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Alan Hawes

Versión española


The Costa Blanca Branch of the MGS

Forthcoming Events

26 to 30 October – Southern California
MGS AGM Meeting
The 2017 AGM will be held in Southern California, 26th – 30th October. The Southern California Branch, which will host it, plans a great programme including visits to the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and excellent private gardens around Pasadena. An optional pre-AGM trip to Santa Barbara (23rd - 25th October) will include Lotusland, Casa del Herrero, more private gardens, and vineyard wine-tasting. An optional post-AGM trip is being considered.

Saturday 18 November – 11.00 – Crevillente
Annual Branch Meeting and Plant Fair
The last meeting of the year at the house of Alan and Carol Hawes will include a “Plant Fair” as in 2016. Refreshments will be provided, after which Alan will give a short report and presentation of photos from his visit to California for the AGM. This will be followed by a discussion about the programme for branch meetings during the next year, a tour of the garden, and a buffet lunch.

Past Events

June 2017
A guided visit to the Valencia Botanical Garden and other gardens in the city of Valencia

The Botanical Garden of the University of Valencia has a long and interesting history from its origins as a medicinal garden to the setting for the mature and extensive plant collections that we can see today. In 1567 the municipal government of the city gave the university a site where plants necessary for the teaching of medicine could be grown, but in the 18th century the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ came to Spain with the new Bourbon monarchs, who encouraged the expansion of scientific knowledge. The university then proposed a comprehensive botanical garden and separated the teaching of botany from that of medicine. Those interested in local crop improvements also pressed for a site for research and in 1798 the city yielded to all the demands and work was begun, only to find that the chosen site was unsuitable. A new and better-irrigated site was finally offered in 1802, close to the river Turia, and these 4 hectares form the basis of the current garden.

The new garden suffered during the Napoleonic invasion, but by the middle of the 19th century it was the leading botanical garden in Spain and was used to test the acclimatization of new plants being brought back by expeditions to South America. This led to the need for a glasshouse to protect the exotic plants, a challenging project which was completed in 1862. This ‘Tropical Glasshouse’ now houses rainforest vegetation.

Before the end of the 19th century another large greenhouse was built to house frost-sensitive palms, and four smaller ones were added to hold collections of orchids, ferns, bromeliads and carnivorous plants. In 1900 the Shade House was opened, an iron lattice construction inspired by the glass canopies of railway stations of the time. This building was destroyed by fire and was rebuilt following the original plans in 1990.

The garden unfortunately suffered a decline in the 20th century and was damaged by the flood of 1957. Some restoration took place in the 1960s, but it was not until 1987 that a comprehensive rehabilitation was begun by the university which ended with the construction of a research building in 2000. Today the garden contains 4,500 different species of plants, a library and a herbarium. It holds conferences and classes, houses exhibitions and plays an important part in the life of the city.

Our visit to the garden, on June 10th, began in the oldest part of the garden, the Botanic School, where the evolution of plants is explained. It also houses some of the oldest and largest trees, up to 160 years old, which are very impressive specimens. There are also intriguing rarities, such as a pair of Podocarpus macrophyllus, of which the female tree was hung with blueish fruits.

Some of the many large and mature trees at the entrance to the garden

Podocarpus macrophyllus with very unusual fruits

We visited the areas holding plants native to the Mediterranean region, where there is a fern collection in the shadier and damper part, and a rock garden of drought-resistant plants such as Phlomis, lavenders and Scabiosa cretica, which has interesting spherical seedheads. As we neared the Tropical Glasshouse (which was replanted in 1990), we noticed a huge and ancient multitrunked Phoenix reclinata (Senegal date palm).

Phoenix reclinata (Senegal date palm)

Next to the Tropical Glasshouse is the distinctive Shade House, which is attractively planted with some very beautiful shade-loving plants, among which we especially admired clumps of Alpinia zerumbet in full flower and colourful Chamaedorea palms.

The Shade House with its central pool and waterlilies

Some of the most recently developed areas contain plants from specific geographical areas such as South Africa, California and Australia. We were pleased to see several different Australian Melaleuca species with flowers of mauve and white, an interesting South African Indigofera, and beautiful white Dietes grandiflora in flower.

The South African Indigofera

The part of the garden devoted to succulent plants is also segregated geographically, so that plants from the warm dry areas of America and Africa are grouped separately. In the American section we saw huge Washingtonia palms towering over very large agaves, cacti, flowering specimens of Yucca rostrata and Dasylirion.

Agave lechuguilla in the American desert section

Above the aloes, aeoniums and crassulas in the African area we saw trees of Moringa peregrina and Dichrostachys cinerea, with its amazing pink and yellow flowers which we had admired on a previous visit. Completing our route back to the entrance, we passed through the collection of Valencian flora and part of the extensive palm collection.

Archontophoenix cunninghamiana with spectacular fruits

After leaving the Botanical Garden, we had the opportunity to appreciate several of the important architectural features of the city. Our route took us through the impressive Torres de Quart, one of the two remaining vestiges of the medieval town wall, with a great wooden doorway flanked by two huge semi-circular towers. We next investigated the 15th-century Silk Exchange, or Lonja de Seda. The manufacture of silk (including the culture of the silkworms and the growing of mulberry trees, Morus alba, to feed them, as well as the weaving of the silk threads) was the main industry of Valencia from the 15th to the 18th century and provided work for half of the population. This magnificent building, which has World Heritage status, is in three sections, the largest of which is the ‘Contracts Hall’ built in the Valencian gothic style. The twisting marble columns fan out like palm leaves when they reach the high, vaulted ceiling (which was originally painted blue with gold stars). There is also a small garden with orange trees and hedged beds of herbaceous plants.

The magnificent main hall of the Silk Exchange

The formal garden of the Silk Exchange

Nearby we encountered a more modern example of Valencian architecture, the Central Market, an eye-catching building finished in 1928, whose architects tried to capture the Valencian spirit in their design, using the colours of the Valencian flag in the windows.

The roof and part of the dome of the Central Market

After a short time inside the market, exploring the many food stalls, we left that busy area and walked to the peaceful gardens of the art museum (MuVIM) where its excellent restaurant provided us with a very enjoyable lunch and a chance to relax and discuss all that we had seen. Our thanks were given again to Salvador, our enthusiastic guide and perpetual source of information.

Text by Carol Hawes
Photos by Alan Hawes

May 2017
A guided walk in the Font Roja Nature Reserve

This important nature reserve, in the north of the province of Alicante contains 2,300 hectares of the best-preserved Mediterranean forest in the Valencian Community. It lies roughly east to west along the Bética mountain range between the towns of Ibi and Alcoy. It is famous for its high level of biodiversity: a book describing and illustrating the species of plants found in the reserve identifies 922 species.

