|The idea of the secret garden is perhaps best attributed to the classic gardens of Spain whose flora is often hidden behind garden walls layered with stucco or screens of cypress evergreen. The design elements of Spanish gardens are unique unto themselves. Incorporating features that are both beautiful and practical, Spain’s gardens also benefit from a distinctive Arab-influence present in their fountain and patio designs. From Castile to Galicia, Catalonia to Andalucia there are lovely and ingenious design concepts to suit a myriad of today’s gardens and landscapes.
The term “Spanish garden” is really a blanket term and altogether too general to reflect the individual styles of various regions. Still, for the purposes of this article, they shall be viewed collectively and gardeners and landscapers alike may blend elements from different areas of Spain for a great overall effect that is, at any rate, in keeping with Spanish tradition. It is also important to note that, like the U.S., Spain’s climate varies from region to region so, consequently, some plant types and design styles may be better suited to certain garden types than others—dependant on climate.
Because Spanish gardens are typically walled off or hidden, they are intensely personal affairs and reflect the personality and aesthetics of the gardener. That said if you already have a courtyard garden, than you have the perfect situation for a Spanish make-over. But enclosure can be accomplished many ways. Walls and tall fences —especially those enhanced with climbers and vines—provide great privacy and come in many styles. Entrances are frequently arched and may boast heavy wrought iron gates for a dramatic effect.
An interesting aspect of Spanish garden walls is their multiple use throughout the garden. For example, many famous gardens are squared off by tall outer walls; then within the large square are smaller walled squares set lower and lower until one descends to the bottom level where a marble patio enhanced by a fountain may exist as a lovely focal point. Between each level there would be hedges as well as cobbled or stone walks that have a view of the lower levels.
Of course there are other ways to provide a sense of enclosure that do not include major construction—but still provide Spanish charm. Cypress evergreen screens are typically used to this end in many areas of Spain. Using trees and hedges to naturally give privacy is a great way to enhance any garden. Wrought iron fences garnished with twists of vine are a perfect way to add a touch of Spain and enclose your patio or garden.
Water is an important feature of Spanish gardens—even in very dry areas where it is especially prized. This is in part due to a heavy Moorish influence that is embodied in many fountains and various water features found in Spain’s gardens. Mossy rock covered pools are often found in more rustic gardens, but elaborate and decorative tile-work often enhances courtyard pools, basins and garden fountains and gives them a very distinctive Spanish look.
There are hundreds of fountain designs that may be mounted on walls or left freestanding. A wall fountain is perfect for a courtyard or patio garden and there are plenty of Spanish styles to choose from that employ traditional decorative tiles or use unique shapes that denote Spanish culture. Spain has many images that could be used in the creation of a fountain to denote its charm; consider a spouting fish or Baroque statue carrying a water jug. Classical marble fountains or more eccentric stone fountains that feature palm tree statuettes can be purchased online.
Shade is also an important feature of sunny Spanish gardens where the heat can be quite intense. Installing a pergola is a great way to provide shade while still maintaining an outdoor setting. A pergola with brushwood screens still allows some sun but provides enough shady relief to make those hot afternoons bearable. Spanish-style garden furniture, large terracotta pots filled with succulents, wind chimes—perhaps even a caged bird all make excellent ornamentation for a shaded area.
Ornamentation will go a long way in transforming your garden into a Spanish retreat. Terracotta tiles and containers are found in Spanish patio gardens. For a uniquely Spanish planter, use a Southern Spain storage jar, or a series of them for a Mediterranean feel. Many tile centers carry lines of traditional Spanish tiles, but finding them online is most convenient. Lighting your garden with Moroccan style metal candle lanterns or star lanterns gives a nice Spanish flair.
Finally, there is a wide variety of flora that exists in Spain. For your Spanish garden, palm trees are perfect—if your climate will support them--as are orange trees. Also, consider trees like cork-oak and pine. For plants, choose barbary fig, crown daisies, cactus, orchids, gentians, rosemary, lavender or prickly pear. Grapevines and olive trees are also widely grown. For more design ideas, checking out books about Spanish art or Spanish flora can be particularly useful.