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Book Review – Create a Mediterranean Garden by Pattie Barron



Title: Create a Mediterranean Garden; Planting a low-water, low-maintenance paradise – anywhere.

Author: Pattie Barron

Language: English

Subject: Gardening, thematic style with How To guides.

Type: Hardback

RRP: UK £15.00, US $25.00

Pages: 160 inc, contents and index. Full colour, glossy.

Publisher: Lorenz Books

Publication Date: 2021

ISBN: 978-0754835240


My position on this subject has long been that Mediterranean gardens, while beautiful when viewed on or near the Med, rarely translate to the UK successfully. I think it is the type of light that we experience in the UK reframing the planting and materials and them visually changing to lose something of the desired character. While many (most in fact) of the plants that are grown in Mediterranean gardens across coastal Europe, will grow well in large parts of the UK, the intrinsic qualities of these gardens don’t always sit well on the eye when brought into the altogether less sunny gardens of Northern Europe. That is what I believed, but I’m delighted to say that much of my feelings towards this aesthetic in the UK have changed in reading this book. Perhaps some of this is in light of the ever changing and warming climate we now experience, but after a summer of sunny days the Med seems significantly closer to the UK than it once did.


Indeed, having formed this opinion many years ago, it was surely due for review and when I think of the light, bright blue pacific waters and acres of white sandy beaches in North-western Scotland, it brings a similar visual tone to the garden, if not always the warmth. I am yet to be convinced that many of the richly coloured rendered walls we associate with Mediterranean gardens transport successfully to the UK. For me, they just look out of place, often with dull light pf Autumn and Winter in particular, failing to bring out their vibrancy. Thankfully, the book makes little effort to persuade on this front, instead focusing on over-arching concepts of landscape, plant and material selections and garden dressing with pots, mosaic and plant supports that are evocative of the southern side of the continent. It does this well and the author draws on her experience to show both examples of Mediterranean garden design and interpretations of it suitable for the UK to great success. It shows how a small collection of pots, or a sunny and thoughtfully planted bed, can take us to the coastal plantings of Cannes, Island landscape of Sardinia or Italy’s Amalfi coast in texture, colour and flower.


The book is full of images, every bit as warm and vibrant as the holiday scenes many of us know and love. I would have enjoyed seeing some sample layouts of typical Mediterranean gardens, but it is possibly to the credit of the author to have not been so prescriptive and instead focused on smaller elements evocative of the Med landscape and gardens enabling us to draw our own compositions.


The book begins with a scene-setting foreword by Richard Mabey grounding the concept of the garden originating from the Mediterranean edible crops and extending to planting groups first in landscape and then in our contrived and designed spaces that we now call a garden.


From there, the author introduces her thoughts on creating a Mediterranean garden in the UK. In chapter 1 ‘Mediterranean Plants’ we navigate natural Mediterranean landscapes, specifically the Maquis (see below) and Garrigue (1) vegetation types to consider their plant characteristics some key species. I found this very interesting and really would have liked a lot more on the subject. We then look to the Mediterranean plant in a temperate climate and briefly consider soil preparation to benefit a plant used to the scrubland of Garrigue habitats we learned about in the previous section. We look to the differences in climate and plant qualities to survive, before finally looking at the distribution of Mediterranean plants through the world. This chapter contains a basic guide to habitat, botanical adaptations and landscape. If, like me, this is of huge interest, you will likely feel a little short-changed on technical detail. It is meant as a brief introduction to these ideas to ground a basic understanding and it serves this well.



In Chapter 2 ‘Laying the Groundwork’, the author highlights some materials and material differences between Mediterranean and Temperate gardens and the considers ways in which we can grow plants to replicate natural and contrived Mediterranean Landscapes. From there we start to see the basic guides on how to, starting with soil preparation and then planting. Beds and borders, small container planting and surface mulching are discussed. I particularly enjoyed, largely because I love doing it myself, the guide on how to make your own ‘stone’ trough out of concrete. The final pages in the chapter are dedicated to pergolas and partly covered areas (See below) with some hugely appealing images evocative of languid luncheons enjoyed in dappled shade in sunny southern European gardens from holidays past (and hopefully again in the future). Again, I would have loved more of these visual primers to inspire and material guides.



The next chapter looks at ‘Making Maquis’, essentially a perennial meadow, blending textures, often riotous colours and forms into a tapestry that offers seasons’ long colour and interest. Climbing and rambling plants are introduced and a number of recommended species given and described. The obligatory Lavender, requisite of Mediterranean landscapes, both natural and planted and hugely evocative scent and look. We are then shown Pelargonium (see below) and a variety of ways that they can be used, before a helpful couple of pages on bulbs (see below) to extend the season. From here, we look at a good range of bulbs by flowering season, with descriptions and a focus exclusively on European native and naturalised species rather than cultivated forms. I really appreciated this section, not bowing to the pressure of showcasing improved selections and the range of varieties, but revelling in the beauty of those choice, yet still available for purchase species. The author then takes us to the coast and plants from marine environments before we look at succulents and fleshy leaved plants, so often helpful in establishing a Mediterranean feel in a garden. Worth mentioning is the section on Plants for Shade, as must surely occur in even the most sun-baked Mediterranean garden and will definitely apply to a temperate reproduction of one.




The 4th chapter appeals primarily to the senses of taste and smell, focusing on fruits, vegetables and herbs, first with thoughts on Mediterranean food and the entanglement of these plants to both gardens and lifestyle and then to some specifics of varieties to grow, their characteristics, particularly the sensations touch and smell of herbs, before finally giving us some ‘how to’ guides on growing. Lots of ideas that translate well to temperate gardens here, with the possible exception of Citrus fruit growing, which require a little more care, though I do have a Lemon bush performing rather well indoors in central Scotland.


Chapter 5 looks to maintenance and upkeep of plants and gardens. I liked the section on clipping and shaping plants, again wishing for more images of clipped cloud hedges, parterres and topiary than included. A number of pages, were sensibly given to protecting and preparing plants for winter in a temperate garden before we exit the chapter and return to some of the constructed decorative elements of Mediterranean gardens with a number of well-illustrated and clear to follow ‘how to’ guides (see below).



The final chapter is the Plant Directory, which includes both hardy and frost tender plants (in the UK at least), with useful descriptions, particularly considering where they grow in the wild.


To conclude then, this is an excellent book for a novice gardener looking to encapsulate the feelings, textures and colours of Mediterranean Landscapes. It covers a range of subjects around the realities of native landscapes, which I was happy to see and relates them well to how they can be used when recreating in a temperate garden context. I would have loved more technical description on these native landscapes, just as I would have the images of them and of Mediterranean gardens, but as a primer, designed to give an overview with lots of useful guides and information to prevent failure, this book is a winner. The author clearly knows here stuff and writes from experience, which is always welcome. An enjoyable and effortless read with no unnecessary content to fill pages and room for at least one follow-up book for the more experienced gardener, I’m sure! Well worth the price tag and a great thought provoker for me.


(1) Read the book to understand these two niche landscape terms.




Please note, Images of the book are my own with permission from the publisher. As with all images on this site, they are not for reproduction or use without written permission. Permissions can be sought from emailing hello@iplantsman.com though images of materials copywritten by another party will not be given.


Please note, the link to Amazon (near top of page) is a paid affiliate link. If you purchase the book from Amazon, using this link I will receive a small payment from them. It doesn't cost you anything and the book is priced as per the Amazon price. Thanks


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