Several distinct types of forest exist within the reserve, depending on the orientation of the site, the precipitation received and the altitude. On the drier, southern face of the mountain there are some areas of evergreen oaks (Quercus rotundifolia) at low levels, but on the northern face, where it is more humid, the lower slopes are covered by dense forests of these trees. Above about 1000 metres, deciduous trees become dominant, especially Fraxinus ornus (flowering or manna ash) and Quercus faginea (Portuguese oak), although on the most sheltered, humid and highest slopes Fraxinus ornus is accompanied by Acer granatense (small-leaved or Granada maple), Sorbus aria (whitebeam) and yew trees (Taxus baccata). Among the 25 different tree species which grow naturally here, the rarest are Quercus cerrioides (an unusual hybrid oak with interesting large leaves), with ten specimens, Sorbus torminalis (just 14 trees) and Juniperus thurifera, of which this is the only example in the province of Alicante.

Our visit on May 20th began at the impressive building known as ‘Font Roja Natura’, which was built in 1926 as a hotel but which now houses a scientific research station, part of the University of Alicante. The Visitors’ Centre provides information displays about the reserve and hosts events and courses open to the public. Next to it is the 19th-century church (the latest of several buildings replacing the original of the 17th century), known as the ‘Santuario’, which was built to commemorate a local vision of the Virgin. Nearby is the spring, after which the area is named, and here we saw a rare endemic plant growing in the shaded stone wall, Saxifraga corsica.

Saxifraga corsica growing next to the Font Roja spring
(Lesley Whayman)

We all strolled along the side of the Visitors’ Centre to enjoy the panoramic view of the Polop valley. Our guide, Salvador Pastor, whose grandfather had lived in the valley below us, gave us some interesting insights into the history of the area. He told us that the valley floor had been cleared of its trees to provide pasture for sheep, and later used for vineyards until phylloxera destroyed the vines.

Panoramic view of the Polop valley and Alcoy
(Karen Leathers)

Salvador describing the history of the valley
(Karen Leathers)

We then began our slow ascent of the north-facing hillside, past the church and the ruins of the houses once used by workers in the hotel (soon to be restored). As we walked, Salvador explained the immense importance of the forest ecosystem. Not only do the trees stabilise the soil, preventing erosion, they also provide nesting sites for birds (which control insects causing damage to the trees) and they drop their leaves, which build up into a layer of vegetable matter. It is this material which provides food and cover for worms which oxygenate the soil, and for other insects, which break down the fallen leaves and return the elements to it. In this way, through the process of photosynthesis, trees extract carbon from the atmosphere and return it to the earth.

Salvador explaining the ‘carbon cycle’
(Karen Leathers)

Specimen of Quercus rotundifolia, estimated to be 400 years old
(Lesley Whayman)

As we climbed the slope we passed a spectacular specimen of Quercus rotundifolia (the species of oak which prefers this warm climate). This oak is an important element of this forest as it resists snow damage better than Pinus halepensis. Significant damage was caused in areas of the reserve populated by this type of pine during the unusually heavy snowfall of last winter.

Quercus faginea
(Lesley Whayman)

We passed through the shady picnic area, which is much appreciated by local residents, and progressed upwards through the oak forest to the beginning of the deciduous forest. Here we saw many examples of Quercus faginea and Fraxinus ornus. Among the deciduous trees we were pleased to see some flowering shrubs, such as Cistus albidus, and smaller flowering plants including Saponaria ocymoides, Globularia vulgaris, Linum narbonense and Lotus corniculatus. We were especially interested to find the flowers of two plants endemic to this area and rare elsewhere, Ononis aragonensis and Cytisus heterochrous.

Ononis aragonensis
(Lesley Whayman)

Cytisus heterochrous
(Lesley Whayman)

Other aspects of the walk which we enjoyed included the chance to climb into a gap between the slabs of rock which form the face of the cliff to experience the draught of cold air emerging from fissures through the mountain. This feature is known locally as ‘the frozen cave’.

Approaching ‘the frozen cave’
(Lesley Whayman)

We also appreciated the information displays about the production of charcoal and lime in past times and the replicas of a charcoal heap and lime kiln. The lime, mixed with sand, gravel and water, was essential for making mortar for building, and the charcoal was used in the houses as fuel.

A replica of an old lime kiln and the information display
(Karen Leathers)

In all, there was a great deal to think about and to discuss as we retraced our steps down the path to the restaurant, where we sat in the shade and enjoyed a lengthy and delicious lunch. We had all learned much from Salvador’s explanations and offered him our thanks for making the day so interesting and enjoyable.

Text by Carol Hawes
Photographs by Karen Leathers and Lesley Whayman

April 2017
A visit to two private gardens of group members

The weather in the south-east of Spain during the winter and spring of this year was very unusual: there was far more rain and snow than is normal for this region, and while some of us rejoiced in the prospect of a bountiful display of wild flowers, others suffered from flooded houses and damaged gardens. Snow fell on the beaches, a rare and interesting sight, but also on inland areas unaccustomed to receiving it, causing widespread damage to trees, especially pines (Pinus halepensis) and olive trees. Oscillations of temperature, both by day and night, spurred some plants into early growth, while others were damaged by frost. On one day, spring might seem to have arrived and summer to be just a short time away, only for dull, cool winter days to return again. However, plants in general have appreciated the extra moisture, the soil has been cleansed of residues left by irrigation with treated water and gardeners have begun to repair any damage suffered. And yes, the wild flowers have been especially beautiful and widespread this year.

On April 29th we met up at a large and impressive garden centre near to the first garden to be visited that day, that of Edward and Beth Kendall, near Muro de Alcoy. After we had taken advantage of the opportunity to investigate the displays of well-labelled plants, and to purchase some of them, Edward led us in convoy to his garden. Beth and other members welcomed us with warming drinks, as this was an unusually cold day and the house and garden are on a shady, north-facing slope among pine trees. Luckily, the ground was not as muddy as they had feared it might be after the recent heavy rain and we were able to explore their grassy terraces, looking for the last of the orchids (Ophrys scolopax) and discovering other treasures such as Aphyllanthes monspeliensis and a double white banksia rose climbing an old almond tree.

Aphyllanthes monspeliensis

Ophrys scolopax

Beth explained that the attractions of the site – its tranquillity, views to the cliffs above the house and the profusion of wild plants - more than made up for occasional problems with flooding.

The cliffs and woods behind the house and garden

Discussions with Edward (left) on the terrace below the house

When we had all gathered back by our cars, Edward led us the few kilometres to the house of Maggie and William Pack, who formerly ran the ‘Oasis’ Garden Club. They had invited many former members and friends to join our group for a barbecue lunch and to view the latest developments in their garden. When we first arrived, it was a pleasure just to stand on the main terrace, enjoying the panoramic view across the wide valley to the distant hills; afterwards, when we looked down, we noticed the many planted areas and garden features below us and wanted to explore them.

Part of the panoramic view from the main terrace

Looking downwards to some of the interesting island beds

We followed the sinuous gravel paths downwards, noting the good mixture of flowering plants, such as osteospermums, lavenders and other silver-foliaged plants, with shrubs, palms, yuccas, agaves and different trees interspersed among them for their interest and shade. Groundcover plants and spreading succulents were used to clothe areas of sloping ground in order to prevent erosion of the soil, and terrace walls of stone, slices of tree trunk and other materials added interest as we looked back upwards towards the house.

