Most of the plants mentioned below grow best in regions with a typical Mediterranean climate: hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. But even if you live in a colder climate, there’s still plenty of opportunity to grow Mediterranean plants as warm-season annuals as long as you have a sunny, sheltered spot with well-draining soil or are willing to plant in containers.
Mediterranean gardens abound with standout plants — brightly colored bougainvilleas, aromatic herbs, stately Italian cypresses, olive trees — both native and introduced to the region. To help you emulate the planting palette of a Mediterranean garden, we’ve collected eight plant combinations for inspiration. You’ll see a few repeats of the usual suspects as well as less expected combinations that work surprisingly well.
English lavender and society garlic grow on the Greek island of Paros.
1. Olive trees, roses and English lavender. This backyard planting in Northern California is about as classically Mediterranean as it gets. The pale leaves of the olives (Olea europaea, USDA zones 8 to 11; find your zone) form a silvery backdrop to mixed shrub roses (Rosa spp., zones 5 to 9) and a fragrant border of English lavender. All grow best in full sun and well-draining soil, but this variety of English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, zones 5 to 9) is particularly finicky if the roots get too soggy.
2. Licorice plant, lavender, rosemary and purpletop vervain. Low-maintenance and drought-tolerant, this sun-loving quartet would work well as an addition to practically any summer border. Chartreuse licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare, zones 9 to 11) and silver-leaved lavender contrast with the deep green of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, zones 8 to 11). The airy stalks of purpletop vervain (Verbena bonariensis, zones 7 to 10) can be cut for bouquets.
3. Grapes and bougainvillea. With vibrant flowers in magenta, red, white, coral and purple, bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp., zones 9 to 11) works well in combination with the lush foliage of grapes (Vitis spp., zones range from 4 to 10, depending on variety). Plant the vines to ramble over shade pergolas with a colorful, leafy canopy complete with grapes dangling below.
4. Society garlic, lily of the Nile and pride of Madeira. This unusual combination of drought-tolerant perennials creates a soft tapestry of pastel blooms outside a seaside home on the Greek island of Paros. The three main plants of the meadow planting are all reasonably drought-tolerant, and grow well in full sun and well-draining soil. Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea, zones 7 to 11) forms the swaths of pale lavender, with taller bloom spikes of lily of the Nile (Agapanthus africanus, zones 7 to 11) and shrubby pride of Madeira (Echium candicans, zones 9 to 10) to the left.
5. Spurge, boxwood and New Zealand flax. For a more formal, refined look, combine clipped boxwood hedges (Buxus spp. zones 5 to 9) with punctuations of New Zealand flax (Phormium spp., zones 8 to 11) and billowing spurge (Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii, zones 8 to 10). All grow best in full to partial sun and need only low to moderate water.
6. Italian cypress and olive trees. With their bold, stately forms, both columnar cypresses and gnarled olives add presence to Mediterranean-style gardens. Here, the trees are underplanted with coast rosemary (Westringia fruticosa, zones 9 to 10) and pink gaura (Gaura lindheimeri, zones 5 to 9). Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens, zones 7 to 10) grows well in a variety of soil types as long as they’re well-drained. When selecting an olive tree (Olea europaea, zones 8 to 11), choose a nonfruiting cultivar, such as ‘Monher’, to avoid oily fruit drop.
7. Spanish lavender and lamb’s ears. Keep it simple by banking borders with swaths of deep violet Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas, zones 7 to 9) and velvety lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina, zones 4 to 9). These hardworking perennials grow best in full sun with moderate water and take almost no care to look good. While lamb’s ears can grow in moist soil, good drainage is essential for the lavender.
8. Citrus trees and ground morning glory. In mild-winter climates, grow citruses like these dwarf tangerines (Citrus reticulata ‘Dancy’, zones 9 to 10) in containers for a colorful winter accent. In summer, plant trailing flowers, such as ground morning glory (Convolvulus sabatius, zones 7 to 9) and calibrachoas(Calibrachoa spp., zones 10 to 11), to cascade over the edge.