[Infographic] How to create your urban garden?
“The sun is always shining in Southern Europe, nature is generous and it gives delicious fruits”. This is something my friend Lee, from Liverpool, says to me all the time. His grandparents live in the Lake District National Park, one of the most beautiful areas in England. Kind of a mix of Robin Hood’s forest with the Middle-earth of the Lord of the Rings. Pure bliss!
However, his face lights up when we talk about Italy, Spain, Portugal, Southern France and Greece. Lee loves everything about the Mediterranean climate. Temperatures are mild and the ground is rich in perfumed plants, herbs and fruit trees. Private gardens are always blooming, from the first moment the season allows for it. They gift us with the magnificent blossoming of peach and cherry trees first, which will produce sweet and delicious fruits later. Olive trees and citruses embellish Southern gardens, and they remind us of the unique flavours all the world loves.
Just think about Greek olives, Sicily and Spain’s citruses, Provençal herbs, Italian and French wines, tomatoes from Portugal and so on. This means that purely ornamental plants are not alone in Southern European gardens, as there is room for edible and aromatic plants, herbs and fruit trees as well. Vegetable gardens get more and more similar in look with flowerbeds, and they play a major role in the garden’s beauty. Moreover, this is something monks have been doing since the Middle Age.
Wisteria and grapevine arbors are a cool, natural shelter for outdoors family dinings. To South Europeans, garden is a second home to be enjoyed from spring to autumn. It is the preferred place to relax, throw parties, have a barbecue and long dinners until late night, a lesson to be learned from Spaniards.
Public green spaces and other natural spaces, including beaches and mountain areas far from the main cities, are more and more used as a setting for festivals, concerts, cultural events and multisensorial experiences where nature is central.
Climate areas are rarely consistent. Each one of them features several micro-zones, with different conditions according to different elements. As for the Mediterranean climatic area, what is really important is the presence (or the absence) of rivers and lakes, the composition of the soil and the proximity to the sea. Accordingly with these parameters, gardens differ in both the kind of plants and in the design.
In the most dry and windy coastal areas, maquis shrubland features small and bushy plants such as brooms, rosemaries, spurges, hawthorns, myrtles, mastics, strawberry trees, bay trees and so on. If we move to the most humid areas of Southern Europe though, as Castille in Spain, Po Valley in Italy and Achaea and Elis in Greece, the environment significantly changes as plant life is completely different there. Plants such as succulents, which resist to really cold climates (agave can live up until -10 °C), do not endure back water and humidity at all and they would not be able to survive in the humid areas we just talked about.
Citruses are another group of plants worth mentioning. When I was a little girl, my mum once bought a tiny lemon tree in a vase – a risk, as I’ve grown up in humid Northern Italy. It took it several years to produce two by no means juicy lemons, and still it was an exciting and unusual event. A few years later, in Sicily, I was completely wonderstruck by a huge, blooming lemon tree I saw in a private garden, loaded with fruits. On the road to Amalfi, public streets were lined with orange trees. Citruses are extremely common in Spain, Portugal and Sicily.
The warmest, aired area of the Mediterranean distinguishes for plants that cannot be found in the humid one, as the soil there is properly draining. The same way Coxheath, British Kent, hosts the World Custard Pie Throwing Championship, several Southern Europe cities host events where people throw oranges, grapes or tomatoes – as it happens during tomatina festival in Spain – to one another.
Where the weather is dry and warm, gardens are low maintenance. The most suitable plants are succulents and perennial shrubs, as they endure long droughts. In Portugal, Southern Greece, Spain, but also in France and in Italy, rocks are the preferred “furnishing” element, as well as pebbles and stony paths.
As Southern Europe is mostly hilly, terracing and hanging gardens are widely diffused. The biggest hanging garden in Europe is in Fumone, not too far from Rome. The origins of this kind of garden lies in Greece, as they are still a characteristic of the landscape in, for example, Santorini. Where the area is rich in water, the garden can also include a carefully trimmed lawn, small fountains and ponds.
Other than rocks, popular ornamental elements are paths that run through flowers and plants; also, the latest trend is to use wood as an element linking men and nature.
During summer, mowing is an activity to be carried out almost weekly, as thanks to the warm weather and water the grass grows fast. These beautiful, luxuriant, colourful, perfumed green spaces require cure and attention when it comes to maintenance and watering, especially in summer.
Home and public gardens of Southern Europe are often wisely embellished with topiary elements, following an ancient Greek tradition now popular all over Europe. Hedges and borders of holly oak, buxus, cypress and laurel oak are trimmed and shaped in any kind of shape. They are geometrical, precise, impeccable. They are not simply artistically and creatively trimmed bushes, they actually are plant sculptures, enriching a big number of gardens.
From Versailles to Funchal, hedges and bushes change their look and they become real works of art. Topiary is the main feature of Italian gardens, that other than deeply influencing garden trends all over Europe still highly characterises southern style.
By Eleonora De Paolis Foglietta
Eleonora De Paolis Foglietta is a contributor from international network Gushmag. Passionate about nature, gardening and art, she is founder of the Blueeco project. Her favourite quote is “the beauty will save the world”.
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