The many approaches to terracing the slope to avoid soil erosion
(photo by Karen Leathers)

Eventually, we reached the attractive pool and pagoda fountain. Here too is a new trellised rose arbour, with a seat (made by William) facing the pool. Nearby, on this lower level, were some exceptionally beautiful clumps of bearded irises in full flower.

The pool, fountain and the rose arbour

Some of the exquisite irises
(photo by Moisés Grau)

When we finally returned to the main terrace behind the house, everyone was gathering to enjoy the magnificent three-course lunch (especially welcome on such a surprisingly cool day for late April).

William (centre) and one of their helpers serving the delicious food

It was difficult to believe that both of the gardens that we had visited had suffered considerable damage from flooding during the heavy rains of the last winter. Obviously, much effort must have been made by the garden owners and by Maggie and William’s garden helper, Lyn Ring, to ensure that order was restored in time for our visit. However, keen gardeners do not rest for long, and we learnt that already William has a new project in mind.

Text by Carol Hawes
Photos by Carol Hawes (except where indicated otherwise)

April 2017
A visit to the Elche Palm Grove including the Huerto del Cura and the Palmeral Museum, and the Moorish Tea Garden in Crevillente

Elche is a very beautiful and unusual city whose historic Palm Grove, the largest in Europe, was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000. Three hundred thousand date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) surround the old city centre in various parcels of land known as huertos, which are the last surviving examples of the ancient agricultural system initiated by the Moors. It is thought that the Phoenicians brought the date palm to the area at least 2,500 years ago, but it was the Moors who developed systems of irrigation to take advantage of the fertile soils of the region, using lines of palm trees to enclose and shade the ground where fruits and vegetables were grown. The history of the Palm Grove and the lives of those who lived and worked in it are fully illustrated in the interesting Palmeral Museum, a renovated traditional 19th century farmhouse, which also houses wonderful examples of palma blanca (bleached palm fronds) and explains the processes involved in their production.

Examples of palma blanca in the Palmeral Museum
(Peter Towse)

The creation of palma blanca is unique to Elche, where they are carried in the Palm Sunday procession through the city. Some of the fronds are hand woven by traditional methods into intricate ornaments and each Easter the most beautiful specimens are sent to the Pope and other notable people. The museum also houses a workshop where the craft of weaving the palm fronds is demonstrated and a recreation of a traditional huerto with its planting areas and irrigation system.

The irrigation system and area of pomegranate
trees in the museum’s demonstration huerto
(Peter Towse)

The most famous of Elche’s huertos is undoubtedly the Huerto del Cura, named after the priest who owned it until 1918. It is still a private garden but welcomes visitors from all over the world, as it did in the past, when many important people came to see the famous Imperial Palm. One of the past visitors, in 1894, was the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, after whom this palm was named.

The famous Imperial Palm in the Huerto del Cura
(Peter Towse)

This extraordinary specimen is unusual because the main trunk produced new shoots, not at ground level, as is usual, but over one metre higher, so that the current eight trunks are all fed by sap from the main trunk. The tree is now 165 years old, and requires considerable structural support to ensure its future survival. The garden contains a considerable number of well-labelled palms of many genera as well as an outstanding collection of succulents and cacti. There are also attractive pools and paths that wander between beds of shrubs, bulbs and ferns of many types.

Part of the palm collection in the Huerto del Cura
(Peter Towse)

There were many discussions about the interesting plants that we had seen
(Carol Hawes)

Some of the exciting succulents
(Peter Towse)

The branch visit by our group of sixteen on 1st April began with an hour exploring the Huerto del Cura, followed by another spent enjoying the information displays in the museum and strolling through the recreation of a typical huerto, complete with flowing irrigation water. We then walked the short distance to the Glorieta, where we lunched at one of the many restaurants and bars which surround this attractive square with its distinctive tile-faced raised beds of flowering plants among more palms. Afterwards a short stroll brought us to one of the most recent innovations in the city: one of the walls of the 12th-century Calaforra Tower has, in the last two years, been transformed into a ‘vertical garden’, which also houses a small bar.

The vertical garden on the wall of the Calaforra Tower
(Peter Towse)

We took the opportunity to rest here and enjoy drinks or ices while hearing about the work involved in the construction and planting of the garden. We just had time to view the outside of the Basilica of Saint Mary (site of the mosque when the town was conquered by King James 1 in 1265) and to admire the distinct architectural styles of its various façades before retracing our steps to our cars for the drive to the Moorish Tea Garden, near Crevillente.

This garden, properly known as the Carmen del Campillo, is astonishing, not only for its great beauty and interest, but because it is situated in a very quiet and secluded location, among fields of olives, almonds and pomegranates, and some groves of oranges. When we all arrived there and entered this ‘oasis’ of very tall palms and cypresses, shut off from the surrounding countryside behind its enclosing walls, it was like entering another world, another time.

Just inside the Moorish Tea Garden,
one of the many intimate gardens
(Carol Hawes)

The garden is open to the public on most evenings and one is allowed to wander through the gardens and explore some parts of the house (which itself is almost a museum) before settling in one of the many different gardens to enjoy traditional teas (of many flavours) and delicious pastries. We all explored the many fascinating corners of this Moorish house and garden, enjoying both the excellent architectural features and the clipped hedges, pools, fountains and wide variety of plants. Some of us lingered until the early evening, unwilling to leave such a beautiful place.

Exploring the hidden corners of
the Moorish Tea Garden
(Carol Hawes)

The perfect place to enjoy teas and pastries
(Elizabeth Marriott)

Text by Carol Hawes

November 2016
Annual end of year branch meeting in Crevillente

The final meeting of the year, on November 19th, took place as usual at the home of the Branch Head. Alan and I were very pleased to welcome 25 members and friends, many of whom enjoyed the new feature of the event, the ‘Plant Fair’. A great variety of plants and cuttings was on offer for exchange, as well as advice on cultivation.

Setting up the Plant Fair
(photo Karen Leathers)

Members examine the plants available for exchange
(photo Karen Leathers)

We all also enjoyed coffee and cakes before the most important part of the meeting, when Alan gave a presentation covering his visit to Athens for the AGM and ideas for branch visits in 2017. Alan showed us some photographs taken in the gardens which were included in the main Athens programme and described the very different gardens that were visited, before giving us a brief summary of the AGM business meetings.

Sternbergia lutea growing in the Sparoza Garden
(photo Alan Hawes)

Crocus pallasii (syn. Crocus pallasii ssp. pallasii) growing in the Philodassiki Botanical Garden
(photo Alan Hawes)

An ornamental pool in the formal Drafi Garden
(photo Alan Hawes)

As a Branch Head, he first attended a meeting with the current Administrative Committee and other Branch Heads. Here he was told that the Spanish Website, of which he is the editor, receives hundreds of visits each month, which is very encouraging. (We are hoping to widen its scope to include articles on gardens in Spain as well as branch activities.)

