We’ve all been there; sun blazing down as the scent of rosemary and lavender waft across the sheltered courtyard in a gentle breeze. White stucco walls draped with vibrant bougainvillea and grape vines; spiky palms jutting into an azure sky as water laps softly in perfect pool.
But then the last day of the holiday comes careering towards you like an express train and the next thing you know, it’s back to the dreary grey grind of everyday life.
It doesn’t need to be like that though. There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t create your own little corner of the Mediterranean in your garden. The most important thing is not to be too ambitious. Small and bijou is the order of the day – just enough for you and a few friends to enjoy; that way all your efforts will be concentrated to much greater effect.
Next, pick your location. The most important ingredient is, of course, sunshine. We’re not overly blessed here in the UK but we do get our fair share and you need to make sure that your little patch of heaven gets plenty. The aim is to create an enclosed, but sheltered space which gets the maximum amount of sunshine each day so, if you can, choose a position where you have an existing south or south-west facing wall to act as a backdrop, then build out from that. If you have to build some walls, they don’t have to be very high – a metre or so is plenty – and you can always place plant containers along the top to create a more enclosed feeling. And don‘t worry too much about the quality of your brick or block work, because you‘re going to be rendering it.
The perfect focal point for your Mediterranean courtyard is a pond and water feature. Not only will it add some soothing sounds, but is a great excuse to have some fish and exotic plants that will really complete the atmosphere. Building a pond may sound daunting but it’s really quite straightforward. To start with, there’s no need to start digging a huge hole. Your Spanish (French, Greek or Italian) courtyard should have a raised pond with a broad tile or brick surround that makes perfect casual seating and a practical place to rest that gin and tonic.
Keep it simple
As we’re now in the Mediterranean and drawing our inspiration from the Romans and Greeks, geometric shapes are good, this is no place for a Constable-esque rural pond with reed beds and rushes. Plan out the shape and position of your pond, keeping away from overhanging trees or you’ll be forever fishing dead leaves out of the water. If you plan to keep large fish in it, such as koi, then the deeper the better – but you’ll need to think about pumps and filtration systems. To keep it simple, a rectangular shape surrounded by a low 40cm wall will create a perfect foil for your al fresco entertaining. Don’t add your final bricks, slates or tiles to the top of the wall until the pond is lined. Once your wall is built, spread some sand over the bottom of the pond and then line the bottom, sides and part of the way across the top of the wall with a geotextile protective underlay, overlapping by 20-30cms between each strip.
Now is the time to measure the dimensions of the pond for your liner. Don’t do it until your pond is ready because, as the old proverb says, “there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip” and you really don’t want to end up with a liner that doesn’t fit.
Box-Welded Pond Liner
You’ll need the length and width of the bottom of your pond and the depth from the bottom to the top of the wall, and again the width of overlap you need part of the way across the top of wall. For a simple rectangular pond, these dimensions are sufficient for a supplier of pond liners to create a bespoke box-welded pond liner in EPDM (e.g. Epalyn) or butyl that will just drop into place. If your pond is a more complicated shape, or has different levels, you may need to use templates or detailed drawings so that liner can be made to order. Box-welded pond liners are perfect for geometrically shaped ponds as they fit without the need for folds and creases which can trap dirt and cause potential problems down the line.
Now lay another strip of underlay on top of the wall, sandwiching the liner between the two layers of underlay before placing the bricks or slabs which will finish off your wall. Now you can add a simple water feature, which could be as fancy as a small fountain or as simple as a classic Grecian urn lying on its side. Finish your walls with a render – your amateurish attempts at plastering will give the perfect finish – and, allowing a couple of weeks for the render to go off, add a coat of exterior paint, either in classic white or a rich Mediterranean burnt umber.
All you need now is plenty of atmospheric planting. There are some amazing authentic Mediterranean pots around from giants suitable for a 100-year-old olive tree to classic olive oil, wine and water jars. Add some palms and yuccas, aloes and agaves to add texture to the rich foliage of olive and grape vines. Bring in colour with bougainvillea, hibiscus, oleanders, rock roses, impatiens, agapanthus and canna lilies and then a sprinkle of herbs like lavender, rosemary, oregano, bay and thyme to complete the assault on your senses.