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Gardens in a Dry Climate

One of the questions which crops up time and time again is how to plant and manage a garden on the Greek Islands, particularly for those keen gardeners who have come from a far less warm and dry climate. Gardens in a dry climate like the Greek Islands are usually spaces which allow the interior to extend into the wonderful sunny climate, to make the most of outdoors allowing it to become an integral part of your home.

Gardening in the Greek Islands is no fun in the heat of the summer months, so it makes sense to create an attractive yet minimum maintenance garden. A garden with lawns to care for, large beds to constantly weed, veg patches to be dug over can be all too much, particularly for holiday homes, but if you select your plants wisely you can cut out much of the work and sit back to enjoy your garden.

Gardens in a dry climate - notes

Your garden will be a green oasis where you can sit out and relax for at least 8 months of the year
The garden on the Greek Islands plays an important role in family activity. Al fresco eating and entertaining are important and many Greek gardens have an area completely dedicated to outdoor eating with solid built bbq or stone kilns and large tables
Water is critical as the soil type is generally sandy, shallow and stony with bad water retention. This can be improved significantly through organic mulch and irrigation systems
Each of the islands has developed special natural plants which withstand sea salt and conserve water during the summer
Hanging baskets are a stunning display but require plenty of attention for watering
Lawns, whilst popular in more northern European countries can literally eat water here, with your water meter positively spinning during the summer months

Gardens in a dry climate - plants

Shrubs: these are very easy to maintain and the backbone of the garden, providing structure and dividing areas. If you are seeking fragrant shrubs, then you really can't go wrong with lavender and rosemary, which will waft perfume as you stroll by. Firethorns and pyracantha are great for providing winter berries in yellow, orange and red. Often shrubs are overlooked for ground cover but low lying Cotoneaster and Juniper are good for this. Other popular shrubs on the isles are plumbago and hibiscus.

Palms are absolutely ideal for the hot dry climate as they have little need for water. They also epitomise the Greek Island style. For a Greek feel, opt for phoenix canariensis which is one of the most common on the islands. The sago palms are very stylish. These are perfect plants for adding a touch of Greek authenticity and focal points to your gaden.

Annuals, the most popular way to bring in summer colour and there is no need to grow them in a greenhouse as the islands are pretty frost-free. They adore full sun and, apart from being set in beds, are very useful around patio areas in containers to create a riot of summer colour and hide hard edges. You'll see no end of hanging baskets all over the islands full of petunias, many of which are double flowered. Unusual pots abound in garden centres and are handy as they can be moved to where you need them in the garden at any time of year.

Climbers. Nobody who has visited the Greek Islands will have missed the masses of wonderful bougainvillea climbing against whitewashed walls. If you need to hide a less than attractive wall or just want a flash of red or pink colour against a white backdrop, then this is the plan for you. Some of the climbers available are even versatile enough to use as ground cover. Clematis is a natural choice, with a vast selection of varieties of all colours and will survive in the hot climate. Don't forget evergreens for all year round foliage.

Bulbs are the first ones to let you know spring has arrived. They provide the first colour in the garden bringing it to life. Spring crocuses come first and then choose whatever takes your fancy. Canna offers really rich colours and can be offset with the cool white lilly, zantedeschia aethiopica. To extend the colour after the annuals, cyclemen will be flowering in your garden in the autumn period.

Perennials. No garden is complete without perennials, the basis of a garden. They'll give you flowering colour from spring right throughout summer and autumn. There are numerous perennials, so you will be spoilt for choice. Asters, the most common, come in any colour, so you can select the one which suits your garden. Aubretia is a firm favourite with its mound of little blue flowers. For something which will produce a bit of height, go for chrysanthemum. Most European countries, with their cooler climates, will not allow such special plants as sterelizia reginae (bird of paradise), so why not make the most of it here.

Ground cover. Whilst a lawn might appear the quickest way to cover large areas, it will use up plenty of water. Apart from grass, bigger areas can be covered with flowering plants, which reduces the maintenance in gardens in a dry climate. Wildflowers can produce a wonderful natural carpet of colour. Thyme and lavendar are also suitable providing full ground cover and wonderful fragrance.

Trees can sometimes be quite diffficult in the islands as they are not that well suited to such a climate. They need very good ground preparation to become established. Pine trees will survive well as does acacia. Eucalyptus grow quite quickly and offer shade. Of course, don't forget your olive tree!

The Greeks are generally natural gardeners, so ask your neighbours for advice about coping with gardens in a dry climate: they will be a mine of information and are more than ready to assist. If you select your plants carefully, those which are highly suited to the climate, in no time at all you'll have an indoor / outdoor area with a whole new living experience. Relax and enjoy your charming Greek Island garden with a glass of wine!