At the General Assembly on Sunday 23 October a new AC was elected, which is headed by Caroline Davies (Melbourne) as President, with Jean-Pierre Bouchez (California) as Vice President and Lefteris Dariotis (Greece) as Councillor. Secretary Vivien Psaropoulou and Treasurer Jill Yakas, both living in Athens, remain from the previous AC to continue with their invaluable work. One important point of discussion was the funding of the Sparoza garden and the need to make it more financially self-sufficient.

Alan was fortunate to have most of the following day in Athens while awaiting an afternoon flight home, so he took the opportunity to pay an early morning visit to the most important archaeological sites. He showed us some spectacular photographs of the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, and other ruined temples in the city centre.

The Acropolis viewed through the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus
(photo Alan Hawes)

Moving on to the provisional Branch programme for 2017, Alan outlined plans for four spring meetings and two in the autumn, all on Saturdays. In the spring, we propose an early April visit to Elche, to see the Huerta del Cura and the Palmeral museum, ending the day at the Moorish Tea Garden. The next meeting will be a few weeks later, in the Alcoy area, in the garden of Maggie and William Pack and it will include a barbecue lunch. This will be followed by a late May mountain walk in the Font Roja Nature Reserve, led by Salvador Pastor, and an early June visit to the Botanical Garden in Valencia, also in Salvador’s hands. Final dates and details will soon be available. In October, we shall have the opportunity to see the spectacular garden of Judy and Bernhard Bauer and the end of year meeting will be in November, after the MGS AGM.

Alan ended his presentation by thanking those branch members who had organised this year’s meetings or opened their own gardens to us. He also thanked all members and friends for their enthusiastic attendance at the meetings, at which point both he and I were pleasantly surprised to receive a round of applause in appreciation of our first year’s work for the branch!

Since it was still beautifully warm and sunny outside, we all spent some time walking around the garden. Alan and I enjoyed showing it to new members, while those who have known it for several years were impressed by the maturity that it now shows.

Enjoying autumn sunshine in the garden
(photo Karen Leathers)

A group gathered by the new shadehouse
(photo Karen Leathers)

Discussions in the rose garden near the pergola
(photo Karen Leathers)

Many of the contributions to the buffet lunch had by then been assembled by our two wonderful ‘helpers’ and groups of members were able to relax and chat during lunch on the terrace or the patio. Afterwards, there was another chance for everyone to revisit the ‘Plant Fair’ and collect a few more pots to take away with them.

We felt very happy about the friendly and relaxed atmosphere during the day and now look forward with renewed enthusiasm to the year ahead.

Text by Carol Hawes

October 2016
A visit to two members’ hillside gardens with panoramic views, near Oliva

Many of those who choose to live near the coast between Alicante and Oliva take advantage of the opportunity to build on the nearby mountainsides, which offer such impressive views of the surrounding countryside and the sea. The amount of time and effort involved in transforming a rocky slope into a home and garden was powerfully demonstrated to the group of members visiting two such gardens on October 15th.

John and Maggie Male’s house and garden are ‘works in progress’ and it was fascinating to compare the lower level, artistically planted and decorated, with the higher, unfinished parts, where the hillside still has to be tamed and landscaped. John is a very experienced gardener, but at present he needs to spend much of his time on the construction of the house and on the hard landscaping of the garden. His experiences while working as a Head Gardener in the Middle East, and contacts with the garden designers who worked on the inspirational Majorelle garden in Marrakech, Morocco, have strongly influenced his vision of his own garden. He plans to create many intimate corners, well screened from adjacent properties but open to the vistas of mountains and sea.

John introduces us to his house and his ideas for the garden

On the lower level, around the entrance to the house, the hard landscaping is beautifully finished, with terrace walls faced with an attractive stone which bears fern-like patterns of crystalline iron salts. Some vertical surfaces are painted the deep cobalt blue of the Majorelle garden, while the walking areas are often intricately patterned with tiles and pebbles.

A stone-faced bed holding Hibiscus, Echium,
cypress, jasmine and Eriobotrya

There are two beautiful small water features among the plantings, which range from Washingtonia, Syagrus and Chamaerops palms, cypresses and cycads, to flowering shrubs and climbers including oleander and Plumbago.

The exquisite Moorish fountain among cycads,
and the patterned paving

John’s own hand-built water feature

John aims to retain some of the plants originally on the site, especially large carob and olive trees, and rosemary, wherever possible, to reflect the characteristic flora of the area. Collections of potted plants soften the hard landscaping in many areas, including the small sitting areas that we encountered as we gradually ascended to the top of the site, from where we could fully enjoy the splendid views.

There is work still to be done at the top, but the views are wonderful

From John’s house, it was just a short walk to the property owned by Valerie and Roger Brown. They bought their plot in 2002, when it was just a patch of bare hillside, and moved into their house one year later. There was much construction work still to be done on retaining walls, terraces and a swimming pool but they have enjoyed the challenge of gradually creating an attractive garden of mainly drought-tolerant plants, with many artistic touches. Val is a successful painter and her artistry adds extra interest to many parts of the garden. She, too, enjoys the contrast between deep blue painted surfaces and the paler colours of the pink house walls and the natural stones.

An attractive corner with contrasting colours and plants

Before touring the garden, we enjoyed a short rest and refreshments on the main terrace by the pool, where we admired both the potted plants and the wall decorations, some of which are Val’s work.

Everyone appreciated a break between investigating the two gardens

Then we slowly descended to the lower levels, down paths edged with flowering shrubs including Brugmansia and Plumbago, and trees such as carob, fig and citrus, underplanted with a variety of ground-covering evergreen shrubs and succulents.

Plants closely line the path, including Teucrium,
Santolina, Yucca and Aloe

Val and Roger have used the original large rocks from the site to construct the retaining walls of the lower terraces, a choice which gives a very natural look to this area. Gravelled paths meander between beds containing bushes of rosemary, Santolina, Polygala and Lantana, as well as many different succulent plants and cacti, and lead to peaceful sitting areas which offer shade at some time in the day.

The bottom of the garden with plants growing
happily among the rocks

As we ascended towards the pool terrace following the opposite side of the house, we passed a particularly enticing spot for resting: a gently curving tiled seat, forming the lowest of a series of small terraces, the rest of which were full of interesting plants and eye-catching artistic features.

The colourful view up the small terraces
from the tiled seat
(Photo - Valerie Brown)

There was the opportunity for more drinks and discussion while we all eventually gathered on the pool terrace. Many of us then enjoyed lunch at a nearby restaurant with John, Val and Roger, whom we all thanked for providing us with a very interesting and pleasurable morning. Some of us, who garden on flat ground, were envious of the variety of aspects and hidden corners which these two steep gardens possess, but we now realise how much work is required to create them.

Text by Carol Hawes.
Photos by Alan Hawes unless otherwise stated.

June 2016
Visit to the Turia Gardens in Valencia

There are many fine gardens in Valencia and we have previously enjoyed visits to the botanic garden and the Monforte Garden. On this occasion we chose to explore the Turia Gardens, with the aim of learning about the great diversity of trees growing there. We had an excellent guide in Salvador Pastor, who oversaw the planting of many of them when an old nursery area was redesigned and opened to the public about fifteen years ago, and who has been a gardener in the city for thirty-two years.

