Earth to Table: Making Your Own Edible Mediterranean Gardens
All it takes is a trip to the Mediterranean—or even the Napa Valley—to be inspired by simple culinary traditions and edible garden design. The ability to cook with ingredients harvested fresh from the yard and enjoy a meal al fresco is romantic, healthy, and inspiring. It’s possible to design a beautiful and productive Mediterranean garden in California by choosing the right plants, hardscape materials, and accessories, and combining them all in the spirit of a casual well-crafted meal.
Create an edible foundation
Grapes are one sure way to set the tone for the space. Whether over an entry arbor, covering a pergola over a dining area or planted as a mini vineyard across a terraced hillside, they’re charming and versatile in food.
With their gray-green leaves and gnarly form, olive trees are another edible icon of Mediterranean gardens. Their leaf color is a hint about what works in a Mediterranean garden, both aesthetically and functionally. Gray leaves signal that a plant is drought tolerant and muted colored leaves like olive green lends itself to the visual design.
The fig is a third icon of the edible Mediterranean garden. Though fig trees thrive in hot, dry places like Italy and California, it’s possible to grow them in a wide range of climatic zones. Other classic Mediterranean edibles include citrus, such as potted tangerines and lemons. These are two of the easiest varieties of citrus and bring brightness to your table via fragrant arrangements and recipes all season long. Additionally, artichokes with their unique gray-green foliage have the right look and culinary connection for a Mediterranean garden.
Consider your herb profile
Even if you grow just a few Mediterranean herbs—like rosemary, thyme, and oregano—mixed in with ornamental plants, the smell may transport you to the Tuscan hillside. Basil with tomatoes, rosemary with potatoes, sage with browned butter, and thyme and oregano for your Sunday red sauce will elevate your meals when cut fresh from your garden.
Think about materials
There are many edible species that exude a Mediterranean vibe, but almost any fruit, herb or vegetable can fit the picture when framed by appropriate design details. Earth-toned crushed rock and light-colored natural stone borders and walls are two key elements that bring a Mediterranean feel to any landscape. A low-walled garden is one way to "frame" your garden scene and generate the heat needed for Mediterranean food plants.
Introduce interesting accessories
In addition to hardscaping materials, a bit of decorative pottery goes a long way toward setting the tone for your edible garden. Old ceramic urns are very decorative when laid on their side, though they can also function as pots. A series of jug-sized urns for herbs and veggies and larger ones for berries and vines can create a charming garden for smaller spaces. When in need of shade, use old, weathered wood for any overhead structures.
Finally, an outdoor dining table is a necessity for making the connection between your garden and plate. Let the vision of a cozy, casual, and rejuvenating dining experience guide you when you‘re planning the composition of your garden. Don’t hesitate to layer different elements over one another—a grape pergola over a picnic table, a fig tree over a simple patio water feature or an olive tree over a planting of lavender. All of these details will create an edible garden worthy of envy.
by Kerrie L. Kelly, FASID
Kerrie L. Kelly, FASID, is an award-winning interior designer, author, product developer, and multimedia consultant helping brands reach the interior design community. To contact her, visit kerriekelly.com or call 916-919-3023.