You don't need acres of olive groves, an elaborate vineyard or fields of lavender to bring the Mediterranean spirit to your back yard. A few simple landscaping elements and sun-loving plants unfailingly evoke the seaside villages of France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Monaco and the other magical countries of the Mediterranean region.
A signature look for Mediterranean terraces, grape arbors provide shade and fragrance while producing luscious fruit for fresh eating, jellies and perhaps even a homemade bottle of wine or two. In warmer climates, consider cultivars of the classic Mediterranean species, Vitis vinifera. Northern grape-growing options include Concord grapes and hardy hybrids. A large arbor attached to a terrace makes the perfect place for al fresco dining, while smaller grape-covered arbors create a stunning entrance to a path or garden.
Olive and Citrus Trees
If your climate permits, establish mini-groves of olive, lemon, kumquat or calamondin trees in your backyard. Fortunately, dwarf varieties allow northern growers to enjoy these trees--in potted form--in their garden in the frost-free months before bringing them inside during the winter.
Herbs and Vegetables
Although you don't need to grow all of the herbs that make up the traditional French blend known as Herbes de Provence, the plants represent a useful guide to Mediterranean-style herbs. Provencal herbs share a love of sun-drenched, rocky, chalky hillsides. Sloping rock gardens make a logical place to establish these herbs, but terra cotta pots also evoke the Mediterranean feeling. Grow rosemary, lavender, thyme, tarragon, oregano, marjoram, chervil and bay. Tuck mint in the shadier, moister spots of your landscape. And never forget that most Italian of herbs--basil. Mediterranean-style vegetables include tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, all of which grow well in either garden beds or large pots.
A defining landscaping element of the Mediterranean region, tall, thin Italian cypress trees provide a sculptural element to the patio or garden border. Because Italian cypress is only hardy to 0 degrees, consider hardier trees if you live in a northern climate. Similar-looking choices include skyrocket juniper and weeping white spruce, both columnar evergreens.
Mediterranean gardeners use gravel to mulch gardens, cover pathways and surface patios. The material suppresses weeds while preventing moisture from rotting Mediterranean herbs like thyme and lavender. If possible, use light-colored, 3/8-inch crushed gravel to provide the best all-around base for mulching and walking.
Terra cotta, which means "baked earth" in Italian, exudes the traditional Mediterranean spirit. Use unglazed terra cotta pots of all sizes for herbs, flowers, vegetables and small trees. Consider terra cotta tiles to line a patio or cover the roof of a small outbuilding. Alternatively, evoke the feel of the region by simply painting your foundation and other exterior surfaces a terra cotta hue.
Outdoor Dining Furniture
While a ceramic-top table and wrought-iron chairs would enhance any Mediterranean-style landscape, don't get too hung up about the authenticity of your outdoor furniture. "Laid back" is the very spirit of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Set a picnic table under a shade tree, throw on a striped tablecloth and bring on the wine, olive oil and crusty bread!
While a "Roman Holiday"-style fountain will likely cost thousands of dollars, any water feature, from a ceramic birdbath or goldfish pond to an elaborate marble fountain, belongs in a Mediterranean garden. Warm-weather climates depend on the sights and sounds of water features to provide a cooling element to sun-splashed landscapes.