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How to Create Your Own Mediterranean-Style Garden
Gardens
April 2022
Reading time 5 Minutes

Don’t think, just because you live in the North East, that creating a Mediterranean-style garden is an impossibility

Whilst hours of sunshine do help, there are many different ways to incorporate a Mediterranean feel to the dampest plot. From preparing the soil to perfect planting, here expert Pattie Barron shows you how.

Tough Terrain

Getting the soil into shape Mediterranean plants grow in poor, stony soil in the wild, so that is exactly the environment you need to re-create in your Mediterranean garden. The French lavender that you admire in the herbaceous border originated on a Provençal hillside where the terrain is tough and rubbly. Not only does that lavender look completely at home in stony ground, but it feels at home, thriving in the drainage that gritty, stony soil provides. Mediterranean native plants hate getting their roots too wet: compacted, heavy soil holds water, so presents the worst hazard. While other gardeners’ groundwork is all about enriching the soil, your groundwork is all about digging in gravel, shingle or grit to improve the texture. Don’t be tempted to feed your Mediterranean plants or enrich the soil they are in, because the result will be weak, sappy growth. If your soil is excessively poor and dry, you might need to work in some organic matter to improve its ability to retain water.

med garden Where spaces of earth in a conventional garden look like black holes, in the Mediterranean garden, mulched with gravel, they become an integral part of the landscape.
med garden Keep a basic stock of chippings: limestone, top left, for scattering over mulch; gravel, top right, for soil texture and mulch; coarse grit, below, for smaller-scale work.

PREPARING THE SOIL
Although  labour-intensive  at  the  time,  good  soil  preparation  is  essential and will ensure a trouble-free garden for years to come. The basic process is turning gravel or pea shingle into the soil, as shown  below.  If  your  soil  is  compacted  or  heavy  clay,  you  will  need  to  work  that  much  harder  to  break  it  down  and  mix  in  the  gravel, so go slowly, taking it section by section.

1 When the soil is not wet or frozen, dig the whole area in a series of  trenches,  working  backwards  so  that  you  do  not  compact  the  section you have worked. Throw gravel across each dug section.
2 Turn the soil over from the next section on to the gravel, breaking up the earth as you go. Depending on the size of your trench, you may well have to use several spadefuls of gravel.
3 Work the gravel well into the soil. This will be hard work if your soil is clingy and clay-based4 When you have worked over the whole area, the soil should have a crumbly consistency.

YOUR SOIL’S BEST ALLIES: STONE AND SHINGLE Gravel  is  simply  stone  chippings  that  are  cut  from  large  rocks  in  a  quarry.  You  can  also  use  pea  shingle,  dredged  from  river  beds:  this  is  similar  in  size  and  shape  but  the  edges  have  been  eroded  over time by water, so the stones are smoother and rounder. The advantage of using chippings is that, if your garden is plagued by slugs or snails, they will be more effectively deterred by the sharp, inhospitable edges of the stones. For mulch, choose a pale colour to provide contrast with the plants, but mix in occasional stones of varying shades – and larger sizes – to make the finished effect more natural. 

HOW MUCH GRAVEL?
However much you think you need, you’ll need lots more. You can never have too much gravel for a Mediterranean garden, as texturizer and mulch, to a depth of approximately 5cm/2in. A ton seems like a huge amount, but you will be surprised how quickly it goes.

WHAT SIZE STONES? 
The right size gravel to mix into your soil is between 6mm/¼in and 10mm/½in, the size of a small, flattened pea; use the same gravel as a mulch. It is cheapest to buy in bulk from builders’ suppliers, although garden centres and DIY stores stock gravel conveniently bagged. For smaller alpine-type plants and as a mulch for container plants, a coarse grit of about 4mm/¹⁄6in is appropriate. To complete your stock of stone, coarse stone chippings are useful for scattering over a mulch to create a natural effect, and for placing at the base of containers to improve drainage. Soft limestone chippings crush over  time,  but  give  the  right  setting  for  Mediterranean  plants,  which grow on limestone in their native habitat.

USING GRAVEL AS A MULCH
There are several good reasons to go for gravel as a mulch: it insulates plants; it holds in water for longer, reducing evaporation from the soil; it reflects sun back on to the plants; it makes a plant-flattering backdrop; it stops the crowns of plants from rotting in prolonged wet weather and keeps mud splashes off. As if that wasn’t enough, gravel also makes the spaces between plants look good in a way that bare earth cannot, so that instead of conventional tight planting, with everything cheek by jowl, special plants can be grown in isolation to show them to advantage; grasses and light, airy plants, especially, look good set out in this way. The overall effect is more natural.

