Mediterranean Garden Design Inspiration from the Experts

Mediterranean Garden Design Inspiration from the Experts

Landscape photos by Marion Brenner, plant photos by Doreen Wynja, design by Lucas & Lucas Landscape Architecture, and story by Johanna Silver
mediterranean garden with gravel pathway and water feature

Landscape photos by Marion Brenner, plant photos by Doreen Wynja, design by Lucas & Lucas Landscape Architecture, and story by Johanna Silver

Mediterranean Inspiration 

What do you think of when you think of a Mediterranean garden? We think of shades of green, low-maintenance and -water plantings, architectural shapes, the crunch of gravel paths, plants potted in terracotta, plenty of places to sit, and pleasing sensory experiences—be it the smell of lavender or the trickle of a water feature. We’ve found the quintessential Mediterranean garden in Healdsburg, CA, and we’re here to break down the design to help you glean ideas and apply them to your own space.

Join us on this tour through a stunning Mediterranean-inspired Californian estate and come away with design tools, plant recommendations, and inspiration for your own space—no matter the size or location of your garden. 

An Architectural Match 

“With a home constructed of tufa, a volcanic stone, there were definitely some old-world elements that we wanted to play up,” says landscape architect Mike Lucas of Lucas & Lucas Landscape Architecture. Architecturally, it made sense to pair the stone with a classic Mediterranean vibe. Of his design goals, he says, “Our main job was to scale down and soften the structure of the house and give you somewhere softer to land.”

He achieved that with plenty of climbing plants that bridge the gap between the building and the ground, along with lush beds that soften all the stone. Being a new construction house, the garden was a blank slate with nothing but earth and topography to work with. Lucas was excited about playing off that old-world charm while using regionally appropriate plants both for drought tolerance and to give a sense of place.  

Softening Structure 

gravel pathway through mediterranean garden

(Above) Boston ivy climbs the walls leading up to the front door. At its base, tidy beds of roses are surrounded by teucrium. The parterre approach gives a decidedly European feel to the garden. The gravel transitions to base rock for the driveway, which is backed by a bed of creeping raspberry (“The gardener calls this one a brute,” says Lucas, “It can be a bit aggressive,”) and pink-blooming heuchera. The bed at right features a beech tree—not Mediterranean, per se, but a favorite of the client—plus a planting of myrtle, boxwood, teucrium, and muhlenbergia. A water feature welcomes anyone approaching the door.  

Paths with Room to Breathe 

pathway through mediterranean garden with water feature bowl and faucet to left

(Above) “The olive tree became our cornerstone plant since it really brings that sense of the old-world front and center,” says Lucas of the olive tree planted in the center of the crushed gravel path leading to the front door. Lucas constructs his paths six-feet-wide and lets plants ramble over the edges. “We find that’s the perfect width,” he says. Steel edging divides the path and the beds, keeping things tidy.

Surrounding the olive tree is a tapestry of greens, including lavender, rosemary, boxwood, teucrium, and a few salvias for blooms. “We wanted to keep things green year-round with pops of flowers,” says Lucas. In the distance, views are borrowed from the local wildlands—not a bad backdrop to be working with. 

Let There be Water 

stone water bowl fountain with faucet

(Above) A limestone bowl serves as a large water feature on the approach to the front door. “We previously planned to put it further away from the house, but realized it was a missed opportunity to allow the homeowners to appreciate the sound of the water.” Most water features operate on a recirculating mechanism that uses a pump to recirculate water that falls directly below the fountain, but this one is a bit different: Using a well, the water is sourced directly from there. It runs off, hits a limestone bed, and flows directly back in-ground into the well. Notches are carved at each of the cardinal directions for a bit of extra flair.

The water pumps through a copper pipe attached directly to an old, weathered fence post. The limestone platform is intentionally bumpy, allowing water to pool—making great drinking nooks for all the birds, bees, and insects to cool off, hydrate, and refuel.  

Look Upward for More Space 

a stone breezeway with a climbing rose up the stone walls

(Above) A major way to soften the structure of the home is to use vines to bridge the impact of the house with the garden down below. Here, climbing roses trained to grow upward frame the breezeway between the front path and an interior courtyard. At their base, star jasmine is kept tightly clipped and offers a soft bed.  