Before we began our tour, Salvador briefly explained the history of the city of Valencia, from its founding by the Romans in 138 BC on an island at the mouth of the river Turia. The river was essential for trade and for irrigating the surrounding fertile plains, but during the following centuries many disastrous floods occurred, destroying bridges and buildings. During the fourteenth century high stone walls were built to protect the city, but they were not able to prevent a catastrophic flood in 1957 in which more than eighty people died. The ultimate, if costly, solution was to create a new channel for the river with its mouth four kilometres south of the port.

As we began our stroll through the gardens, Salvador described how the old riverbed was made into a long set of public gardens, which are now very popular with the public for taking exercise as well as for relaxing under the wonderful trees. In 1979 there was a ‘tree planting day’, when many people planted some of the more common species of trees to begin to fill the large space, and since then many more unusual specimens have been added.

There are several large groves of Ceiba trees, whose closely-planted
swollen trunks and angular branches seem almost sinister

View across the garden with jacarandas in flower

We passed under the Puente de Real into an area where there are many huge and mature trees, some of which are remnants of the plants in the original nursery, including many species of Ficus. These have been interplanted with many beautiful flowering trees, such as Brachychiton acerifolius with brilliant red flowers, Grevillea robusta with spikes of orange flowers, Jacaranda mimosifolia with heads of mauve flowers and Erythrina caffra. On this tree we could see that this year’s orange flowers had already produced the tree’s distinctive curling seedpods, which were shedding bright orange seeds.

Brachychiton acerifolius in flower

Erythrina caffra seedpods shedding their orange seeds

Other rarely seen trees include the very upright Araucaria columnaris (syn. A. cookii, native to New Caledonia and originally named for Captain Cook), and another Australasian native, Brachychiton discolor, with large pink bell-shaped flowers. There are also several species of palms, including Livistona decora (syn. L. decipiens), Sabal mexicana and Phoenix roebelenii. Among a large number of clumping Phoenix reclinata palms, Salvador pointed out one example which had produced only one, very fast-growing trunk, suggesting that it may be a hybrid with P. canariensis.

Araucaria columnaris

Salvador explains his ideas about the unexpected
growth of this palm

We next entered the Royal Palace Gardens, with its dominating line of enormous Washingtonia filifera palms. We looked at the remains of the Royal Palace, first built by Muslim kings in the ninth century. After the conquest by the Christians, a new palace was built with splendid gardens which reached their peak of importance in the sixteenth century, only to be completely destroyed in 1810.

Salvador had arranged for us to have lunch in the nearby Viveros Gardens and, although rain was threatening to fall, we were glad to sit at the tables prepared for us and enjoying a varied selection of dishes and the chance to chat. Afterwards, the rain began and some members decided to thank Salvador for an interesting morning and return home.

The remaining six of us took taxis to another garden which Salvador thought would be of interest to us. The garden of the Old Hospital, which occupies the site of the old School of Medicine and is close to MuVIM, the Valencia Museum of Modern Illustration, is home to large examples of Ficus macrophylla, Cedrus deodara and Cupressus cashmeriana.

Cupressus cashmeriana

Even more impressive were a line of Brachychiton discolor in full flower and a small Erythrina crista-galli covered in scarlet flowers.

Brachychiton discolor

Erythrina crista-galli

Lastly, Salvador led us to the far side of the MuVIM building to show us his ‘miracle trees’ – a line of Brachychiton rupestris trees which manage to survive street life without care or irrigation, supporting their reputation for being among the world’s toughest trees.

The ‘miracle trees’, Brachychiton rupestris

Returning to our cars by bus through the city streets, we were able to appreciate the large number of trees generally planted there and to realise their importance in making Valencia such a beautiful city.

We are very grateful to Salvador for providing such a fitting end to a wonderful set of six ‘spring’ meetings.

Text by Carol Hawes
Photographs by Alan Hawes

May 2016
Visit to the Albarda Garden

The main aim of this meeting was to visit the Jardín Mediterráneo de L’Albarda in Pedreguer, Alicante. It was begun in 1990 and is now owned by the Fundación Enrique Montoliu (Fundem), serving as a demonstration garden where many examples of indigenous plants are conserved and shown to be worthy of more frequent use in gardens. It is managed with a strict regard to the principles of sustainable gardening with a low water use. It is outstandingly beautiful at all seasons of the year and houses extensive collections of roses and palm trees. Architectural features are also of great importance, reflecting the style of the ancient Renaissance gardens of Valencia, which were influenced by Arab culture. The garden is open to the public every day from 10.00 to 14.00 and guided tours are available in several languages.

The income generated from visitors to the garden, and from events held there, is used for its maintenance and conservation. The second important aim of Fundem is to conserve the natural environment of the Valencian Community by purchasing and protecting areas of land of great ecological and landscape value. All membership fees are dedicated to this objective.

Before we all began our tour of the Albarda garden, we took the opportunity to pay a short visit to the nearby mature garden of member Alison Tain (last visited four years ago). Last winter, Alison’s daughter developed a new part of the garden, which we were keen to see, and the whole garden was new to many of the group. The recently-planted area contains many unusual plants, including several with silver or blue-green leaves, such as Acacia baileyana, Eremophila nivea, Melianthus major, Lavandula multifida and a young Bismarckia nobilis palm. The whole garden is fascinating, with many artistic touches as well as interesting plants and colour combinations. We were delighted to be able to explore the many different areas while enjoying coffee and biscuits.

The newly-planted area with some of the beautiful silver-leaved plants

Alison (in white) sharing her knowledge and cuttings of Helichrysum petiolare

The tranquil lower end of the courtyard garden with pool and Moorish fountain

Leaving somewhat reluctantly, we drove the short distance to the Albarda garden, where we were warmly welcomed by Enrique Montoliu and our guide for our visit, Angel. We were then taken through the main sections of the garden, where Angel had an answer to every question about the plants that we saw. The high standard of garden maintenance was immediately obvious, but Angel assured us that there were only three gardeners, with his help when he was not acting as a guide.

The formal garden, with immaculately
trimmed hedges and cypresses

We began by passing through the formal garden and round the house to the terrace, with its wonderful views across the large pool to the Montgó garden feature and to many of the different sections of the garden.

The terrace, and the view of the nearby Montgó mountain

We next visited the attractive shade house (where in summer the temperature can be 10 °C cooler than outside), which shelters a variety of palms, including large Howea and smaller Raphis palms, underplanted with cycads, aspidistras and ophiopogons. Two tall Caryota palms had decided to brave the sun and had made their way through the slatted roof.

Inside the shade house Howea forsteriana palms enhance
the graceful architecture of the building

Angel then led us to the Renaissance fountain and explained its ecological water filtration system using plants such as irises and cannas. Turning away from the fountain we entered an impressive avenue of tall palms (Bismarckia nobilis and Syagrus romanzoffiana) and some huge Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla), interplanted with citrus trees and carpeted with wild strawberries.

