Mediterranean Modern

This is an excerpt from the Book called “Small Family Gardens “ by Caroline Tilston. Continue reading to learn more about Mediterranean Modern, thanks to the author.

Design Brief  

  • Link with newly built house 
  • Planting that changes through the seasons 
  • A family-friendly garden 
  • Outdoor eating area   


  • Water feature 
  • Built-in bench 
  • Pleached pears alongside a brick wall 

What I’m going to say seems really obvious, but because it’s so obvious we tend to forgot it.  Hard landscaping is great at providing permanent structure and definition.  Soft landscaping-planting- is great at giving colour, change and life to a garden.  

And although you can form strong lines with plants, the most powerful statements come from bricks and stone, concrete and render. 

So at one end of the spectrum you have these unrelenting lines, and at the other planting that is diaphanous and abundant, that changes with the seasons and provides dancing informality. In this garden the two have been brought together to great effect. The design team, Tommaso del Buono and Paul Gazerwitz, have exploited these differences in shape, form and texture to create a stunning garden and proved that the most effective contrasts come from extremes. 

In the Centre of the back garden, where you might expect a lawn are two enormous planted beds which contrast beautifully with the clean lines of the hard landscaping around them.

Garden Designer
Garden Designer

Employing a Garden Designer 

It’s often to see how you can get the garden you want when you’re used to what you have because you live with it every day.  A fresh eye-a professional eye-can help. You just need someone for a one-off consultation to get you started or to sort out a specific problem.  or at the other end of the scale, you may want someone to provide a structure and planting plans, to oversee the work and to be involved in the ongoing development of the garden. 

Selecting a Designer  

  • The best form of recommendation is personal especially if you you see a garden that the designer has already done. 
  • Good local nurseries will know designers working in the area and should be able to point you to one who will suit your needs. 
  • Garden designers often exhibit or have stands at gardening shows, national ones like the Chelsea flower show or local and regional shows. This is a good way of way of meeting several designers at one go. 
  • Most designers have websites that not only show pictures of their work but also reflect their style and approach.  

Meeting the Designer 

The purpose of the first meeting is for the designer to have an initial look at the garden and to talk about what your needs are. The designer will be getting information to start the design process and you will be assessing whether the designer is right for you  

Assuming you’ve chosen an experienced designer whose style you like, communication is the next most important thing; are they listening to you and do they understand what you want?  If you don’t click at this first meeting it may be better to find someone else. It’s important that the designer leads you through the process and, even at this early stage, talks to you about the options available to achieve what you want.  

After this meeting the designer will give you a quote for the design work you’ve discussed.  They may also charge a fee for the initial meeting. 


Exactly when an overall budget is talked about varies. If you know how much you want to spend, it’s better to tell the designer at the start.  They can then tailor their designs to this figure.  if you aren’t working to a specific budget you can wait until the quotes come in for the building work and then, if necessary, remove some items or trade down on materials, 


  • Either before you start or after the first meeting. It’s worth writing out a brief for the designer. This might include. 
  • All the things you don’t like about your existing garden and any problems you’ve noticed. 
  • Any good features or plants in the garden you’d like to enhance. 
  • How many people (including children) are in the house? 
  • Whether you need to make special provision for pets or children. 
  • What feature you would like in the new garden-water features, lighting or ornaments. 
  • Any other requirements that the garden has to achieve, such as sitting areas. And if there do need to be seating areas, where they should be and how many people need to be accommodated. 
  • Any particular plants you want or ones you really don’t like. 
  • Any particular style you would like or other gardens you’ve seen that you want to draw inspiration from. 
  • Maintenance-how keen on gardening are you? 
  • Other features you may want or need to include. Such as vegetable areas, bins, washing lines and compost heaps. 

Trees for Small Gardens  

If you have a small garden, don’t assume trees will be too big for it. Small trees give height and screening and take up little room at ground level.  There are some to avoid, however don’t plant huge ones, obviously, some are too garish; and purple-leaved trees can be overbearing through the summer and cast too dense a shade. If you’re worried about the root run of a tree near the house, plant the tree in a container-this will limit its size, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  

lines of trees can look stunning, whether they’re in containers as in this garden or in the ground-or you can plant three trees together in groups to make interesting patterns with their stems. 

Flowering cherry 

Cherries are great and the winter-flowering kind will provide pink flower in mild spells through the winter. 

Redbud ‘forest pansy’ 

A slow-growing tree with big, heart shaped burgundy leaves and a lovely shape. 


