are constantly surprised and somewhat offended that the summer hills of California are golden and not green." We are creatures shaped by our experiences. We like what we know more often than we know what we like. For eyes trained for universal chlorophyll, the gold or brown mounds can be off-putting.

As such, our Mediterranean gardens and landscapes in California tend to reflect landscape preferences imported from temperate zones. Gardens are seen in different ways: as a setting for the home, to create status and dignity. as "shaped" yards. as plant collections; either as creative designs that often lack spiritual or deep traditions, or ignore the determinants of climate. Gardens often reflect people's passion for plants and encourage diverse and personal expressions, regardless of climatic constraints. Californians have lavished money and resources to overcome the limitations of the Mediterranean climate and create natural wet climate landscapes and gardens.

The 'drought years' of the late 20th century drew attention to changes in the way we design gardens and landscapes, but the results have not yet taken root in our culture. In a time of unprecedented wealth and consumption, we have not yet managed to live and adapt to this Mediterranean climate.

Climatic and geographic influences

The Mediterranean climate regions of the world are associated with the following characteristics that, when combined, distinguish them from the landscapes of the world:


  • The regions lie between 32° and 41° north and south of the equator


  • relatively low rainfall, with most (over 65%) falling in the winter semester (California is actually "more" Mediterranean than the Mediterranean Basin, with about 80% of rain falling in winter)


  • Precipitation occurs primarily in the form of precipitation ranging from 10.8 inches (0.275 m) to 35.4 inches (0.9 m) per year
  • Coastal fog and infrequent light snowfall contribute to precipitation in some areas


  • Low summer humidity, particularly in inland regions, makes for high sun intensity due to clear, cloudless skies and low air humidity
  • high inland evapotranspiration rates, about twice those on the coast

Mild Temperature

  • warm to hot summers and cool but mild winters, averaging just one month below 15°C
  • Subcooling temperatures do not exceed 3% of the total time

Coastal location and sea influence

  • all areas along the coasts of the oceans or the Mediterranean Sea
  • With the exception of large parts of the Mediterranean basin, all lie on the west coasts
  • Strong, cold currents sweep over coastal areas with cool sea air and moderate winter temperatures, except in the Mediterranean and southern and western Australia


  • Steep mountains, often parallel to the coast (except Australia), influence and alter climate patterns by creating distinct rain shadows and microclimates


  • a woody flora dominated by woody and compact, shrubby, evergreen sclerophyllous plants adapted to climatic stresses of heat and drought
  • a well developed annual and herbaceous (often bulbous) flora

Vegetation dormant in summer

  • Summer dormancy is caused by heat and lack of soil moisture, except in cool, foggy coastal areas


  • Summer and autumn fires often serve to renew vegetative growth

These characteristics of our climate are unique and contrast with the temperate climates of the eastern United States and northern Europe. However, our technological achievements and well-intentioned water and energy resources have allowed us to overcome or even ignore these climate constraints. But with global warming and increasingly volatile weather patterns, the possibility of an even drier Mediterranean climate, coupled with unreliable water resources and rising energy costs, we must take these climatic imperatives into account when designing our gardens and our landscapes.

Functional design for a Mediterranean garden

As the English landscape architect Sylvia Crowe wisely observed, a collection of beautiful plants is no more a garden than a choice of beautiful words, a poem. In a Mediterranean climate, designing a garden starts with responding to the climate and the spatial needs of the garden users. The plants are selected, among other things, to fulfill functional requirements and shape the character of the landscape.


The design of any garden begins with defining spaces for outdoor use and functional needs. Structures and plants are combined to create “gardens” that take full advantage of the favorable climate. Smaller can often be better here. Maximum comfort can be achieved through a compact garden – cleverly designed to meet the needs of residents while minimizing maintenance and water consumption.

The design of interior spaces surrounded by buildings or courtyards delimited by walls or fences - adaptations of the Greek peristyle or the Andalusian courtyard - ensures privacy, intimacy and microclimate control. Such spaces are as relevant today as they were in the ancient Mediterranean gardens. Although our homes are usually monolithic and surrounded by lawns, we can still create intimate fenced yards that are good for our climate.

Microclimate Modification

Changing the microclimate through garden design can not only create comfortable outdoor spaces, but also help save energy for homes, especially in the summer but also during the colder months. Terraced gardens in Italy and Spain were designed to capture sunlight in winter and retain heat in the walls and floor to ensure evening warmth. The welcome shade of summer is achieved with the addition of vine-covered arbors, trees and arched walls. Dense planting can also mitigate cold coastal winds.


