CLIMATE, GEOGRAPHY, AND PLANTS
Mediterranean refers to the countries that rim the Mediterranean Sea ― France, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Syria, and Turkey ― that enjoy the best-known dry-summer climate. It also refers to the climate itself. California, central Chile, southwestern Australia, and the Cape Region of South Africa share this weather pattern with the countries of the Mediterranean Basin.
Plants that grow naturally in each of these regions thrive in all dry-summer climates, so gardeners have a surprisingly large plant palette from which to choose. The familiar herbs ― lavender, rosemary, sage, santolina, and thyme ― are common choices for good reason: They provide sensual pleasure as well as beauty, and they're tough as nails. California natives such as ceanothus, fremontodendron, and sagebrush, are other handsome choices. Also try blue hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii), grevillea, kangaroo paw, and Westringia fruticosa from Australia; Cape mallow (Anisodontea x hypomandarum), Cape plumbago, kniphofia, leucospermum, and lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus) from South Africa; or Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) and rockrose from the Mediterranean region. All have developed strategies for surviving dry summers.
To provide color and style, Mediterranean gardens have always relied on artful accessories, not just flowering plants. In ancient Arabia, for instance, glazed tiles were often used to add year-round color to simple evergreen plantings. They lined fountains, covered benches, and embellished walls. Pots, of course, are quintessentially Mediterranean. The Greeks and Romans filled them with flowers to add color to courtyards without greatly taxing the water supply or used them to grow lemon trees or other plants that would otherwise be too tender for their climate. But they also used them as beautiful objects in and of themselves ― a classic olive oil jar at the end of an allee, a row of bulbous pots atop a ballustrade, or a stone urn atop a pedestal, for instance. Nymphs and satyrs and gods and goddesses, in the form of statuary, were also essential elements in the classic Mediterranean garden.