As the lush growth of springtime slowly shrivels away during the summer, by now, we are often left with the backbones of our gardens. The froth and frivolity disappears. In well-designed Mediterranean style gardens, a certain gauntness appears – greens are muted to sage-green, grey and silver – and the framework of the garden is better seen. It's a little like winter in reverse. Hard surfaces, sculpture and walling become more apparent and important.
There are, of course, many ways to build a wall and many materials in which to build it but I always think natural stone walling looks stunning and blends so well into the campo. Walls can demarcate areas in the garden, provide support for terraces and even new stone walls quickly embed themselves as native in the hillsides full of dry stone walls from distant eras.
Apart from being important structurally, they give a garden personality and form. Stone - massive lumps can become natural sculptures, outcrops can tumble down slopes and skilled labour can shape it into walls of wonder. But beauty is not always everything and walls serve many purposes. They give support to our plants, provide backdrops and protect from cold winds. Even the stored radiant heat given out by stones can help tender plants get through the more frosty nights. And many plants love to nestle their roots into those little crevices where you'd swear that nothing could exist.
When I was on Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands last year, I fell in love again with stone walls. They were just stunning. So very different to our walls here – crafted in hunks of limestone, grey and dramatic. In comparison, our stone walls here seem almost cuddly, more rounded and human. But I love them all – and, for me, the more natural looking the better.
Whilst some walls stand on their own, others beg for beautiful plants to adorn them, so here are a few more unusual suggestions. To tumble go for the rich bright colours of helianthemums – they adore hot and dry, as does convolvulus sabatiuswith sky blue flowers or its sophisticated family member, convolvulus cneorum, coolly irresistible in platinised silver and white. The rounded heads of euphorbias, centranthus and the butterfly-loving sedum herbstfreudealways look great against stone, as do the billowing forms of silvery-green artemisia' Powis Castle', the white-felted looks of santolinachamaecyparissusand senecios. I also love the grevillealanigera Mont Tamboritha, a dense prostrate shrub with curiously fat leaves and dusty coral-pink flowers. The little erigeronkarvinskianusor Mexican fleabane is one of those that will spring up out of every nook and cranny, carpeting your rocks with little daisies like tiny white and yellow suns, sometimes fading to a soft pink. It's one of those plants that demands nothing yet always makes you smile and every garden needs those smiley plants.
There are some great perennials too that will clump and increase yearly and give fountains of rich colour against the stones. Try penstemonsor beardstongues, their dangling bells are long-produced and in a range of jewel colours. With a reputation, in Northern Europe, of suspect hardiness, here they are no trouble at all and, especially, with a wall for a backdrop. Rudbeckias and coreopsisboth produce lovely golden daisies over a long time as does the lower growing gaillardia or blanket flower. Its daisy flowers are all those stunning sunset shades and often banded and striped. This year, we've had at the garden centre Echinacea Summer Colours – another lovely blend of sunset shades and soft apricots. The towering red hot pokers and grassy leaves of kniphofiasare always striking, yet tough. The small spreading evergreen shrub phlomisfruticosaor Jerusalem sage is lovely with a stony background too. Its soft felted sage-green-grey leaves are a pretty contrast to the whorls of soft butter-yellow flowers. All of these are very long flowerers – just keep dead-heading and they'll keep producing.
Another plant I shall be looking at getting into the Garden Centre is the verbascum family, or mulleins. They're such a natural for our Mediterranean climate and conditions yet it's a plant you never see offered. Their towering elegance and soft dusty colours with, often, grey leaves look fabulous against stone. They meld in well with old-fashioned roses or against a backdrop of the rounded heads and soft shades of hortensiasor the lime-green/yellow acid colours of euphorbias.
It just makes you long to get out there and start collecting stones, doesn't it - the same as it would have happened long ago. Walls and flowers – go together just like a horse and carriage!
The Garden Centre will re-open 3rd September 2013, 9 – 2.
Lorraine Cavanagh owns the specialist garden centre ViverosFlorena, Competa, Malaga (garden centre, designers & landscapers) and is author of the best-selling Mediterranean Garden Plants.