Create Rooms 

stone patio around a pool feature and terra cotta pots

(Above) Inside the courtyard are a series of garden rooms, differentiated by the change in hardscape. Crushed gravel gives way to stone pavers interplanted with Elfin Thyme, a variety that stays low and tight to the ground. The bold geometry of the stone patio matches the rectangular pool, another water feature for homeowners to enjoy.

In the most classic Mediterranean move of all, terracotta pots scatter about the courtyard, offering pops of color. The terracotta color goes seamlessly with both the tufa of the house and the greens of the garden. 

Upright Beauties

mediterranean-inspired breezeway with trees and roses

(Above) Two vertical elements offer different functions. In the foreground, a London plane tree grows to provide shade for the courtyard. It’s pollarded each year, a traditional Mediterranean treatment in which its branches are pruned back to the same location each year, keeping it stunted and its size in check. Behind it stands a hornbeam tree, which serves more of a structural purpose than shade. Shaped as a column—another classic Mediterranean feature—it’s pruned back into a two-foot-square column each year to keep its form slender and upright.  

Pool Plantings

old-world mediterranean garden around a rectangular pool

(Above) Here we see a lot of the same elements repeated. Boston ivy climbs the walls closest to the pool while climbing roses scramble above the far wall, leaving a trail of blooms. Classic terracotta pots planted with boxwood topiaries dot the pool area, perfect, unmessy choices—exactly what you want around a poolside planting. More roses are treated in a parterre fashion, surrounded by boxwood containments. At the far right side of the pool, honeybush (Melianthus major) gives a sense of wildness, but actually serves double duty, screening the road below.  

Favorite plants for the Mediterranean garden 

Plants used in Mediterranean gardens typically are drought-tolerant and tough. They’re better able to withstand prolonged dry spells through summer and are lower maintenance than other garden styles. To achieve a Mediterranean-inspired garden, use the design tools we just learned in combination with the plant recommendations below as a guide. 

Tough, Evergreen Shrubs

There are tons to choose from, including boxwoods which can be freeform and looser or clipped tightly into topiaries—a classic look in Mediterranean gardens. Some of our favorites include Green Tower, Winter Gem (extra hardy!), Dwarf English (growth stays round if left unpruned), and Green Mountain. Holly is another fantastic choice for classic evergreen interest.

Along with boxwoods and holly, teucrium, also known as germander, makes a great choice. We love azure bush for its aromatic gray-green leaves with silvery white undersides that shimmer in the sunlight. If you feel like mixing up the color palette, check out Sweetmaroon™ Myrtle, another compact evergreen shrub with purple foliage that turns bright red in fall.  

Green Mountain 

A vigorous evergreen shrub with bright green foliage that retains good color throughout winter. The upright, naturally cone-shaped habit makes it an excellent candidate for topiary forms, and a striking container or formal garden accent. Partial to full sun. Up to 5' tall, 3' wide. Zones 4-9.


A compact, tightly branched evergreen shrub with glossy foliage that turns bright red in fall. Spring brings fragrant white flowers. Foliage is fragrant when crushed or sheared. A colorful, drought-tolerant option. Full sun. Up to 4' tall and wide. Zones 8-10.

Emerald Colonnade® 

This handsome and versatile male evergreen holly with a natural pyramidal form creates a superb hedge, screen, or windbreak. Dense, glossy, bright green foliage is tolerant of shearing. Small cream-colored flowers do not produce berries. Full sun. Up to 12' tall, 8' wide. Zones 7-9.


As seen in this garden, climbers play an important role in softening the structure of a home and creating more vertical planting space. Cecile Brunner climbing rose mimics the climber in this Healdsburg garden. Also seen in this garden is Boston ivy, a self-clinging vine that turns rich burgundy in fall. In mild climates, bougainvillea makes a most excellent choice for a Mediterranean garden. All bougainvillea should be treated as annuals in colder climates.  

 Orange King Bougainvillea has bronze-orange flowers that look dazzling en masse. Oo-La-La® Bougainvillea has magenta-red flowers that last longer than most other bougainvilleas, and Purple Queen® Bougainvillea has deep purple, long-blooming flowers. Torch Glow Bougainvillea gives the look of bougainvillea but has stiff, upright branches that require no support. It makes an excellent specimen for patio containers.  

Cecile Brunner 
Climbing Rose

A favorite rose for cutting, especially for miniature bouquets. Small, delicately pointed buds open to fragrant, light pink, double blooms in large sprays. An ever-popular climber for a trellis or arbor in a cottage or country gardens. Full sun. Flexible canes reach up to 20' long, 6' wide.Zones 4-11.

