One thing you see lots of in Mediterranean gardens are climbing vines. Mediterranean climbers grow up walls or over pergolas on the back of the house. Some of these pergolas are simply magical, with the ’roof’ made only of rough branches, all tangled with knobby grapevines and bunches of fruit dripping down. Without these climbing plants, the stucco walls of villas reflect so much heat and light that it makes outdoor entertaining unbearable. Mediterranean climbing plants add shade that cools your patio and protects tender plants from scorching.
In any climate, a huge knot of Mediterranean climbers all jostling for space on trellises, up walls, or shimmying up into trees is breathtaking. They’re an excellent way of covering structures like an old shed or a trendy creeper-clad tunnel. They add structure to any garden with adequate support, allowing you to create privacy or separate garden “rooms.” Some Mediterranean climbers grow bushy and full, and it only takes a few plants to make a garden that looks stylish but doesn’t need a lot of looking after.
What Is A Mediterranean Garden
A Mediterranean garden is designed for hot, dry climates. The Mediterranean Sea lies along the southmost border of Europe at a latitude of 35 north of the equator. The climate is not just hot but also dry. So, Mediterranean garden plants must be drought tolerant, resistant to wind damage, and even salt tolerant.
A Mediterranean garden often features durable hardscape materials that withstand harsh weather. Natural stone and terracotta are both used frequently, and pavers feature prominently in place of lawns.
Planning a Mediterranean garden is a great idea for those who live in dry climates or don’t have much time for maintenance. Because Mediterranean garden plants thrive in difficult conditions, they won’t require constant watering and feeding.
How do I landscape with Mediterranean plants?
No matter what your gardening style, it’s possible to use Mediterranean landscape plants in your garden design. Even in classical style or cottage gardens, these hardy plants add beauty while reducing work and water use in your garden.
Top Mediterranean Climbing Plants for Your Garden
The following Mediterranean climbers are drought and heat tolerant and won’t require much care.
Bougainvillea thrives on neglect and like poor, sandy soils. They’ll climb to 20 feet high or more, with thorny branches covered in vivid, papery bracts of red, purple, pink, gold, or white.
Wisteria is a climber that produces sweet-smelling blooms that drip in masses up to a foot long. They’ll grow up to 30 feet long and bloom in purple, lavender, white, blue, and even pink in spring and early summer.
While jasmine is native to more humid climes than the Mediterranean, they’re prolific bloomers and feature evergreen foliage that makes them worth the effort. In hot, dry climates, they’re happiest in shady spots of the garden.
We think of Ivy covering the covered stone faces of buildings in temperate zones, but it’s actually quite at home in a Mediterranean garden. This climbing vine is sure to cover any garden structure with speed and offers evergreen foliage for winter interest.
Mediterranean honeysuckle, or lonicera implexa, is another evergreen climber that loves plenty of sun. It doesn’t grow more than 10 or 12 feet long but you can train them for bushiness to cover a broad area with its oval leaves and sweet-smelling, pinky-white flowers.
Think Mediterranean garden and name the first climber that comes into your mind. It’s a grape-vines! Grapes make brilliant climbers for walls, arches, or pergolas. Grow them up rustic poles, brick pillars, or columns. They’ll flourish anywhere, as long as it’s sunny.
There are several varieties that will give you good grapes that are sweet enough to eat straight off the vine. But some varieties are better suited for wine. Grape vines take several years to produce fruit, so seek advice on the best types for your region before committing to them.
There are hundreds of varieties of clematis, with varying requirements for the best growth. Clematis viticella is native to the Mediterranean area, so it thrives in warmer weather but requires some shade, especially around the roots.
Passionflower is normally native to Central and South America, but some varieties have been hybridized for cooler regions. All varieties are popular with bees and hummingbirds. If you’re in a subtropical or tropical zone, consider Passiflora edulis for the sweet fruit it produces.
Trumpet vine thrives in poor soil with low organic content and low moisture. It produces masses of coral-colored, trumpet-shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds. It’s perfect as a climber in a Mediterranean garden, as it becomes too aggressive in more fertile conditions.
There are two types of roses suitable for trellising: climbers and ramblers. Climbers flower several times over the growing season, while ramblers only bloom once. Some gardeners combine the two types for a real show all summer long.
Mediterranean Garden Ideas
Mediterranean gardens are very popular in hot, arid areas that get little rainfall and have poor soils. They’re an ideal solution for those who want an attractive landscape but may not have the best conditions to work with.
Mediterranean gardens use pavers, brick or stone walls, and water fountains. They’re easier to maintain in a hot, dry climate than lush lawns. Most Mediterranean gardens use the natural beauty of wood and stone as a backdrop for container plants or specimen trees.
Seating areas with sparkling fountains take center place, covered in pergolas dripping with flowers or fruit. Hardy, drought-tolerant climbing vines offer height that compensates for sparser planting at ground level.
