Drought-tolerant plants

Choosing plants for a garden in our Mediterranean climate is the same as for all gardens: it requires careful consideration. Choose plants for shape, texture, colour, consider size, evergreen foliage or edible fruit. What are the plants meant to achieve: to cover the soil, provide colourful bloom, protect against wind or views? Consider house style, relaxed and natural, or more formal with clipped evergreens?

Study the site. Drought-tolerant plants are highly specialized and the position chosen should suit their needs. Allow for future growth. Plant selection also depends on you readiness to blend into the local setting and the surrounding lands.

We've listed a number of plants that are easy for beginners and widely available. You'll discover that there are dozens more, but this should get you started. And the plants that we've selected for the coastal garden section can, of course, be used inland as well. All are drought-tolerant unless indicated otherwise.

Agapanthus
agapanthus

Evergreen agapanthus provides year-round labour-saving ground cover. Available in a bewildering range of cultivars, they mainly differ in size and compactness of flower umbels. Divide rootstocks after flowering. Flowering will resume in 1 - 2 years.

Arctotis
african daisy

These vivid-flowering, quick-spreading ground covers to various heights are most desirable. The African daisy flowers best on free-draining sunny slopes. Water until established. Easily propegated by cuttings.

Bougainvillea
bougainvillea

This vigorous climber or bank cover will delight you with its extravagant colour display. Bougainvillea strives on poor soil, drought, general neglect, but abhors root disturbance. Plant carefully and stake well, and long spiny shoots cover your house within the twinkling of an eye.

Ficus carica
edible fig

Deciduous edible fig is fast-growing and undemanding, thrives in hot sun and will reach 3 - 7 metres. Drought-tolerant to the point that seedlings grow from stone walls where roots are difficult to remove. Irrigation or fertilizers promote sappy growth and reduce fruit quality. Beautiful foliage patterns and delicious fruits.

Ficus elastica
rubber plant

Widely known as an indoor plant, the evergreen rubber plant will thrive outdoors in mulched garden soil. Giant spreading tree, requires little light. Most reach a shrubby 2 - 9 metres, drought-tolerant once established.

Nerium
oleander

Branches of the evergreen oleander quickly spread 2 - 3 metres, giving instant cover. Leathery leaves cope with driest air, roots search deeply for moisture. Plant in any well-drained and mulched soil, even brackish or saline, in hottest sun. Water to establish. All parts are poisonous to the extent that pruned twigs used to burn your barbecue can kill.

Opuntia ficus-indica
barbary fig

The barbary fig grows next to Mediterranean farmsteads, reaching tree-like proportion. Juicy golden fruit are tasty, once peeled. A well-grown plant shows magnificent outlines against an evening sky. Planted close together, they gradually become an impenetrable hedge. A fallen leave takes root, often quicker than when carefully planted.

Palm trees, many

Although the Mediterranean fan palm is the only species native to mainland Spain, many others will thrive. Try Brahea armata, the blue fan palm, Brahea edulis, the Guadalupe palm, slow-growing but beautiful Butia capitata, or yatay palm, Jubea chilensis, the Chilean wine palm, Phoenix dactylifera or canariensis, the true date palm and canary date palm respectively, or Washingtonia filifera or robusta, the Californian and Mexican washingtonia. Most palms need watering until established, which may take several years.

Passiflora
passion-flower

Passion-flowers come in many sizes from potted plants to all-embracing vines. Flowers, from minute and exquisite to 12 cm across, are of many colours. Flowering is best once hot summer is over and lasts nearly all year. Fruits are exquisite or insipid. Passion-flowers require minimal care. Plant in humusy soil, head in sun, roots in shade. Cut half back for vigorous growth.

Pelargonium
geranium

We have grown geranium all our lives, but may not realize that they are natives of the Cape, which has a Mediterranean climate and nobody to water them in the wild. Try to simulate native conditions such as light well-drained soil in warm, sunny positions. Water only when needed. Pampering with rich soil, irrigation or fertilizer shortens their life, full shade encourages lank growth.

Punica granatum
pomegranate

The deciduous, spiny-branched pomegranate, or granada in Spanish, has many assets. Enjoy its magnificent coppery spring foliage, golden in autumn, and bright orange to red flowers. Tart, leather-skinned fruits can be stored for refreshing drinks. Drought-tolerant, it requires alkaline soil, sharp drainage, hot sun. An excellent candidate for life with animals or a mainstay of dry gardens.

Strelitzia reginae
bird of paradise

Intriguing orange and purple flowers among evergreen banana-like leaves give bird of paradise an exotic look. Pampered and allowed to become crowded, this is an excellent choice for hot locations, litter-free near the pool or grown in a container on a terrace. Grown from seed, they will flower after 6 - 8 years. Strelitzia nicolai has less spectacular all-white flowers, but compensates by reaching 4 - 6 metres.

Vitis vinifera
grape vine

The deciduous grape vine soon covers an arbour. Locals will gladly help you to choose suitable varieties and sites, also with pruning. Tender leaves enrich Greek cooking.

Yucca
yucca

Yuccas are undemanding evergreen perennials with sword-shaped, succulent leaves. Some with time turn into shrubs, even trees. Essential in Mediterranean gardens, they are at their best  where their architectural outlines and startling flowers stand out. Even young plants confer instant style to a dull area. Tolerant of shallow ground, coastal and desert conditions or wind, they like sunny aspects.

Zantedeschia
calla lily

The easy calla lily grows and flowers with no demands other than natural winter rain and a reasonably light, mulched soil in dappled shade. Dying down with summer drought, it is restored by autumn rains, producing lush foliage which frames magnificent flowers in early spring.