Purple Queen® 

Rich, deep purple, petal-like bracts are displayed against handsome, deep green foliage. A wonderfully compact, upright, and spreading form that works well in planter boxes, and on fences and arbors. Evergreen in frost-free areas; use as a colorful annual in cooler northern zones. Full sun. Up to 15' tall, 8' wide. Zones 10-11.

Green Showers 
Boston Ivy

A self-clinging, vigorous, deciduous vine with extra large green leaves that turn a rich burgundy color in fall. This outstanding feature makes quite a show when combined with the icy blue berries. Highly adaptable with good tolerance for a wide range of conditions. Full sun. Fast-growing vine; spreads up to 50' along surfaces. Zones 4-9. 


With its grey-green leaves and scented flowers, lavender is key in any Mediterranean garden and deserves a category all its own. Thumbelina Leigh English Lavender is an all-time favorite for its profuse bloom season—up to three times per year! Javelin Forte™ Deep Rose Spanish Lavender is a new choice that blooms in larger purple flowers with deep rose-colored bracts. Javelin Forte™ White Spanish Lavender is another interesting choice as it blooms white bracts for a totally unique look. Lastly, Phenomenal French Lavender is beloved for its outstanding ornamental and edible qualities.  

Javelin Forte™ Deep 
Purple Spanish Lavender

A choice new early flowering variety with a profusion of larger purple summer flowers with deep purple bracts, and a robust, rounded, mounding habit of fragrant, gray-green foliage. Great carefree, heat and drought-tolerant color and evergreen texture. Tolerates cold, wet winter conditions better than most. Full sun. Up to 20" tall, 18" wide. Zones 7-9.

Munstead Lavender

A rugged yet beautiful compact evergreen shrub with mounding, aromatic, gray foliage and an abundance of fragrant, rich lavender-colored flower spikes. Gorgeous in perennial borders, herb gardens, rock gardens, and mass plantings. Full sun. Up to 18" tall and wide. Zones 5-9.

Phenomenal French Lavender

Elegant, sweetly fragrant mounds of silver foliage yield purple-blue flower spikes with outstanding ornamental and edible qualities. This cold-hardy lavender does not die back in the winter like other varieties and is notable for its disease resistance and heat and humidity tolerance. Full sun. Up to 3' tall and wide. Zones 4-8.

Olive Trees—and Others! 

Just like in this garden, olives can be the cornerstone of any Mediterranean garden. Little Ollie® Dwarf Olive, a non-fruiting dwarf variety, reaches just six feet tall and wide — perfect if you like the look of an olive but don’t have the room. Majestic Beauty® is the perfect choice for a fruitless olive tree, as it doesn’t produce any messy mature fruit. If olive fruit is what you’re after, try Arbequina Fruiting Olive, which produces dark-brown fruit with highly aromatic oil, or Sevillano Fruiting Olive, which produces large black olives.

Also seen in this story is a Pyramidal European Hornbeam, used for a columnar effect. This tree’s foliage turns bright yellow-orange each fall and has a broad, cone shape.  

Little Ollie® 
Dwarf Olive

Dwarf, non-fruiting evergreen with a graceful, multi-branching habit. Deep green leaves have silvery green undersides. Attractive as a formal hedge or specimen shrub. Heat, drought, and salt tolerant. Full sun. Up to 6' tall and wide. Zones 8-11.

Majestic Beauty® 
Fruitless Olive

An attractive, refined appearance to the upright, open crown of this superior evergreen patio or garden tree that does not produce messy mature fruit. Gray-green leaves are narrow and long, giving it an airy appearance. Thrives in hot, dry regions. Full sun. Up to 30' tall, 25' wide. Zones 8-11.

European Hornbeam

An attractive, densely branched, columnar tree when young, aging into a stately, broad cone shape with handsome, fluted, gray bark. Distinctive, dark green foliage turns yellow-orange in fall. Plant in groups as a screen or windbreak, or use as a specimen. Full sun. Up to 45' tall, 35' wide. Zones 4-8.