Resilient Plants

Planting the Mediterranean garden Planting in the traditional garden often involves arduous digging in of manure and fertilizers, followed by diligent watering until the plants are established. In the Mediterranean garden, by contrast, so long as you have begun by mixing plenty of gravel with the soil, very little further work is needed, and wherever your spade strikes, it will sink into well-drained soil. Planting is a pleasure because it is so easy and so quick. Because Mediterranean natives are habitués of poor soils, they do not need pampering with feeds and fertilizers. Manure is anathema to them and will simply make their growth sappy. Herbs are at their most aromatic and flavourful not only sited in sunny locations, but growing in undernourished soil.

med gardens Planting may initially look sparse but will soon spread and eventually will leave little gravel on display

PLANTING MADE EASY
All you need to do to make a Mediterranean plant feel at home is the following: the procedure doesn’t vary. Stony soil provides the conditions for your plants to thrive in.
1 Make a planting hole, using a trowel or spade. The hole should be substantially larger than the rootball, so that the plant is not cramped.
2 Throw a handful of grit or gravel into the hole. Knock the plant out of its pot. If it has substantial roots, tease them out.
3 Ease the plant into place so that the top of the rootball is level with the surface of the soil.
4 Work the soil in around the plant, and firm in with clenched fists. Water well and add a 5cm/2in mulch of gravel around the plant base.

WHY MULCH?
Any kind of mulch – a thick coverlet over the soil – helps to keep moisture in the ground. Traditional herbaceous perennials benefit from a layer of well-rotted manure, and a seemingly inhospitable blanket of stones benefits Mediterranean plants, in several ways:
• A gravel mulch conserves moisture.
• It insulates plants in winter, and protects the crowns and rosettes of felty-foliaged plants from rotting.
• It absorbs heat, and the pale colour of the stones reflects the sun’s rays to the plant.
• It makes an attractive backdrop, showing flowers and foliage to advantage.

PLANTING DISTANCES
A gravel mulch makes the gaps between newly planted additions look not only acceptable, but positively attractive, unlike the gloomy blankness of bare earth. Where the temptation in the conventional border is to plant too closely in order to have as little bare soil as possible, the Mediterranean garden can be sparsely planted to start with; indeed it should be, because given optimum conditions, the plants will soon spread and sprawl. Shrubs can be planted singly, but to create a mat of thyme or sage, say, plant three small herb plants 23cm/9in apart, and they will quickly merge to make one substantial specimen. In the first year, if you want to fill a few gaps, interplant them with annuals such as borage and pot marigold.

WHEN TO PLANT 
Autumn is traditionally the time for garden planting, but container plants can be planted at any time so long as the ground is workable. If you are planting a complete Mediterranean garden, or even a border, it is best to do so in spring, so that the young plants do not have to start life fighting a potentially cold, damp winter, but can get their roots down comfortably and, in many cases, still have time to build up flowers for the coming summer.

PLANTING THROUGH LANDSCAPE FABRIC

For areas of sparser planting, you might want to first lay landscape fabric under the gravel to prevent weeds and seedlings appearing. Because this fabric – heavy-duty black woven polypropylene – keeps out the light, plants do not grow through it. By cutting holes into it to make the planting pockets where you want them, you have complete control over your garden landscaping. Buy the best quality landscape fabric you can find. It’s not expensive, and is a worthwhile investment. Cheaper versions are less easy to manage and are thin enough to allow persistent plants to push through.

Lay the landscape fabric over the prepared bed and peg down all round the edge. Make criss-cross slashes at each point where you want a plant.
2 Fold back the four points of the fabric to give you a square large enough to plant in. Dig out the earth until the hole is the correct size for the rootball.
3 Set the plant in the hole in the usual way and fill in with soil. Water in. Ease the black liner back a little, leaving enough space for water to reach the plant.
4  When  the  planting  is  complete,  cover  the  whole  area  with  gravel  to  a  depth  of  about  5cm/2in.  If  you  want  to  add more plants after the gravel is laid, simply push it aside before cutting through the fabric.

CONTROLLING WEEDS
Before beginning a Mediterranean terraced garden, cover each bed with black landscape fabric in order to eradicate all the weeds, but make pockets here and there for the plants you want to settle straight away. One season will kill off annual weeds, but persistent perennials will take a year or longer1 Cut black landscape fabric to fit and securely peg down on to the terraces from autumn through to the following spring2 Preparation pays off; once the weeds are eliminated, and the plants are settled in, quick progress will be made in only one season.

med garden
med garden
Create A Mediterranean Garden by Pattie BarronLorenz Books, 9780754835240 £15 UK

Create A Mediterranean Garden by Pattie BarronLorenz Books, 9780754835240 £15 UK

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