The Renaissance fountain and the view along the avenue
of palms and citrus trees

We arrived at a very large circular metal pergola with several ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ roses beginning to cover it, and then wandered through the ‘scented garden’. Here, the lavenders, salvias and other aromatic plants are sheltered by screens of Fraxinus ornus and Pistacia lentiscus so that the scents can more easily be appreciated.

The Montgó rock feature and pond

We next admired the Montgó rock feature (designed to replicate the shape of the nearby mountain and housing many examples of the local flora) and pond, and then passed through the shady glade of maples and cork oaks before heading towards the latest development in the garden. This attractive new building is an auditorium in the style of an amphitheatre, which will be used for concerts and lectures.

The new auditorium

Back towards the house, we passed the entrance to another formal garden with jacarandas in flower before arriving at the Valencian garden, a large area delineated by huge pergolas covered with climbing roses. At the far side of this we found an amazing wall covered in blue mosaic tiles inset with animal portraits, flanked by a line of blue columns, which we all found fascinating.

The fantastic wall covered in blue mosaic tiles.

The central feature of this area is a beautiful Valencian Arabic fountain. Parallel to the blue wall is another long rose-covered pergola with a large central dome, under which we all gathered to enjoy the delicious tapas lunch provided by Fundem. We shared our impressions of this fantastic garden and thanked our host, Enrique, for making our visit very enjoyable.

Text by Carol Hawes, photos by Alan Hawes

May 2016
L’Hort de Brutinel and Jacqueline Charron’s garden, Alcoy

The historic and fascinating Brutinel garden was recently fully described by Jacqueline Charron in her article in the April 2016 issue (No 84) of TMG, and there are excellent photographs and excerpts from the article on the MGS website. Jacqueline obtained permission for members of our branch and other interested friends to visit the garden for a guided tour by some of the owners (who represent the four branches of the family who currently own the estate).

They gave us a very warm welcome and then led us into the garden and through the intricately designed lowest terrace, towards the stairway to the amazing conservatory and drawing rooms. As we wandered beneath century-old cedars, yews and Trachycarpus fortunei palms, our hosts reminisced about times past when, as children, they and their cousins had climbed the trees.

Cedrus atlantica trees on the lowest terrace

The impressive frontage of the conservatory complex (Photo Karen Leathers)

The huge artistic conservatory was seriously damaged by the inexorable growth of the Trachycarpus fortunei palms planted inside it, but it was superbly restored in 1997. It now houses less demanding plants including succulents, begonias and purple tradescantias.

Inside the huge and beautiful conservatory

We then passed into the ‘small’ drawing room with its statues and beautiful rococo-style floor tiles, which date from 1900.

There was much to admire here in the ‘small’ drawing room

The next room contains two attractive aviaries, now empty, and leads into a larger drawing room, from which we emerged into the garden again. We all explored the other terraces and far corners of the garden, many of which have artistic features and splendid views over the garden and the surrounding countryside.

We were also taken to see a part of the original, now abandoned, paper mill which generated the wealth required for the creation of the garden by its owner, Vicente Brutinel, in the middle of the 19th century.

Finally, we were invited to share canapés with the family members in the larger drawing room, where we were surrounded by photographs of former members of the family. We were delighted to hear tales of special family events in earlier times, when great celebrations were held and orchestras played in the elegant rooms.

Hosts and guests sharing canapés and stories

We all expressed our gratitude to our hosts for their kindness in sharing their garden and their time with us.
As a complete contrast to the sophisticated atmosphere of the morning, we spent the second part of the day in the nearby Font Roja Nature Reserve, where Jacqueline has a small cottage and garden.

The Carpenter’s Cottage was built in 1918, and Jacqueline visited its previous owner for many years before finally managing to acquire and restore it, for use as a retreat. She spends all her free days there enjoying the peace and the visits from the wildlife. It was therefore a wonderful place for all of us to rest and enjoy our picnic lunches, which were supplemented by delicious home-made food provided by Jacqueline.

Jacqueline’s tranquil terrace

She owns a one-hectare plot, the lower half of which, around the cottage, she has loosely planted with trees (including fruit trees), shrubs, bulbs and orchids. The upper part of the plot slopes steeply up into the woods of pines and olive trees and is much wilder in character, so is often visited by the wildlife of the area, including foxes.

The cottage and lower garden

However, Jacqueline’s overriding passion is for the birds which visit her garden, either to feed or to raise their young. She has a great many nest boxes, some of which are used repeatedly by successive generations of the same birds. Twice a year the ornithologist of the nature reserve comes to ring birds in her garden and our visit coincided with his spring visit, when he rings nestlings from the boxes. We were privileged to see, and even handle, some two-week-old baby great tits.

Jacqueline (on the left) and the
ornithologist ringing nestlings

Jacqueline gave us all a copy of a twenty-page illustrated guide to the birds and butterflies which visit her garden, describing her experience of bird watching over the past ten years and offering a great deal of advice about attracting and caring for visiting birds. It is both interesting and amusing, and made a perfect souvenir of our happy visit to her wildlife haven.

We all felt that we had enjoyed a wonderful day and were very grateful to those who had made it possible.
Text by Carol Hawes. Photos by Alan Hawes unless otherwise stated.

April 2016
A visit to Casa Tápena Country Park near Onil, Alicante Province

On April 9th a group of members visited the first Centre of Sustainable Development in the Valencian Community. This very interesting project is based on the belief that everyone can play a part in the attempt to slow down climate change and the deterioration of the natural environment. In order to demonstrate the practicality of sustainable development, four distinct zones have been created using plants accustomed to the arid climate and soils of the Alicante Province.

The agricultural zone features the traditional crops of the region such as almonds, olives and vines, together with fruit trees (cherries, medlars, pomegranates and varieties of citrus). There is also a small vegetable garden, which is maintained ecologically and produces typical vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers.

The Mediterranean garden area has been designed to show that it is possible to create a beautiful, relaxing and sustainable garden using mainly indigenous plants which require little water or maintenance.

The wetland zone, which encompasses the spring and the reservoirs where the irrigation water is stored, contains many species especially adapted to this ecosystem, including mature specimens of willows, poplars and Prunus as well as pines.

The forest zone occupies the large area of higher ground above Casa Tápena itself and offers shady walks through the woodlands, which include examples of Celtis and holm oaks among the many pines.

There is also a very large labyrinth of clipped cypresses, which is very popular with the families who come to enjoy the other facilities provided here. These include a bar, picnic tables, barbecues, drinking fountains, play areas for children and even a campsite.

Our tour of the park began with coffees from the bar, after which we walked towards the restored Casa Tápena, which overlooks the Mediterranean garden and the valley beyond.

Close to the house the planting includes a Chamaerops humilis and a cloud-pruned olive

Here we also noted a huge Arbutus unedo, perhaps 100 years old, and some very large holm oaks. We then entered the wetland area, where the path was shaded by enormous pines, Pinus halepensis and P. pinea, under which we found Genista scorpius, bushes of spiny Ulex and green Santolina.

