Mediterranean Garden Society

Two Mediterranean plants for all size gardens

MGS UK Branch Heads, Freda Cox, and Stephen Entwisle select two plants that are Mediterranean in origin that can also thrive in the UK.

The photo at the top of this page shows a honeybee arriving at a Cistus ladanifer (Photo Yvonne)

In their natural environment, Mediterranean plants grow with little or no water, which makes them increasingly attractive with respect to water conservation, yet still offer beautiful, lush, and colourful planting all year round, with little maintenance.

Mediterranean plants are now common around the globe, in hot climates as well as cooler, and many are sufficiently hardy to be considered part of the plant pallet for the UK, although some more tender ones may require protection from the worst of winter weather. Whilst southern parts of Britain usually have milder winters, Mediterranean gardens can be found in most counties – even in areas considered too inhospitable, such as Yorkshire Moors, the Pennines, Northumberland, and the Scottish Highlands.

But, if we were to pick just two plants that lend themselves to any size garden, to include container gardening, then these would be the plant that perhaps evokes the classical vision of a Mediterranean landscape, the lavender, and also cistus.


We think of lavender as a Mediterranean plant, being native to those regions, although it has long been grown in British gardens, especially the variety - English Lavender - Lavandula angustifolia, also known as Common lavender , which rather does this beautiful plant an injustice.

Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote Pink'

Lavender is a highly aromatic, drought tolerant small shrub requiring free draining, sandy or gravelly soil and full sun. It makes excellent low hedging with bushy, narrow-leaved, grey-blue foliage, and spikes of mauve flowers, although pink and white varieties are also available.
Lavender requires little if any water once established unless there is a severe drought when an occasional watering can be beneficial. Most old English gardens had their long lavender hedges bordering a path where it released its delicious fragrance when gently brushed past. Even the smallest of gardens can find room for at least one lavender.

As well as hedging It can be used in borders, herb and sensory gardens. Lavender also lends itself to container planting. Terracotta pots with draining holes and 30cm diameter rims, along with a gritty potting mix are ideal. Lavender should be watered sparingly and allowed to dry out between waterings.

Red day flying moth lands on Lavandula x intermedia 'Grosso'

Lavender plants should be pruned back immediately after flowering to encourage a bushy habit, being careful not to cut into old wood. Another light trim in spring helps keep plants in shape. If bushes get too leggy and woody it is better to replace them with new plants as Lavender doesn t take to hard pruning.

Main flowering period is around late May to June, and trimming back after flowering often encourages a second flush of flowers in August.

Being used to Mediterranean climates with poor dry soils, lavender doesn t require feeding, which can also inhibit flowering. 

New plants can be grown from cuttings. Take 6-inch cuttings of non-flowering shoots and strip off the lower leaves. Insert cuttings into pots of any well drained medium and water until rooted - around 3 weeks.

Lavender doesn t do well in long, cold, wet winters which can lead to root rot, although English Lavender is slightly more hardy than other varieties. It dislikes heavy, clay soil or very wet conditions.

Dried lavender leaves and flowers are good in potpourri or made into sachets to scent linen and clothes.  The essential oil helps aid sleep. Lavender flowers are also now popular as a flavouring in food.

Small heath butterfly enjoying Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote’

L. Hidcote is best for hedging, growing to around 20 inches in height, while L. Munstead is shorter growing to around 18 inches in height and useful for smaller areas. Lavender hedges can form long walks, edge beds, or bushes can be incorporated into garden borders. They mix particularly well with roses.

There are many species and varieties of lavender in varying shades of blue, mauve, purple, pink, and white.

Flowers are nectar rich making them excellent plants for bees.

A highly perfumed misty mauve lavender hedge is a great addition to any garden.


Cistus is a genus of perennial, evergreen shrubs in the rockrose family, containing some 20 species, found on dry or rocky soils throughout the Mediterranean region.

They are either rounded or spreading in shape, and range from 50cm to 2m in height, although their growth, as for many plants, can be significantly restricted by growing them in well-drained containers. As for lavender, terracotta pots with draining holes and 30cm diameter rims, are ideal, along with free-draining soil mixed with grit and sand. Again, Cistus should be watered sparingly and allowed to dry out between waterings.

Cistus ladanifer

The leaves of Cistus ladanifer and Cistus creticus secrete a gloriously aromatic, sticky resin, historically used in herbal medicine, and still used in the preparation of some perfumes and vermouths.

They are drought tolerant and thrive in poor or moderately fertile, free draining soil, in baking sun, protected from strong winds.

Cistus x purpureus

They are generally considered hardy down to -10OC, but some are considered hardier than others. Those species often regarded as hardier and suitable for small spaces include Cistus ladanifer, Cistus x pulverulentus and Cistus x purpureus.

Flowering typically occurs from late spring and lasts throughout summer, and although individual blooms may be short-lived, usually no longer than a day, there is a constant succession of flowers in sunny weather.

Cistus x pulverulentus

They don't generally respond well to being cut back hard, but light pruning after flowering can be done to enhance their business and limit their growth.

New plants can be easily grown from cuttings. Take 6-inch cuttings of healthy, non-flowering shoots in late spring to early summer, and strip off the lower leaves. Insert cuttings into pots of any well drained medium and water until rooted – around 4 weeks.

Seeds can be sown between late winter and early spring.

Cistus x purpureus in a natural setting

The flowers normally have five petals of various shades from white to pink, with attractive markings, and produce abundant pollen, so attract honeybees and other pollinators.

Accompanying Plants

One other plant that we would highly recommend for all situations is the cordyline, commonly known as the cabbage palm. Cordylines are from N. Zealand, and have an exotic, palm-like appearance.

Cordyline australis

Cordylines provide excellent palm-like vertical structure to a planting area, and although impressively vigorous when planted directly in the ground, reaching as much as 6 metres height in just as many years, they behave extremely well in containers and survive happily for decades with minimal care. Furthermore, they can be pruned hard, quickly bouncing back.

If planting in a container, pick a well-draining one large enough to accommodate the root structure, with a 45cm diameter rim, and containing a free-draining soil mixed with grit and soil.

When you suddenly notice a strong and very sweet perfume in the air in summer, check your Cordyline for sprays of highly scented flowers tucked in amongst the leaves.

Cordyline s are considered hardy, only requiring protection in the harshest of winter conditions, and can typically be found for sale in all garden centres.

Other suggestions for Mediterranean plants you may want to consider for a small space include:

  1. Convolvulus cneorum
  2. Salvia nemorosa
  3. Erysimum linifolium ‘Bowles Mauve’
  4. Agapanthus africanus
  5. Thymus vulgaris
  6. Scilla peruviana
  7. Dianthus caryophyllus
  8. Aubrieta deltoidea
  9. Santolina rosmarinifolia 'Lemon Fizz'

For more information on these and how to incorporate them in your UK plant pallet refer to the MGS or RHS websites, and Designing and Creating A Mediterranean Garden, by Freda Cox. Freda s book also provides an excellent insight into designing and creating a Mediterranean garden in the UK climate, whether it be a large or small garden, or just a small patio or balcony.

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