Spanish garden design ideas


By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe

Spain’s best known expatriate gardening authors living and gardening in Spain for 25 years

Mini gardens are invaluable in Spanish and indeed all Mediterranean gardens

Most gardens in Spain, and indeed in all Mediterranean regions of the world, benefit from the garden around the house being designed as a series of interesting mini gardens. Preferably with each with its own sole and style but integrated into an overall holistic landscape that enables great living and garden wanders all the year round. If you have visited Cordoba you will remember the gardens of the Viana Palace although not as well maintained on our last visit three years ago as a decade previous. Another large scale example are the gardens of the Alhambra in Seville.

But you don’t need a large garden to do this. Any house with land on four sides even if only four to six metres on one or two sides lends itself to five distinct gardens. One on each side and a fifth under a covered terrace. The latter can be attractive all year round with shade from the high sun in the summer and the warmth of the low winter sun. Such a terrace garden immediately integrates the house into the garden.

Success in having a number of integrated mini gardens is choosing what to have in each area and how you separate them with hedges, metal screens, walls, archways or tunnels etc.

Types of mini gardens possible

Possible types of mini garden include the following. As you read through them tick those you have and circle those you would like to consider adding to an existing garden or incorporate in a new garden.

  • A pool or Jacuzzi garden surrounded by shrubs and trees to give privacy and a sense of being in a natural glade when cooling off or sunbathing. Also this is a good way of hiding the pool away during the non pool months. So many gardens are dominated by a pool in the most prominent spot in the garden where it adds no real interest. Indeed when we wrote ‘Your garden in Spain’ the then purist editor wanted us the leave out the chapter on swimming pools and Jacuzzis.
  • A summer flower garden.
  • A winter flower garden.
  • A Japanese racked chipping or water and rock based garden.
  • A shady garden under a square oblong or round gazebo.
  • A water garden with fountains and fish ponds.
  • A dry cacti and succulent garden.
  • A rockery  or embankment garden.
  • A container garden with fifty to a hundred plats in containers of various shapes sizes and colours.
  • A specialist mini botanical or collectors garden.
  • A rose garden with a collection of climbers standards and bush forms.
  • A  mini orchard with perhaps a secret garden hidden in the centre.
  • A vegetable garden planted in the soil or in raised beds or containers.
  • A poultry garden with an interesting collection of old breed chickens.
  • An  aviary garden with a collection of exotic birds.
  • An  oasis garden mainly planted with palms or a dry river bed garden.
  • An Arabic style garden incorporating coloured ceramics in the floor walls  water features containers etc..
  • A vista garden designed for you sit or stand to enjoy an amazing view from the property.
  • A  sheltered winter garden for sitting out in the winter.
  • A  restaurant garden under shade growing climbers on wires or growing over a gazebo. We were amazed when wandering around Cuba with our rucksacks ten years ago how some  were squeezed into the narrow space between adjacent houses At times this was only three or four metres wide but made romantic with plants on the two walls and overhead.
  • An eating garden incorporating a Spanish style open air kitchen and seating area.
  • A carob garden with flower and shrub beds surrounding a well pruned carob tree. Indeed it could be around any deep shaded tree, ours just happens to be an old carob that we inherited.
  • A water plant garden around a pond.
  • A labyrinth or maze garden to keep grandchildren active for hours.
  • A  dessert garden with plants planted through sand or stone chippings layed over black plastic.
  • A  grotto garden with the main feature a grotto with a natural or imitation spring and pool plus a collection of moisture and shade loving plants inside. We recently suggested that a friend use an ancient rock built mule shed in this way.
  • A  lily garden glowing with masses of lilies during late spring and summer.
  • A  green house and potting shed garden for those who like to grow from seeds and cuttings.
  • A herb garden which can be interesting and relaxing all the year round as well as yielding continuous harvests of useful culinary and medicinal herbs.
  • A  vineyard with grapes growing on walls and over arches or covered walkways.
  • A citrus garden perfumed continuously by the flowers of a perpetual flowering and fruiting lemon tree.
  • A  monastery style garden designed as a mini cloister.
  • A  wild garden of natural herbs, shrubs and trees allowed to grow fairly wild like a miniature L’Arbarda garden as can be visited near Pedreguer in the Alicante region.
  • A  Patio garden surrounded by four walls or fences.
  • A cellar garden incorporating a Belen or nativity scene for Christmas.This is a small corner of one changed and extended each year by one of our Spanish  walking friends.
  • A  courtyard garden as found in many old farm or estate houses.
  • A  drive garden treating either side of the drive as a unique mini garden itself.
  • A  turtle garden arranged a pond with a central island which is the home to a family of turtles.
  • A  copse garden in which one can wander under and round a collection of trees with a dense leaf cover with perhaps a central glade. Yes the glade could be another mini garden in itself.
  • Lastly a stumpery English style mini garden along the lines of the one to be seen in the Highgrove gardens in the Cotswolds.

As we say in our writings and talks there is so much creativity required in creating a master plan for your garden before one thinks about what plants to buy and plant. We strongly belief that if you came to Spain for the sunny weather we should get out to enjoy it in a garden created to draws you out into it so that you live in it in preference to the house for much of the year. Our book ‘Your Garden in Spain’ will help you on your way. We much enjoy mentoring and coaching readers to decide on what mini gardens would thrill them and how to incorporate them into an integrated whole. We can be contacted on yourgarden

(c) Clodagh and Dick Handscombe February 2013