Lackluster Landscape? Make It Mediterranean!

Lackluster Landscape? Make It Mediterranean!

If you’ve been dreaming of a landscape lush with color, texture and fragrance, you're in luck. San Antonio's climate and geology are ideal for a Mediterranean-inspired masterpiece.

Landscape and building trends come and go, but for the last two decades homes built with Tuscan or Mediterranean influences have been going strong.

San Antonio may not be exactly like the Mediterranean, but we do have rain, similar soils, rocks and heat, so we can grow the same or similar plants. Let’s take a look at some of these.

Trees

The ultimate backbone of any landscape, once established in four to nine months Mediterranean style trees rarely, if ever, need watering.

Live oak: Our escarpment live oak (Quercus fusiformis) is similar to the holly or holm oak (Quercus ilex) of the Mediterranean. You don’t need several — three live oaks per lot will do. Given that spacing, they’ll have plenty of room and nutrients to grow and thrive.

Pines: Two pines acceptable for a Mediterranean inspired landscape are Italian stone pine (Pinus pinea) and Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis). Pines need well drained soil or slopes.

Cypresses: Italian (Cupressus sempervirens) and Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) are great accent trees for our landscape, but don’t just think in singles or pairs. Go with four to seven trees for maximum impact.

Palms: Technically not a tree, but palms do act like one. Again, groups of closely spaced palms are recommended for maximum effect.

Shrubs

When I think of shrubs for a Mediterranean Style landscape, I think of the perfect seven:

  • Upright rosemary (full sun): rosemary is native to the Mediterranean and the upright form will provide screening and grilling spears.
  • Citrus (full sun): individually or in groups, citrus provides both evergreen foliage and winter color with its fruits. Use Satsuma mandarin, Changsha tangerine and improved lemon.
  • Roses (full sun): Native to Asia, roses’ popularity quickly spread and were then selected and bred over the centuries. My choices for a Mediterranean landscape include ‘Martha Gonzales’ and ‘Carefree Beauty’.
  • Oleander (full sun): Oleander’s origins are unknown, but what is known is that it’s extremely drought tolerant. To kill an oleander, just add water. Leaves and stems, though, are toxic.
  • Cenizo (full sun): Though not native to the Mediterranean, it possesses many of the same qualities of color, texture and drought hardiness.
  • Texas mountain laurel: Another Texan, mountain laurel provides a buffer, color, fragrance and drought tolerance.
  • Pittosporum (shade): An evergreen shrub, pittosporum can be used as a buffer or individual focal point. The flowers in early spring are extremely fragrant.
  • Bay (sun to partial shade): Bay trees can be a shrub or small tree. Prune down to the ground every few years or so.

Perennials

Perennials are those plants that return year after year even though they may freeze back during the winter.

  • All Salvia spp. (full sun to partial shade): Salvias should be the primary plant for all San Antonio and Mediterranean style landscapes, but I admit they’re my favorite for ease of maintenance and drought tolerance.
  • Rock rose (full sun to partial shade): Rock rose, aka Pavonia, can be grown on hillsides or in containers.
  • Prostrate rosemary (full sun): as mentioned previously, rosemary in any form is an ideal Mediterranean style plant.
  • Firecracker fern (full sun to partial shade): Also known as Russelia, firecracker fern is a great mounding perennial that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.
  • Damianita (full sun): one word — indestructible.

Groundcovers

Groundcovers interspersed among rock or pavers is pure Mediterranean style.

  • Santolina (full sun): low growing evergreen that comes in silver or green foliage.
  • Silver ponyfoot (full sun): Actually a South America species, but certainly works for San Antonio and Mediterranean inspired landscapes.
  • Creeping germander (full sun): Covers a bed beautifully with no extra water.
  • Purple heart (full sun to partial shade): another indestructible plant, this hardy heat-tolerant ground cover has fleshy purple foliage and pink flowers in warm weather.
  • Skullcap (full sun): Pink, blue and lavender colors to choose from. Water four times and mow once. Nice!
  • Herbs specifically mint, thyme, oregano and basil (partial shade): Use as herbs or simply walk and spread the fragrance.

Like Mediterranean cuisine, the aforementioned species are but a sampling of what you’ll find in a modern Mediterranean landscape. You may favor other species.

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Mark Peterson

About our expert

Mark Peterson

Mark A. Peterson is a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you’re likely to find him hiking San Antonio’s wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.