Sustainability is the hot topic of our times for very good reasons. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the many issues the earth is facing and to feel our small personal contributions are futile, but every step you take – no matter how small or large – to live in a better, safer, more sustainable world is worth it. Not all of us can be full-time activists but we can most definitely get active in bringing more sustainable habits into our daily lives. When it comes to private homes one of the biggest culprits of water and energy waste is your garden.
Nerea Beitia is our chief landscape designer – she shared her journey to Ibiza, and Blakstad Design Consultants in a recent interview. She works closely with architects, designers and clients to create magical Mediterranean gardens. “I think a garden becomes sustainable when it has been designed in keeping with the environment in which it’s located,” she says. Here in Ibiza, that means weather that is generally pleasant, with hot dry summers and mild, rainy winters. “Not only are the climatic conditions important, but also the geological ones,” Nerea continues. “These basic conditions directly relate to the landscape and its aesthetic value.” The combination found in Ibiza provides myriad options to create beautiful and serene green spaces.
It wasn’t that long ago that people stubbornly insisted on recreating the gardens of central Europe, regardless of the climate and landscape around them. When climate, geographical conditions, natural resources and the needs of the vegetation are not considered, what results is an extremely demanding garden. “These kinds of gardens are created around an artificial system that provides what they need to make them shine with total splendour,” says Nerea. “This translates into a lot of maintenance, a lot of water and a lot more expense.” The other result of these kinds of gardens is a loss of local plant varieties. Garden design has transformed in recent times and Nerea is optimistic in the resurgent pride coming with planting native species. “The paradigm has changed and there is a bigger interest in the authentic and the native,” she explains.
Here we come to the concept of native plants. Globalisation is not a modern phenomenon and many of the plants considered native to Ibiza, and in much of the Mediterranean, are actually foreigners introduced by the various conquerors, travellers and traders over millennia. At what point does a plant that is so obviously well suited to its environment shift from being an import to a native? It’s hard to say but when considering your garden design, its best to try and keep two concepts in mind. The first being native to the region and the second being happy in the region. So for example, bougainvillea – which originally came from South America – is blissfully happy all across the island and perfectly suited to the climate. It’s rainbow of colours, bringing a joyful brightness to any garden and has become so entrenched in the Mediterranean landscape that it’s considered a native.
So, where does one start when creating a sustainable garden in Ibiza? First up on Nerea’s list is to choose plants, trees and shrubs that develop naturally. “There is a huge choice in native plants,” she says. “With all that choice, we can create a composition that awakens all the feelings characterised by a Mediterranean garden.” Emotion is an overlooked aspect of how we interact with our outdoor space but one that Nerea sees as essential in building a harmonious experience. Here in Ibiza, the native trees hold a special significance in the culture and the olive, almond, fig, lemon and pomegranate are the cornerstones of the natural landscape – each well adapted to their environment and each casting beautiful shapes, fruits and blossoms across the seasons.
Another local tree that provides a gorgeous pop of colour is the mimosa, with its bright yellow pompom blossoms and delicate fern-like leaves. A mimosa in full bloom is like an enormous smile across your garden. The date palm is not native to Ibiza but has been in ubiquitous use after being introduced to Ibiza thousands of years ago. Its majestic height and spiky crown are a common sight across the island and can add a Moorish touch to a European design.
Shrubs are commonly used as decorative plantings in beds, along walls and pathways. Locally there’s plenty to choose from, all of which are hardy, water-wise plants. Lentisk is sometimes known as mastic and left to its own devices can grow up to four metres but is usually trimmed to a neat bush. It can grow in all types of soils, even in dry, rocky and salty environments, making it ideal for coastal gardens. Its bright red berries are not edible but add a sweet glow. Retaining its leaves all year round means this bush is the perfect shelter for birds and small creatures, adding further benefit to the local environment. This shrub loves company and is often matched with myrtle, heather and lantana – all of which require little water, and grow heartily and happily in Ibiza.
When it comes to sustainable Mediterranean gardens, you can’t overlook aromatics. Wild herbs grow in abundance in the pristine forests around the island and make excellent garden plants for their delicious scent, green good looks and usefulness in the kitchen. Rosemary, lavender, verbena, oregano and thyme love life in Ibiza and can be found in many recipes, home remedies and infusions. Native to the Balearics, Santolina magnoica belong to the chamomile family and can be found in the wild. It works beautifully in a private garden with its green-grey leaves and small yellow buds.
Cactus and agave are ubiquitous across the Med but are not native. They were introduced from the Americas in the 16th Century and soon adapted particularly well to the dry rocky environment of the region. Needing little water and even less care, these plants are ideal for the Ibiza climate, creating sharp angles and interesting colours across any design. When it comes to flowering plants, it might surprise many that roses grow particularly well here. In other climes, the rose is considered a difficult and fickle member of the garden but here in Ibiza they thrive, having adapted over centuries.
The main feature of a northern European garden is the lawn but in Ibiza, creating and maintaining a lawn is a fraught endeavour. The type of soil, climate, lack of rain and a plethora of other factors make an island lawn an expensive and environmentally challenging choice. Luckily for those who crave that big green expanse, Nerea has some tricks up her sleeve. “Something really beautiful to do is have a meadow and keep it mowed. Or not – it can look really good if left wild,” she says. “Alternatively, lipia or paspalum are varieties that don’t need so much water but have the same properties and same effect as a grass lawn.” Advancements in technology have provided excellent tools for good water management design. When combined with systems for collection and smart irrigation, the technology available means we can totally create sustainable green areas.