The fascinating bark of a mature Pinus pinea

At the furthest point of this zone we came to the source of the water which irrigates the gardens. This was enclosed in earlier times and the water was used for washing clothes before it ran into the storage reservoirs.

The enclosed water source and washing area

The top entrance to the Mediterranean garden

We soon found ourselves back near the house, where we entered the very attractive and beautifully-maintained Mediterranean garden. All along the meandering paths there are many beds, separated by low hedges, with specimen trees underplanted with groups of low-growing plants such as junipers, lentiscus or kermes oak (Quercus coccifera). Some of the groups of shrubs were flowering beautifully, especially Coronilla and rosemary. The trees included many pines, tall cypresses and examples of Celtis australis, but we also saw some rarities, including a subspecies of Quercus ilex which is native to areas further to the north of Spain. Especially eye-catching was a blue-foliaged Tamarix gallica. We noted that all the beds were well covered with thick layers of bark or pebbles, demonstrating the importance of conserving the moisture in the soil.

Tamarix gallica and Pinus pinea

A general view of the planting in the Mediterranean garden

From the lower edge of the Mediterranean garden one can look down on to the agricultural zone with its regular design of small orchards of fruit trees surrounding a central seating area. Here, there are interesting information displays describing the different crops and their cultivation in past times and the methods of irrigation.

The agricultural zone viewed from the Mediterranean garden

The pool near the Labyrinth

After viewing this zone, we soon arrived at the Labyrinth, with its welcome seats near a beautiful pool with fountains. We were glad to sit briefly in the shade of more Celtis australis before returning to the picnic area near the bar, where we enjoyed an excellent lunch and the opportunity to discuss what we had seen.

Afterwards, those who remained took a walk through the surrounding countryside to admire some of the enormous trees which give a special character to this agricultural area.

A mature Cupressus sempervirens

Some of the huge Pinus halepensis which are a special feature of this area

Text by Carol Hawes
Photographs by Alan Hawes

April 2016
A visit to Carol and Alan Hawes' garden in the agricultural zone of Crevillente and to Anna Gevers' garden near Almoradí

This meeting took place in the southern part of the Costa Blanca, in the fertile and well-irrigated Vega Baja. Both of the gardens are surrounded by groves of orange trees or fields of carefully cultivated vegetables and both depend on regular supplies of irrigation water, although the methods of irrigation are different. The first garden receives water of good quality and can flood selected areas as well as storing some of it for regular drip irrigation, while the second relies on periodic flooding of the whole garden with water of a poorer quality. Without this help their trees and shrubs could not have achieved their mature appearance after less than fifteen years of growth, in many cases from seed. These two gardens were visited last October and so a spring visit allowed us to see some different plants at their best.

Elizabeth Marriott kindly wrote of her impressions of the day.

“We were first-time visitors to Carol and Alan Hawes' remarkable garden near Crevillente, south of Alicante; we were with a small group of members who had returned for second or third viewings. Over a welcome coffee Alan showed a short photo presentation of how the garden and house had developed from an orange grove over the past eleven years.

Suitably refreshed, we entered 'America', characterised by a desert bed full of cacti and succulents. Self-seeding yellow Californian poppies added some spring colour.

Agaves, including Agave parryi, with Eschscholzia californica,
backed by Parkinsonia aculeata and Cupressus arizonica

Inspired by his visit to La Mortella in Ischia, Alan is determined to grow some shade-loving plants and has built a trellis-covered ‘shadehouse’ for this purpose, with roses growing up and over the structure. There is much more work to be done, but Alan likes to have an ongoing project. We can't wait to see the end product which will surely be splendid.

The new ‘shadehouse’ with Rosa banksiae in full flower

Next we came to an avenue of Melia azedarach trees underplanted with some heavily perfumed roses. Alan explained how these trees are pruned annually in order to make a wide canopy of large leaves to shade the area in summer.

Melia azedarach with new flowers as well as
berries from last year, above Rosa ‘Archiduc Joseph’.
Nearby, a charming feature of a central blue ceramic
pot containing a yellow-variegated agave surrounded
by creeping blue Convolvulus sabatius led to the pergola,
covered in various exotic climbers.

The entrance to the pergola, with climbing roses and bougainvillea

We walked through the pergola to the ‘working’ area of compost bins, log stores and the small motor home where Carol and Alan lived for three years while planning their dream garden. Cassias, grevilleas and callistemons signalled our entry to 'Australia’, which were followed by a plantation of flowering eucalypts grown from seed. Turning back, we headed into 'Africa', a riot of spring flowers, with many aloes and self-seeding gazanias.

Colourful aloes and gazanias against a backdrop
of mixed African shrubs

With contributions from all we enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch on the terrace before driving to Anna Gevers' garden near Almoradí. This is surrounded by agricultural farmland and the remains of vegetable crops, but as we entered the garden by the side of the house, we saw an amazing horticultural delight.

Anna’s garden contains several important
artistic elements, including this
impressive statue

Anna, although suffering from flu, bravely recounted how she and her husband started planting a wide variety of plants fifteen years ago. Some survived only a few years, but there are still seventy species of trees, numerous shrubs and eighteen different palms. In 2007 a succulent garden began to take shape and this now contains many large cacti. Anna explained that correct watering for each plant was the greatest difficulty in maintaining the garden. She is provided with water to flood the garden regularly, but it is salty and some plants do not like this, nor the depth to which they are flooded, so careful management is necessary.

Slightly formal, Anna's garden is rectangular in shape with trees, palms and hedging providing the boundary. There is a central ‘lawn’ of creeping Mesembryanthemum cordifolium.

The ‘lawn’ with a beautiful Bismarckia nobilis, surrounded by
other palms and mature trees

In the middle of the garden a line of standard callistemons in full flower separates the ‘lawn’ from the succulent garden and the cactus garden beyond.

Colourful low-growing succulents carpet
the first part of the succulent garden

There are many mature and interesting cacti among Anna’s collection

Two inspirational gardens made for a wonderful day out and our thanks to Carol, Alan and Anna for making it so enjoyable.”

Text by Elizabeth Marriott and Carol Hawes
Photographs by Guy Marriott

February 2016
A botanical walk with Pedro J. Moya in the dunes of Santa Pola at the southern end of the Costa Blanca

On February 27th, thirteen members and friends gathered at a beachside bar at the southern end of Santa Pola before touring the nearby ‘Parque Natural de las Salinas de Santa Pola’. Here, high levels of salinity and wind together with very poor, sandy soil allow only the toughest of plants to survive.

Our leader Pedro explains the history and importance of the Salinas
(Photo Karen Leathers)

The nature park is crossed along fenced pathways to protect the dunes
and is an important area for birdwatching on the saltwater lakes
(Photo Karen Leathers)

Furthest from the sea, trees such as Pinus halepensis and the rarely-seen Tetraclinis articulata grow in the stable dunes surrounded by more open areas where smaller plants, including Helichrysum stoechasn subsp. stoechas (syn. Helichrysum decumbens), Sedum sediforme, erodium and Centaurea seridis subsp. maritima (syn. Centaurea maritima) struggle with the shifting sand. Nearer to the sea, in more humid conditions, bulbs such as alliums and asphodels appear, but right next to the beach the wind allows only the tough Eryngium maritimum and ground-hugging Lotus creticus to thrive.