 Lovely little trees with ferny foliage.  The Hupeh rowan is really special. Its leaves turn red and purple in autumn and its white flowers are followed by pink flowers in autumn is particularly pleasing. 

Strawberry tree 

An evergreen with white autumn flowers and red, strawberry-like berries. 

Silver birch 

With delicate leaves and striking white brak, these are lovely trees.  but they do grow quite quickly and you’d probably have to prune a silver birch or remove it from a confined space after 15 years or so. 

Pleached trees 

Pleached trees are a ‘hedge on stilts’-trunks are kept free from branches and leaves until about 5 or 6 feet off the ground.  At this point the foliage is clipped to shape like a hedge.  You can buy ready-pleached trees that are shaped onto a frame or you can pleach trees yourself by tying the branches in to a framework. 

How to Plant a Tree or Shrub 

 It ain’t rocket science, but there are a few things to remember when you’re planting a tree or shrub.  

  • Dig a hole and place the plant, in its container, in the hole to make sure the hole is deep enough. 
  • When it is deep enough, loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole to help the roots get in. 
  • Place the tree or shrub (still in its container) in the hole and step back to see if it looks good.  Plants tend to have fronts and backs, so make sure the best side is facing forward. 
  • Once you’re happy, take the tree or shrub out of its container, replace it in the hole and put back all the soil around it.  The next two steps are really important. 
  • Stand on the soil all around the tree or shrub to really firm it in.  Not doing this the most common reason for plants not doing well; people tend to be too gentle with them.  My old head gardener used to go around after the other gardeners and try to pull plants out-if he could, he said they weren’t planted properly. If the soil isn’t firm there will be air pockets around the roots, which is the equivalent of being left dangling out of the soil. 
  • Water the tree or shrub really well.  Not only will this give the plant water (obviously), it will help to close up any more gaps in the soil. 
Trees for Small Gardens
Trees for Small Gardens
seating areas and furniture
seating areas and furniture

Relax: seating areas and furniture  

There aren’t any rules about seating areas in gardens, but here are some things to think about. 

Tips for seating areas 

 1. Sun or shade? 

 In a small garden there might only be room for one seating area, so you may have to choose between sun or shade.  One way to look at it is if you put the seating area in the sun, you can always bring in shade.  On the other hand, if children are going to use the hard surface to play on, you may want them in complete shade.  

 2. Size How many people do you need to accommodate? And what do you want to use the area for? if it’s for a table and chairs, the size of your table will often determine how large the seating area is it’s a good idea to measure around your table and chairs, but place the chairs as if they’re being ;used and don’t forget, people need to walk around the back of chairs. Obviously, built-in seating will save space.  

 3. Scale The size of the seating area will also be influenced by the size of the garden-the two should be similar in scale.  If the seating is going to be a very dominant feature, go the whole hog and make yours a garden around a seating area.  

 4. Hard landscaping or grass? It is possible to have a seating area on grass, but wet weather and sinking table legs usually mean people opt for hard landscaping of some sort.  

 5. Surrounds   a ‘floating’ seating area almost always looks awful. it’s important to bed the seating into the garden by  putting plants all around it, so you create atmosphere and seclusion, if the area is right next to a fence or wall, make sure there’s some planting or at least a row of containers alongside the wall.  

 6. Access   you will need access to the area in summer and possibly in winter, especially if children are using it.  Paths will help stop too much wear and tear on grass.  

 7. Shape   If the area has a really straightforward design with no awkward corners, not only will it be easier to lay, it will look better too.  

 8. Materials As few different materials as possible is usually the answer, and if you can tie them in with the house or the flooring the area will immediately become more at one with its surroundings.  

9. Lighting

 Lighting in a seating area can look great and will mean that it can be used later and longer.  If you have good lighting then even in winter, children might want to play outside into the evening.

 10. Plants Plants will help to give character, colour and form to the seating area.  And if used within it they will help to break up what might be a large expanse of paving.  There are several ways to introduce planting into seating areas;  

  • Leaving planting pockets in paving or cutting holes in decking for plants, shrubs or trees to grow through will liven up the area.  But make sure the pockets aren’t where tables and chairs need to go. 
  • Containers can introduce a vertical element as well as greenery. 
  • Scoop out some of the mortar from the floor joints when it’s laid- this encourages dirt to settle and then low-growing plants to colonise the gaps between the stones. 


 Patio heaters do a wonderful job of heating an enclosed area but are notorious for spewing out greenhouse gases.  In just two hours, a patio heater belches out about as much as the average can does per day.  Instead, it’s possible to get hold of firepits and chimineas that are fairly safe to use around children.

Mediterranean Modern
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