An idyllic patio with raised beds, pots, statuary and lots of greenery. / ANNIE PENNINGTON

A home with a perfect patio

A patio or terrace can give your property a different look and feel

DENISE BUSH

One of the usual features of a home on the Costa del Sol is a patio or a terrace, a natural extension to your living space, whatever the size. With careful planning, it can make a big difference to the look and feel of your property.

On a scorching hot summer's day, what could be better than sitting in dappled shade surrounded by lush greenery?

To achieve a dream space, there are several points to consider, the main one is watering. Whatever drought resistant plants you choose, none will survive without any water at all. If you are only going to be using your property for three months of the year, then installing an automatic irrigation system is paramount. Even watering systems are not foolproof and you might need to ask a neighbour or a friend to pop in and check it's all working correctly, especially throughout the hottest months.

Even if you are resident in Spain, an automatic watering system is going to take away the time consuming task of watering your plants, which during the summer could be twice a day.

Next to consider is the space that you have and its orientation to the sun. Ideally, in southern Spain this would be facing south-east. That way your plants receive gentler sunshine in the morning and vital shade in part of the afternoon when the sun is at its hottest.

Another consideration is how you will do the planting: would you prefer raised beds, containers or in the ground?

Raised beds are great but can take up vital space. They have the advantage of giving plants with deeper root systems more room to grow, and they are easier to weed and maintain. A raised bed is perfect for growing kitchen herbs or even a few salad vegetables as well as climbers and bedding plants.

Containers and pots are slightly more problematic as, unless they are quite large, the soil dries out quickly. Terracotta pots lose moisture rapidly but this helps to keep the roots cool, whereas ceramic, glazed pots don't dry out so quickly but they can heat up very fast in the sun and 'cook' plants. Large containers can be placed at the base of a trellis or pergola to grow climbing plants and create shade and height.

A living wall of greenery can look spectacular and give a soothing effect to the patio. Living walls are popular as they increase biodiversity and process C02 into oxygen. A living wall can be created by fixing vertical planters to the wall and installing an irrigation system. For the best results, choose a wall that does not get much sun in the afternoon and mix plants that trail with others with coloured foliage to make a tapestry effect.

Planting in the ground depends on the space you have but if you can, incorporate at least one shade-giving tree into your patio.

Lastly, the best part is choosing what to grow. For a cool haven of peace go for lots of greenery. Bamboo, banana palms, grasses, plumbago, Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha), elephant ears (Alocasia) and gingers all grow well in the Mediterranean climate with some shade in the afternoons.

For climbing over trellises and pergolas: orange flame vine (Pyrostegia venusta), potato vine (Solanum laxum), Dipladenia, ivy, morning glory (Ipomoea), Bougainvillea, honeysuckle (Lonicera) and Banksia are examples of plants that can be grown in pots. Wisteria is another option but can need a lot of maintenance.

For colour, scent or texture choose from lavender, rosemary, Leonotis, Lantana, day lilies (Hemerocallis), roses, Senecio, Helichrysum, Phlomis andPacific chrysanthemum (Ajania pacifica).

There is a huge variety of succulents which will thrive in a hot patio environment such as Crassula, Aloes, Agaves (most have very sharp points to their leaves), Kalanchoe, Sedum, Aeonium and of course cacti in their many forms.