These plants offer the typical easy-care quality of most Mediterranean-climate plants but they also spring some surprises in flower color and form, foliage texture and growth habit. Remember that “Mediterranean climate” isn’t limited to Europe. It usually refers to areas with mild, wet winters and warm or hot summers during which little or no rain falls: this includes parts of north Africa, western South Africa, California, central Chile, and parts of western and southern Australia.

Mediterranean plants from around the world meet in the garden of Western Hills. Spiky orange flowers are Watsonia pillansii hybrids, from South Africa. Spiky tree is Cordyline australis ‘Albertii’, from New Zealand. Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

Appeal: Mediterranean plants add texture, color, an informal look—and a spirit of sunny lands—to almost any garden. Their ability to withstand dry conditions for long periods is a real plus in all climates.

Zones: Best zones for all-year growing are 8 to 11. In colder climates, overwinter plants in a greenhouse, treat as summer annuals, or choose only frost-hardy species.

Exposure: Many are sun lovers, and are well adapted to surviving a summer drought. But plenty will also thrive in semishade. Try woodland natives in shadier gardens.

Soil: Generally, Mediterranean plants prefer good drainage. In winter it tends to be wet, waterlogged soil, not simply cold weather, that often leads to their downfall. Most Mediterranean plants have adapted to drought conditions, but some do appreciate moisture-retentive soil in summer.

Apricot and bronze lilylike flowers of Alstroemeria ligtu hybrids wiggle through Western Australian grass tree (Xanthorrhoea preisii, a.k.a. "bad hair day on legs"). Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

Selecting & Growing Mediterranean Plants:

  • Go for plants that add form and texture to your planting—don’t be seduced by flower color and size. That’s an ideal, of course!
  • Never buy a plant you can’t provide a good home for—match your choice to the conditions in the spot you have to offer.
  • Mulch drought-tolerant plants with gravel—they invariably prefer poor soils, and stones set them off more aptly than bark. Mulching around plants also saves you weeding.
  • Be prepared to experiment—many plants can surprise you with their toughness.
  • Don’t be afraid to move plants around if they don’t thrive where you first plant them.
  • Look and learn from your plants—gardening is a lifelong process.

Plant List for a Mediterranean Garden:

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

1. ROCK PURSLANE (Calandrinia spectabilis)

The magenta flowers of Calandrinia spectabilis are 2 inches across and bloom in summer. This 2-foot-tall, frost-tender perennial needs full sun. It looks great in a container.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

2. YANAGI ICHIGO (Debregeasia edulis)

Little orange inedible fruit decorates the stems and branches. Notice the distinctive ridges on the leaves. This shrub makes a good background or hedge.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

3. CHINESE DREGEA (Dregea sinensis ‘Variegata’)

A twining climber with deliciously fragrant flowers. Grow in well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Young shoots should be tied to supports until they begin to twine.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

4. SMOKETREE (Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’)

A golden-leaved form of smoke bush or tree, it turns on the color fireworks in autumn with brilliant orange-red-purple foliage. Hardy to Zone 4 or 5.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

5. CANARY ISLAND FOXGLOVE (Isoplexis canariensis)

This foxglove relative has beautiful tubular, bright orange-yellow, brownish orange, or yellow-brown flowers.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

6. ANCHOR PLANT (Colletia paradoxa)

Not every gardener’s cup of tea, but some are intrigued by its odd, ancient good looks and drop-dead prickles.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

7. VIPER’S BUGLOSS (Echium vulgare)

Called viper’s bugloss, this bushy, bristly upright biennial has narrow, hairy, almost linear leaves. In early summer it produces short, dense spikes of bell-shaped flowers, purple in bud, violet blue when open.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

8. BUGLE LILY (Watsonia pillansii)

Bright orange to orange-red tubular flowers, summer to autumn. A slender clump-forming perennial, it looks very much like a larger crocosmia.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

9. POUCH FLOWER (Calceolaria tomentosa)

Golden flowers have collagen-enhanced pouty appeal. It’s called the pouch or slipper flower and grows 3 feet tall. Wych says this plant, despite its delicate looks, has lived through snow and can become rampant—for large gardens only.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

10. KANGAROO APPLE (Solanum laciniatum)

Called kangaroo apple, this vigorous, upright evergreen shrub has purple-tinged shoots, attractive deeply cut foliage, blue flowers in summer and fall, then orange fruit. Best in a wild garden.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

11. LIZARD PLANT (Tetrastigma voinierianum)

The lizard plant or chestnut vine is grown mostly for its lustrous, dark green foliage with brownish yellow hair beneath. This climber is a sprinter of a grower—if knocked back by winter cold, it will still grow 20 feet in a season.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

12. CUNCO ROJO (Colletia ulicina)

This is a real Dr. Seuss shrub—huge, weird looking, covered in red flowers. How well it grows in this area remains to be seen.

Thanks to Maggie Wych, former owner of Western Hills Nursery (where these photos were taken) for her insights.
This article was adapted from its original format for use on the web.

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