Usually, when people plan to settle in the Provence region or the French Riviera, they do it mainly for the pleasant climate, the constant sunshine, the mild winters and the proximity to the sea. However, the Mediterranean dream is also, in so many ways, defined by the flora and gardens, established as symbols of the peaceful lifestyle there.
The first special feature of a Mediterranean garden is of course the favourable climate in which it can happily flourish. It is almost impossible to imagine such a garden in another region of France, further north for example. The typical vegetation of the Mediterranean basin would indeed struggle to live and survive the varying temperatures that define more continental climates, like along the Atlantic Ocean or in high altitude regions. The cold winters, the negative temperatures and the snow would quickly put an end to any flowers or aromatic plants that you would try to cultivate. In order for them to grow and prosper, they must benefit from optimal sunshine (between 2,700 and 3,000 hours per year).
Also, your plants and flowers will adapt without any problem to the dry and stony soil that lines your property’s garden. Neither the landform or slopes are an issue for your garden to grow successfully. Finally, the vegetation of the typical Mediterranean garden is perfectly adapted to long droughts, with sometimes several weeks without a drop of rain water. During these periods when the risk of fire is very high, municipalities often put in place water restrictions that constrain the watering of plants, and could harm any type of flora not inherent to the French Riviera.
We all have in mind the great classics of the Mediterranean vegetation: lavender, olive trees, umbrella pines ... They are famous for their great resistance to drought and for their ability to optimally store the small amount of water that is provided for them by mother nature. Among the typical plants of the Mediterranean flora, we find of course the oleander, thyme and rosemary, which are always a great addition to many tasty recipes.
Citrus fruits, such as orange and lemon trees, which are celebrated every year in Menton, also occupy a prominent place in the region gardens. Regarding the trees, in addition to the parasol pines, almost all species of oaks can be found in the local forests, in particular the noble green oak. The cistus will bring you pretty flowers to brighten your property and add contrast to your grasses. For a touch of fantasy directly imported from Central America, Mexico in particular, do not hesitate to plant some agaves, which have flourished for several decades in the private and public gardens of South East France and will decorate the front of your house.
Finally, bougainvillea, a flamboyant shrub brought back from Brazil by an explorer in the 18th century, will adorn and enhance your walls, patios and facades.
It is important to first arrange the space you have around your home before thinking about the different vegetal compositions that will decorate your Provencal garden. The potential uneven soil will not be an issue for you to complete your project: the Mediterranean garden adapts very easily to any type of terrain. It is absolutely fine to plant on a sloping soil and also very common to carry out groundwork at home, through the use of rockfill for instance.
Traditionally, paths that cut across Mediterranean gardens are rather wide, and encourage frequent passage. Since the lawn often suffers from drought (and will force you to consume large amounts of water), you can use gravel to cover the paths. In order to mark the borders, stones are always a good choice as it represents the authenticity of Provence landscapes. Finally, whether natural or artificial, small rock masses can be highlighted to emphasise the hilly terrain of your property.
The Mediterranean garden on the French Riviera is a very singular garden that, unlike the others, is designed to accommodate life and changes throughout the whole year. It is possible to eat or relax outdoors from March until October, sometimes even in winter when the weather allows it. You can plan to set up a small outdoor lounge, under the dense shade of some trees, to have your breakfast or enjoy a refreshing drink at the end of the day.
As relaxation and idleness are real life mottos in the region, you will definitely adopt them! If the garden of your house is big enough, you can even think about building a ‘pergola’. Finally, why not put chairs in a corner that will act as a solarium to sunbathe during the summer?