Finding brightly colored plants for a Mediterranean look is not a problem garden centers are packed with them but knowing which ones to choose and how to combine them can be tricky.
Terra cotta is the quintessential Mediterranean container. Visit the Minoan museum in Iraklion (Heraklion), Crete, and you'll see highly sophisticated and amazingly large Mediterranean pots, dating back to 1450 BC and beyond. Relatively cheap, modern swagged terra-cotta pots and the expensive, imported kind are now widely available, recreating the same look. Alternatively, you can easily opt for more basic models, provided they contribute a showy touch: a flash of pink busy Lizzies (Impatiens) works wonders. Failing that, try verbenas or petunias.
Those with small Mediterranean courtyards and gardens utilize every inch by nailing containers to walls, letting trailing and dangling plants tumble and projecting primary colors against white walls. You can easily copy the idea by hanging up interesting small wall containers (don't use large ones because they will become impractically heavy when wet) on fences.
Inject drama into your designs by creating different levels, using raised beds and tall containers. The steps up to a raised level at the end of this garden also highlight the spread of pots, giving them a visual lift. The use of gravel makes an immediate contrast with the lighter-colored paving and accentuates the terra-cotta containers and colorful plants.
Don't just concentrate on pots and structures: add a fun, water-filled container or a fountain. A large water feature in full sun, in a relatively bare setting, becomes an immediate "walk-over-and-dip-your-fingers-in" attraction. Alternatively, tuck one away among potted evergreens that provide mini hideaways and shade, and you might just acquire a resident frog. The range of suitable containers varies from wooden barrels to specially built, knee-high cast stone or concrete ponds decorated with ornamental tiles. Wall fountains add plenty of splash. You could opt for a solar fountain, which will send up a small jet of water, but it will not be as powerful or eye-catching as one powered by an electric pump. When choosing aquatic plants, check their eventual spread to avoid overcrowding.
Start by choosing your star plants, concentrating on those that provide a long show of color, and making sure you won’t have bare summer periods. Go for the tried and tested, like pelargoniums, dahlias and verbenas, and try out some of the many specially bred new selections. Pick these tender plants in the bright, hot colors seen in traditional Mediterranean courtyard gardens. Evergreens with shapely leaves are possibly more important than flowers because they keep the garden alive in winter. Place them strategically around the patio so that the eye moves from one to the next. Keep rearranging and trying out new combinations. The big advantage of pot-plant gardening is that everything is mobile; you don’t have to dig anything up.
Coreopsis (Image 1)
Dahlia (Image 2)
Pelargonium (Image 3)
Excerpted from Simple Steps: Containers for Patios
©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2007