How to Plant Mediterranean Climbing Plants
Planting Mediterranean plants is easy if you keep their native origins in mind.
Choosing the Right Location
While all Mediterranean climbing vines tolerate poor soil, they vary as to how much sun they can handle. It’s critical to understand each plant’s needs before adding it to your garden. They also need plenty of room for their roots to stretch out to reach moisture and nutrients.
Preparing the Soil
For most Mediterranean climbing plants, rich soil means poor performance when it comes to blooming. Avoid thick clay soils. Add perlite, grit, or pebbles to the soil and aerate it with a garden fork to ensure your plants’ roots can make themselves comfortable.
Trellises and Supports
Don’t wait until your plant is mature before adding a trellis. It’s very likely you’ll have to dig deep to install your plant supports, which damages delicate roots. Place your trellis at the same time or even before planting to prevent inhibiting plant growth.
The planting techniques used for a Mediterranean garden are similar to those of other styles, with a few minor differences. Ensure your plants have plenty of space between them so they’ll have a larger area from which to draw water and nutrients.
To ensure your plants are truly drought-tolerant, dig square holes for planting, which encourages roots to spread out. This is especially important for trees and Mediterranean climbers, both of which need a broad root base to support large masses of foliage.
In climates with excessive rainfall, placing Mediterranean climbing plants in mounds, slightly raised above ground level. This improves drainage and prevents disease.
For damp, low-lying areas, consider climbing vines more tolerant of wet soils, such as jasmine, clematis, or passionflower. If you’re planting clematis, plant them deeply, so the top of the root ball is 4 to 6 inches underground. The plant sends out new shoots from below ground if the top gets killed off by disease or over-enthusiastic hoeing.
Watering and Fertilizing
Even drought-tolerant plants need deep watering in after planting. Keep the soil moist during the first week or two while the plant becomes established. Most perennial plants thrive when well-watered and fed during their first year of growth. Once established, normal rainfall usually keeps your Mediterranean garden looking good.
Use a granular slow-release fertilizer when you plant to provide nutrients. Choose one that contains Mycorrhizal fungi, which stimulates root growth.
Maintaining and Pruning Mediterranean Climbing Plants
To keep your garden looking its best, you’ll need to prune Mediterranean climbing plants regularly. Some bloom more prolifically after blooming. Others may need old wood removed when dormant to keep their shape. In most cases, you’ll need to make sure they’re well attached to their supports to prevent damage to the vines.
Training and Shaping
Some plants are lazy climbers, while others attach themselves enthusiastically to anything nearby. During the growing season, check your Mediterranean climbers regularly to keep them trained. Trim back errant vine shoots, especially with plants like ivy, which damage building surfaces.
Others may need tying up to stay attached to their trellises. Bougainvillea, for example, is a woody vine that sometimes has a mind of its own. Tie branches to the support with soft plant rope. Tie loosely so the plant doesn’t get damaged.
While you can prune some Mediterranean climbing plants any time of year, most do best when hard-pruned during winter, when they are dormant. It’s important to understand your plant and how it responds to pruning. For example, bougainvillea produces bracts on new growth, so you’ll want to focus on pruning off old branches.
Some varieties of clematis bloom on new growth and others bloom on last year’s growth. So, it’s critical to note which kind you have to ensure a summer full of flowers.
Rambling roses won’t need pruning for the first few years, but afterward, they’ll benefit by cutting back after flowering. Prune climbing roses in late autumn or early winter.
Pest and Disease Control
Because of their massive growth, it’s a good idea to prune back any dead or damaged branches on your Mediterranean climbers before new growth starts in the early spring. This goes far to reduce the chance of disease.
Plenty of sunshine and good ventilation between the vines helps prevent the buildup and growth of spores, which often result in fungal disease. If necessary, try an organic copper spray.
Attracting predator insects, such as wasps and ladybugs, helps keep pest insects at bay. Encourage birds into your garden with birdbaths and water fountains. They help keep pest insects under control.
Mediterranean climbing plants can turn your backyard desert into a paradise. Not all plants need rich, fertile soil and regular rainfall. There are plenty of beautiful species that flourish in poor conditions. Make the most of them in your garden by adding trellises, pergolas, or other supports and creating a shady retreat outdoors.
Many of the herbs we use in cooking are native to this region, and pots of rosemary, sage, and lavender add colors and delicious scents to your outdoor space. Imagine your deck or patio shaded by an intricate mesh of sweet-smelling wisteria and surrounded by big clay pots of fragrant herbs.
Mediterranean gardens provide a solution to a number of landscaping problems. Whether your soil is poor, your climate hot, or your time promised elsewhere, Mediterranean gardens are easy to care for and inexpensive to maintain.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2018 and has been completely updated.