Ornamental Grasses 

Mixing grasses in with more structural components can be a great way to keep things casual, a quintessential look to a Mediterranean garden. Some great choices include Elijah Blue Fescue which ties in perfectly well with myriad shades of green. We’re also big fans of Regal Mist® Pink Muhly Grass which erupts in pink seedheads come each fall. You might also consider adding a Carex or Pennisetum. Of those choices, Purple Fountain Grass and Karley Rose Fountain Grass are two favorite contenders.  

Karley Rose 
Fountain Grass

Graceful, upright, smoky rose-purple flower spikes that nearly glow when back lit by the sun, with a longer bloom season and greater cold tolerance than other varieties. Forms a tufted mound of deep green, arching foliage. Full sun. Up to 4' tall and wide. Zones 5-10.

Elijah Blue 

Outstanding, icy blue coloration of this clumping ornamental grass holds up even through the heat of summer. Buff-colored plumes create an eye-catching contrast. Perfectly suited for edging borders or mass planting as a groundcover. Drought tolerant when established. Full sun. Up to 12" tall and wide. Zones 4-11.

Regal Mist® Pink 
Muhly Grass

Its relatively small form, glossy green foliage, and airy pink-red flowers set this extraordinary selection apart from others. Outstanding as a single specimen or massed in a meadow where plumes can be back-lit by the sun. Partial to full sun. Up to 4' tall, 3' wide. Zones 6-9.


As used in this garden, Elfin Thyme makes a fantastic groundcover in the Mediterranean garden. Tiny evergreen leaves are great for filling in between stepping stones and it will even tolerate light foot traffic. You might also want to experiment with other types of thyme, like Red Creeping Thyme or Woolly Thyme as each will give a different scent when brushed against. Other great choices for groundcovers in a Mediterranean garden include Silver Carpet Lamb's EarHuntington Carpet Rosemary, or Blue Finger.  

Huntington Carpet 

A beautiful carpet of deep blue flowers backed by green, aromatic, and needle-like foliage that forms an attractive spreading groundcover. This waterwise evergreen shrub is outstanding for cascading from retaining walls or planters and is very useful in erosion control. Full sun. Up to 2' tall, 8' wide. Zones 8-10.


Spectacular ornamental herb with purple blooms and tiny evergreen leaves. Great for filling between stepping stones as it will tolerate light foot traffic and dry conditions. Showy flowers and aromatic foliage. Full sun. Up to 2" tall, 8" wide. Zones 4-8.

soft silver lambs ear

Silver Carpet 
Lamb's Ear

An improved selection over the original garden favorite with dense, silver-white, woolly foliage. An excellent low-maintenance, non-flowering option for edging a path or border. Partial to full sun. Up to 13" tall, gradually spreading to form a dense mat. Zones 4-8.

Waterwise Succulents 

Just as in the actual Mediterranean, feel free to mix in succulents amongst your boxwoods, lavenders, olives, and grasses. Structural, bulletproof sedums are great choices, including SunSparkler® Lime Zinger Sedum and Crystal Pink Sedum.

You might opt for some structural beauties, and nothing is more dramatic than Spiral Aloe. Aloes are great to sprinkle throughout, and we love Safari Orange Aloe and Blue Elf Aloe (blue-green leaves that will, again, look marvelous in a sea of various greens), and Tiger Aloe. Or go large and add Weber's Agave, Ray of Light Fox Tail Agave, or Silver Fox Mangave. No matter what you choose, all that structure amidst ornamental grasses and evergreen perennials will look absolutely stunning! 

SunSparkler® Lime 
Zinger Sedum

A new, very hardy succulent groundcover, with fantastic lime green leaves edged in bright cherry red. In late summer, soft pink flower clusters bloom. This colorful, drought-resistant workhorse is a perfect choice for mixed containers and mass plantings. Partial to full sun. Up to 4" tall, 18" wide. Zones 4-9.

Safari Orange 

This compact, repeat-blooming aloe keeps the color coming with big, showy spikes of brilliant orange flower clusters. Succulent green leaves with soft teeth form an upright, spreading clump. Heat and drought-tolerant. Part to full sun. Up to 18" tall, 30" wide; 36" tall in bloom. Zones 9-11.

Variegated Dwarf
Smooth Agave

Bright golden yellow edges on arching, fleshy leaves creates an elegant urn-like form that is a sensational focal point for the landscape or a large container. Use in mass plantings for a great effect in xeric gardens. The foliage has tiny, marginal thorns. Full sun. Up to 36" tall and wide. Zones 9-11.

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2023-08-28 16:00:00