Favorite Mediterranean-climate Plants

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A Mediterranean climate is one characterized by hot, dry summers and mild winters during which more than half of the annual rainfall occurs. Total rainfall in this climate type is low. 

Here are a half-dozen plants that thrive in Mediterranean conditions and may be worth trying wherever summers are dry:

Lavender grows best with warm, dry summers and mild winters.

Lavender grows best with warm, dry summers and mild winters.

Lavender and rosemary are signature species for any Mediterranean garden, embodying the plant type' signature virtues: drought tolerance, fragrance, beautiful flowers, culinary or medicinal use, attractive to pollinators and resistant to deer and rabbits. The best varieties include lavandin (Lavandula intermedia 'Grosso') which grows with a mounded form 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. It prefers alkaline soils but tolerates various soil types. USDA Zones 5–8. For a great rosemary, look for Rosmarinus officialis 'Foxtail', with densely leafy, plume-like branches that spread from the base and can produce baby-blue flowers year-round. Zones 7–10.

Salvias come in numerous varieties with a range of flower color and growth habit. They bloom for a long period and thrive in hot, dry conditions. Deer typically avoid salvias. A favorite is Salvia greggii 'California Sunset', a 2- to 3-foot mounding evergreen shrub-like plant with mint-scented leaves. Its peachy flowers draw hummingbirds all summer. Zones 7b–10.

Native to Australia and parts of Southeast Asia, the genus Grevillea includes plants that range from low shrubs to trees reaching more than 100 feet tall. Their brightly colored flowers consist of a calyx tube that splits into four lobes with long styles, giving rise to common names like "bottle brush" and "toothbrush plant." Birds and bees love them. One to look for is Grevillea victoriae 'Marshall Olbricht', with rust-colored flowers in early spring and fall, and slivery green leaves reminiscent of an olive tree. Zones 7–10.

Also called bottlebrushes are the Callistemon species characterized by cylindrical, brushlike flowers. They typically favor moist soil but some are drought resistant. Try Callistemon rigidus 'Clemson Hardy', an evergreen tree 10 to 12 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide, with red hummingbird-attracting flowers from spring through fall. It likes full sun and tolerates drought once established. Zones 7–10.

Because of their distinctive trunks and fanlike foliage, palms add instant draw to any garden. Most species are tropical or subtropical, but there are quite a few species suitable for colder climates. A favorite is the needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix), a native of the southeastern United States and the most cold hardy. Its spiky evergreen leaves add dramatic contrast to broadleaf plants. It can reach 10 feet in height and width, with either a single trunk or multiple stems. Zones 6–10.

Recommended related reading:

Make Your Own Mediterranean Garden by Pattie Barron

Hot Color, Dry Garden by Nan Sterman

Planting Design for Dry Gardens by Olivier Filippi