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Create a lush Mediterranean-style garden that’s water-wise, too

Diana C. Kirby Special to the American-Statesman
Mediterranean-style gardens work well for our Central Texas climate and water use. [Contributed by Diana C. Kirby]

Xeric garden style still gets a bad rap. Some people shun water-wise landscaping, believing the approach requires stereotypical rocks and cactuses.

Xeriscape comes from the Greek word xeros, meaning dry. It isn’t "zero-scaping."

This method of gardening is designed for parched areas suffering from drought and heat. While a xeriscape garden requires less water than other styles, it still needs regular water to get established and some water in dryer times. How much will depend on your soil, rock substrate, sun, shade and the unpredictable pendulum swings of our weather.

Well-suited to our hot and dry summers and warm and moist winters (most of the time), a classic Mediterranean-style garden provides a beautiful, low-maintenance and xeric option. Like Texas, the Mediterranean has a very diverse topography — from to arid desertlike scrub, rolling hills and mountainous regions to lush tropical and coastal areas awash with balmy breezes. Here in the Hill Country, our landscape includes elements of many of Texas’ microclimates.

While water conservation in our zone requires a specific palette of plants, it’s not limited to a desert design.

Modern landscape design has its roots in the ancient civilizations. The Mediterranean way reflects easygoing Mediterranean culture and pairs beautiful elements of nature in an elegant style. Geometric designs, straight lines and stonework are used to frame a broad range of plants, from soft, flowing petals to linear shrubs and trees to anchor the garden. It’s not uncommon to see flowers, herbs, fruit trees, palms and succulents all in the same garden.

In Mediterranean landscapes, lawns take a back seat to hardscape and plants, combining walls, paths, pergolas and other structures with easy-care sculptural plants for a dramatic flair. Boulders, gravel and decomposed granite paths connect garden areas or rooms, creating intimate spaces for relaxing. Outdoor living is an important element in the Mediterranean lifestyle and thus includes multiple seating areas and dining spaces.

Focal points like urns, pottery and other garden art dot the landscape as well. Choose more classic or formal options and stick with one natural color, like terra cotta or white for simplicity.

Vertical gardening makes use of hardscape spaces like walls, arbors or pergolas,

Water features are often prominent, providing a peaceful respite from hot, dry weather. Ornamental ponds, birdbaths or fountains make a lovely addition and focal point. Adding a water element doesn’t have to be expensive. Simple DIY garden pot kits are available online and come with everything you need except the pot. My husband built one for me. Our garden frogs, toads and I spent many hours enjoying it year-round.

The formula for a well-rounded and low-maintenance Mediterranean garden is simple.

Build the hardscape framework with paths, beds, an arbor or pergolas to create garden rooms and intimate spaces. Palms, olive and retama trees can provide dramatic height in the landscape. Add some formal, well-manicured shrubs, agaves or cycads as foundation plants. Mix with fragrant, colorful perennials, grasses and smaller succulents to soften the landscape. Finally, sprinkle in some color-coordinated focal points.

Xeric native and adapted alternatives for our area include:



Autumn sage

Bush Germander



Lion’s tail





Rock rose



Mexican bush sage

Jerusalem sage

Dwarf yaupon holly






Bay tree


Red hot poker

Butterfly weed


Lamb’s ear

Ornamental grass



Oregano, basil and other herbs