Essential for both irrigation and its refreshing sound, water can be used effectively and efficiently in our semi-arid climate. Efficiency is achieved through the maximum use of sidewalks (including both hard and soft materials), the choice of water-efficient facilities, low-volume irrigation systems, and subtle water features. In the Moorish gardens of Spain, the simplest pool of water symbolizes a sparkling spring. Its calm surface reflects the stars and unites heaven with earthly paradise.

Except in years of drought, we have taken for granted an unlimited supply of water, supporting our fondness for lavish displays, whether in the form of water features or floral extravagance. We need to develop a deeper appreciation for water, both as a source of refreshment and enjoyment, and as the life-giving foundation of our garden plants.


While we are tempted to start a garden by planting our favorite plants, the greatest long-term satisfaction and benefit comes when plants are first selected and arranged to define spaces, alter microclimates, provide control, and others To fulfill design functions that the garden offers its structure. and shape.

Choosing and placing plants in the right site and soil conditions contributes to long-term success. Choosing plants that are well adapted to semi-arid conditions helps to achieve harmony in the character of the landscape. Grouping facilities with similar water needs ensures compatibility and water efficiency.

Planting for variety creates a year-round interest in foliage, shape, and color. By selecting plants that attract the desired wildlife (birds, butterflies, bees and small animals), the garden will achieve its full potential and contribute to its environmental value to the surrounding community.

building material

Where possible and available, the use of local natural materials – stone, gravel, decomposed granite, wood – strengthens the garden's regional connection and sense of place. A simple combination of a few compatible materials enhances the plantings and connects our gardens to the regional context.

The rediscovery of the materials and techniques of the earth walls and the cement layers of the floor connects us to the history and development of the Mediterranean gardens. Similarly, straw bale walls mimic the thick mud walls of the Mediterranean while using a recycled, renewable material.

Sensory and transient properties

Design that meets functional needs gives form and structure to a Mediterranean garden in response to climate, site conditions and human activities. Sensual qualities give it spirit. This spirit blends the owners' preferences – enjoying certain plants, ephemeral effects, and daily and seasonal delights – with the unique landscape opportunities for the qualities of the Mediterranean climate – light, scent, sound and color. How does modern "Scenism" cheat us of these joys!

Although the character of gardens varies due to the subjectivity and personal nature of the design, Mediterranean gardens tend to be unpretentious, understated and sometimes a little rustic - not elegant or strictly formal. Matching the atmosphere of the climate, there is a calm and gentleness created by natural materials and plants such as lavender, rosemary and many California Natives.

Such gardens do not have to be chaotic. Order and harmony can be achieved in an informal manner or with simple geometry. A degree of formality balanced with informality enhances the impact of each, like a lavender planting scheme with a harmonious but irregular arrangement of California plants or other Mediterranean plants.


The quality of light in the Mediterranean climate offers unique opportunities for garden design. The steady, harsh clarity of the summer sun (in smog-free areas) washes out the yellow-green foliage and faint pastels. Strong primary tones and dark green foliage withstand such strong light. The rich, dark green and blue-green foliage at the edge of the garden forms a backdrop against which vibrant reds, oranges, yellows and silvery grays can shine.

Silver to gray-green foliage is common in the Mediterranean plant palette, brightening path and stair edges, even in the moonlight. The light gray trunks of live oaks and cork oaks glow magically in the late afternoon's faint light. The golden light of the afternoons and autumn evenings transforms the Madrone and Manzanita tribes into bronze sculptures.

The morning light of the coastal areas gives the gardens a quiet softness. The mist creates soft silhouettes of plants and sculptures—ephemeral but memorable images enhanced by the fresh, salty air and crashing sea waves.


A feature of the Mediterranean plant palette is the predominance of leaves with a high content of essential oils and aromas. Prepared in the heat of the summer sun, these fragrances offer additional ephemeral qualities: the sweet, spicy scent of conifers. the spicy scent of sage, rosemary, rose and laurel. and the gentle scent of lavender. The fresh scent of dry oak leaves in autumn and the delicate scent of new spring growth complement the fragrance palette. We are a visual culture, the other senses are deadened by our dependence on sight. In the Mediterranean garden we can reawaken these senses by placing aromatic plants along a path or stairway where the foliage is brushed. Or place sage, rose and similar aromatic plants on warm, south-facing walls to bring out their pungency even more.


