Characteristics of Mediterranean Climates and Gardens

Gardening in a Mediterranean Climate

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Mediterranean gazebo with roses. Lisa-Blue/Getty Images

Q: Can you live in a Mediterranean climate if you don't actually live in the Mediterranean?

Quick answer: yes. Here is one of the easiest ways to determine if you reside in a Mediterranean climate: Grab the nearest globe, locate the Mediterranean region with your finger (that would be the Mediterranean Sea, Italy, Greece, Albania, Morocco, Spain, etc.). Then, keeping your finger in the same spot, slowly spin the globe so that it stays at about 30 to 40 degrees latitude north and south of the equator, on the western side of continents.

These are the regions that enjoy a Mediterranean climate. They include:

  • The Mediterranean Sea and Basin: A total of 21 countries touch the Mediterranean Sea
  • Australia: south and west
  • Africa: Morocco, north of Algeria, north of Tunisia, and the Cape Province area of South Africa
  • South America: the central coast of Chile and parts of Argentina
  • California and parts of Baja California, or Mexico
  • Asia: Western Pakistan and parts of the Middle East

Traits of a Mediterranean Climate

As popular as the idea of Mediterranean climates and gardening are, actual areas with this climate only occupy about 3 percent of the land area of the world. A true Mediterranean climate has some or all of the following traits in common with other similar regions. These include:

  • Irregular rainfall. Annual rainfall is low, with more than half falling during the winter.
  • Temperatures range from warm to hot in summer (or high sun season), with high evaporation rates; while they are mid in the low sun season with reduced evaporation rates.
  • With occasional exceptions, traditionally no freezing temperatures during the winter. The winter months are considered to be cool; that is, no snow.
  • The areas' native vegetation -- those Mediterranean plants -- primarily consists of arboreal and shrubby evergreen sclerophyllous plants that have adapted to climactic stresses of heat and aridity. Native plants are often dormant in the summer, induced by heat and a lack of soil moisture, with the exception of foggy coastal regions.
  • Fires are prevalent during the summer and fall, precipitated by months without rain. This is a natural way of renewing vegetative growth and maintaining the health and vitality of native plant communities.

Mediterranean Climates and Gardens

Ideally, if you live in a region with a Mediterranean or sub-tropical climate, you can grow many of the plants native to these regions. Mediterranean climates are conductive to outdoor living, since residents enjoy longer periods of warm weather and infrequent rainfall. But that doesn't mean that Mediterranean plants cannot be grown in other regions. If you are interested in a certain plant, it's best to contact a local reputable nursery, botanical garden, university or master gardeners' association for native suggestions in your region.

Popular Mediterranean Plants

If you were to travel to the Mediterranean Basin or any region with a Mediterranean climate, some of the shrubs, trees, perennials and other plants you might find growing there include juniper, myrtle, olive, pistachio, Spanish broom, citrus, hydrangea, bougainvillea, clematis, eycalyptus and oaks (Portugese, Valonia). Other plants grown in Mediterranean climates include jacaranda, magnolia, jasmine, aloe, agave, acacia, geranium, poppies, sea-holly, succulents, wisteria, wormwood, yarrow, yucca, salvia, the strawberry tree, the carob bean tree, rockrose, euphorbia, and the Mediterranean fan palm.

Aromatic, drought-tolerant plants of this region also include lavender, rosemary, fennel, sage, and thyme.