Saturday, 19 August 2017

5 Mediterranean plants you can grow (easily) in UK gardens

Why not create a bit of the Mediterranean atmosphere in your garden by growing some of the plants that you might have seen on your travels. It's easier than you think...
If you've been away to the Mediterranean this summer on your holiday, you are bound to be missing it now you are back in the land of sunshine and showers. But there are many plants that are familiar sights in Southern Europe which you can grow in the UK.

 
So you've just got back from a holiday somewhere in southern Europe to find that dear old Blighty is as cool and showery as when you left. You're already pining for another walk along the Mediterranean coast with the sun on your back, a beach side promenade under palm trees, or evenings when you can sit outside on the terrace with a cocktail and soak up the holiday atmosphere. Well there's nothing we can do about the weather, but you can create a small pocket of paradise on your balcony or patio. Whether it's Spain, Portugal, France, Italy or Greece that you are longing for, plants are the answer. Choose the right ones and you can (almost) transport yourself back to your holiday destination.  

Plant a palm


Trachycarpus fortunei Mediterranean garden Green Fingered Blog
Trachycarpus fortunei
Surely the single plant type that is most evocative of sunny summer holidays is the palm. Is there anything more suggestive of beach side paradise or hot sunny weather? There is of course good reason why they are more familiar in far off holiday destinations than in the UK as a whole. Most are not hardy and will not withstand either the cold and wet of a typical British winter. But Trachycarpus fortunei should withstand temperatures down to minus five Celsius. In time it will grow tall and add architectural form to your garden as well as a sense of the exotic.

 

Olive tree 


Olea europaea Olive tree Mediterranean gardens Green Fingered Blog
Olea europaea
Take a big step towards feeling as if you are back in the Med by planting an olive. Sitting under an olive tree you can't be anywhere else, right? You might think so, but they're surprisingly hardy and you'll be able to sit under one in much of the UK, though don't expect edible fruit. Mine's now 15 years old. For a few years it's worth protecting it in winter. If it's in a pot, bring it inside during the coldest periods or wrap the pot in bubble wrap and carpet remnants. If it's in the ground, protect it with fleece at first but once it's well established it'll withstand a British winter pretty well. An especially cold one may mean less growth the following year but you'll still be able to enjoy sitting under it pretending you're on holiday.   

Geraniums

Geranium Mediterranean gardens Green Fingered Blog
Geraniums just shout "Summer!"
Right across the Mediterranean, from Portugal to Greece, you are likely to see courtyards and buildings adorned with colourful geraniums in terracotta pots. They are ideally suited to southern European climates because they tolerate long periods of dry weather. Back home this makes them a good choice for a balcony in the rain shadow of a building or in hanging baskets which drain quickly and often get insufficient watering. Yes these are really pelargoniums, but  they are sold as geraniums. Spread them around a sunny patio or hang them on the wall, and you can't help but be reminded of the time you saw them on a scorching hot day in an Italian village!



Erigeron karvinskianus


If you've been to Southern France or Italy you've seen plenty of these. You might not have noticed them but they seed themselves over stone walls and steps. Basically multi coloured daisies, they add a frothiness to any ground level planting. Plant one and it'll seed itself around. Just rip out the bits that spread too far, leaving the rest to soften the hard landscaping in a way reminiscent of a Provencal farmyard.

Rosemary

Of course we're all familiar with Rosemary, it's been a part of British herb gardens, and shrubberies, for ages. But if you didn't already know, it's a Mediterranean plant, full of aromatic essential oils that smell great when you rub them, and flavour your lamb cutlets perfectly. The oils are a result of the adaptation it's made to the hot dry landscapes of southern Europe, but unlike some other Mediterranean herbs, Rosemary can comfortably endure most UK conditions too. It will grow almost anywhere. Low maintenance because it doesn't need much watering, but hardy enough to make it through cold wet winters (providing it's not sitting in water). Perfect for bringing back memories of hot dry south facing slopes.

There are of course plenty of other plants you can grow to give your garden a Mediterranean atmosphere. Depending on the precise conditions in your garden, there are far more options than I could give you in a single blog post. However, some of them frankly require a bit of a faff. Some will need careful watering, some will need protection from frost, and some will need more hours of sun than you might be able to give them. The five I've listed can all be grown fairly easily in typical British conditions, without trying too hard. As with any plant, you need to give them reasonable conditions, particularly in winter. Put them in as sunny a spot as you can, with fairly good drainage, and they will be able to thrive. But they are less fussy than more exotic species, and with the exception of the geranium, are frost hardy. So if you are already wishing your hot summer getaway could have lasted longer, get down to your local garden centre and bring back a bit of the Med.
 
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