We are overwhelmed by the cacophony of urban life, from the noise of traffic to the roar of radios and televisions. The subtle sounds of a garden are often lost. As with scents, we can readjust our ears to block out the noise and hear the ephemeral delights of a garden - the muffled bubbling of a simple faucet or a small stream. the sound of birds and squirrels feeding. The
buzzing of bees in lavender; and its spin
Hummingbirds and dragonflies fly around.

Even plants can be heard: acorns tapping on a roof, madrone bark creaking in the late summer heat, and the crunching of dry leaves underfoot. Likewise, gravel or decomposed granite pathways and cobblestones contribute to a distinctive garden sound underfoot. The sounds are there if we plan for them and take the time to listen to them.


The color concepts in the Mediterranean garden are tied to the seasons, the range of plants, the light and natural materials (stone, gravel, etc.). As with sound, color images (visual noise) overwhelm us every day. This is how restraint and delicacy become virtues in the Mediterranean garden.

Following the natural landscape, spring is the time of flowering and growth. The summer heat and drought put many plants into dormancy—a reversal of the seasons compared to temperate zones. Awakened by the winter rains, dormant bulbs, annuals, perennials and shrubs bloomed - redbuds, daffodils, hyacinths, cistus, manzanita, ceanothos, horse chestnuts, poppies, irises and many other Mediterranean species. In keeping with the seasons, the Mediterranean garden can celebrate spring and early summer with floral arrangements, rather than trying to provide color all year round. As summer and dormancy progress, the blooms become more subtle and muted—lavender, California fuchsia, sage, and the rich hues of summer veggies like tomatoes, squash, and peppers. Planting in containers allows the flowering period to be extended through limited display in selected spots in the garden. As summer draws to a close, softer grays and browns herald the arrival of fall. Because there is little fall color, we cannot compete with the eastern woods, with the exception of the bigleaf maple (Acer Macrophyllum), black oak (Quercus kelloggii) and such compatible trees as the Chinese pistachio (Pistacia chinensis), Feet (Diosporum Legs) or the Washington Thorn (Crataegus phenopyrum). Autumn and winter bring out the red-green-variegated Toyon berries (Heteromeles arbutifolia), Zwergmispel, Madrone (Arbutus menziesiiAndA. unedo) and others against the lush green of live oaks, conifers, kennoth and viburnum.

Garden as a place of refuge

Since ancient Greece, the garden has served as a sanctuary and sanctuary from the stress, noise and confusion of everyday life. From the Greek garden of the city behind the house to theGarten SecretThe seclusion, tranquility and comfort of Mediterranean gardens have lifted the spirit of the Italian Renaissance garden and rejuvenated the souls of both men and women. Inward-facing courtyards and enclosed courtyards provide protection from the outside world. Such gardens offer the benefit of a close relationship with the garden, its plants, special effects of light, color and texture, and wildlife. In comparison, the traditional large gardens that surround most homes are more for display or status establishment than personal retreat. In the intimate sanctuary, sensual qualities are enhanced – smells, sounds, contact with birds, insects and small animals, as well as the change of light and seasons.

regional expression

In conclusion, the concept of the Mediterranean garden in California can be summarized as an expression of the qualities of the local landscape. Beyond the similarities in landscape and climate, there are differences: cooler, wetter, and greener in the northern regions. the cool coast; hot summer interior valleys; and drier, almost desert-like southern regions. By adapting the design of the Mediterranean garden to reflect and express the colors, shapes and textures of the plants and shapes of the area, in addition to other visual qualities such as light and atmosphere, we can enhance our sense of place. We surrender to and root in the reality and uniqueness of the Mediterranean climate. Our gardens develop a sense of belonging, both visually and ecologically. Horticulturally, they suit the terrain and are therefore easier to care for and maintain.

And so the Mediterranean garden becomes a personal expression and an interpretation of the special properties and characteristics of the Mediterranean climate and landscape. As participants in the design, construction, maintenance and enjoyment, we change and adapt to the landscape, consistent with our place in the world.


1The word "Mediterranean" (literally) generally refers to the Mediterranean climate, vegetation and other characteristics of the various Mediterranean zones of the world. Mediterranean (capitalized) refers to the geographic area of ​​the Mediterranean Sea.


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