Tetraclinis articulata occurs naturally in Spain
only near Cartagena, but could prove useful for
planting elsewhere in areas with a similar climate
(Photo Alan Hawes)

Helichrysum stoechas subsp. stoechas
(Photo Alan Hawes)

Lotus creticus has little competition on the most windswept dunes
(Photo Alan Hawes)

Next, we drove to the Santa Pola lighthouse, which is situated on a most unusual geological feature – a limestone plateau which is a well-preserved fossilized coral atoll, formed about six million years ago. The bare rocks and the exposure to the wind make growing conditions here very difficult, but giant fennel (Ferula communis), Gladiolus illyricus, Anthyllis cytisoides and Coronilla juncea do well.

The lighthouse on its rocky plateau with bare cliffs below
(Photo Alan Hawes)

Ferula communis with colourful seedheads
(Photo Alan Hawes)

In order to see a completely different habitat with its contrasting plant community, we next drove to the base of the line of cliffs on which the lighthouse stands. On the lower slopes we recognised some of the plants seen earlier among the dunes, with the addition of the attractive yellow Phlomis lychnitis.

Phlomis lychnitis
(Photo Alan Hawes)

From here we climbed up towards one of the steep narrow valleys into which rainwater funnels from above. Here, sheltered from the wind and sun, in that more humid atmosphere, we found thriving many plants more commonly seen inland, such as Chamaerops humilis, Ceratonia siliqua (carob), Quercus coccifera and Pistacia lentiscus, overgrown by Clematis cirrhosa and a small mauve-flowered lathyrus. It was hard to push between the strong branches and all the plants were lush and green – a different world, yet only a few hundred metres away from the stark landscapes surrounding the lighthouse and the low dunes behind the nearby beach.

Chamaerops humilis among the lush growth in the valley
(Photo Alan Hawes)

In spite of taking place on one of the coldest and windiest days of an otherwise unusually mild winter, this walk proved to be very enjoyable, and it provided an excellent illustration of the several different plant ecosystems that exist in quite close proximity in this geologically interesting area. Thank you, Pedro, for sharing with us your extensive knowledge of the plants of this area.

Text by Carol Hawes

October 2015
Visit to four large gardens in the southern Costa Blanca

We began our visit at Carol and Alan Hawes' beautiful garden, where we met first for a cup of coffee, Carol´s famous biscuits and various cakes. Once refreshed, we toured the garden. Now about ten years old, the one-hectare plot started life as an orange orchard with about two hundred and forty trees. For three years Carol and Alan lived in a camper van on the property and started designing the garden long before the house was built. They have divided the garden into sections which either reflect the various continents of the world or are dedicated to a particular plant. We started with ‘America’, where we admired the cacti and succulents in a stunning desert bed.

The desert bed in ‘America’
(Photograph by Annie Busch)

A little further along we came to a delightful circular flowerbed surrounded, among other things, by a large number of mature Melia azedarach, all grown from seed. We progressed to the orangery where forty of the original trees remain. There were very few oranges to be seen, and Alan explained that the poor crop this year was probably caused by the extremely hot weather in May, when the developing fruit was ‘cooked’. Following advice from Sálvador Pastor (head gardener for the town of Valencia), who suggested incorporating liquid fertiliser in the watering system and changing the watering cycle, the trees are now all looking extremely healthy.

The tree-shaded circular flowerbed with silver-leaved planting
(Photograph by Annie Busch)

Then through the rose garden, where we stopped to smell the Rosa 'Tipsy Imperial Concubine', a hybrid tea rose with incredible scent and a pretty pale-pink with creamy shading, which was re-introduced from China in 1982. The smell of the roses and nearby flowering jasmine was heavenly.

We paused at the compost production centre, where Alan explained how he produced wonderful compost with the aid of his shredder. A huge pile of eucalypt leaves, half-shredded, was waiting to be used on the paths.

Then on to the section called ‘Australia’. Here we found dense collections of eucalypts, cassias, grevilleas and callistemons, right beside the ‘Outback’. This section of the garden is home to about five hundred eucalypt trees of about thirty different species, all grown from seed. The variety of eucalypts is amazing; several were in bloom, with lovely pink, red and yellow flowers.

Some of the colourful eucalypt flowers
(Photograph by Annie Busch)

On many of the eucalypts, the seedpods and the buds were almost as attractive as the flowers. Once a tree grows too big, it is felled for firewood and replaced by a new sapling, which has been growing in the greenhouse.

From the ‘Outback’ we jumped a continent into ‘Africa’, where we were assailed by a riot of colour, yellow gazanias, deep blue plumbago, brilliant pink Podranea, orange Tecoma capensis, some plants not strictly where they belong, but over the years, as we all know, if a new plant needs a home….

By now, it was two o'clock and time for some more refreshments, and to collect the seeds, cuttings and plants which Carol generously allowed us to take before heading off towards Moisés Grau´s garden. Before starting our tour of this garden, our multinational group, Dutch, French, Swiss, German and British, sat down in the shade for our picnic lunch.

Jasminum beesianum
(Photograph by Moisés Grau)

Then Moisés gave us a tour of his Roman-inspired garden. A splendid lawn is surrounded by a pillared walk. At the base of each pillar, Moisés has planted a jasmine, a different type for each pillar. He has a wonderful collection, white and yellow, of course, but also one with a red flower.

Jasminum sambac 'Grand Duke of Tuscany'
(Photograph by Moisés Grau)

Behind the Roman walk, there is a large number of citrus trees, some, such as Buddha’s hand, a variegated lemon, and even a sweet lemon, Citrus medica (syn. Citrus limetta), quite exotic.

Buddha’s Hand(Citrus medica, syn. C. medica var. sarcodactylis)
and Citrus limon 'Variegata'
(Photograph by Annie Busch)

All too quickly it was time to move on, but first a quick visit to Moisés’ parents’ garden next door. In contrast to his own garden, which was started about five years ago, this garden is very old and well established. Huge pine trees give wonderful shade, and for decoration there were succulents in pots.

General view of the garden with a splendid Bismarckia nobilis in the centre
(Photograph by Annie Busch)

Then we piled into our cars and followed Anna Gevers to her house to visit her garden. This garden has a definite ‘Wow’ factor as one enters. The Bismarckia nobilis truly lives up to its name. The ‘lawn’ is, on closer inspection, Mesembryanthemum cordifolium (syn. Aptenia cordifolia). Anna has seventy species of plants in her garden, and to aid us in our identification of them all, she gave us each a printed list. But it was not just the variety of plants, it was also the artistic way in which the garden has been created which so impressed us. In all our peregrinations we were accompanied by Anna´s cat, who seemed to welcome the influx of visitors.

A fountain in front of the succulent garden and a sculpture,
in the background Chamaerops humilis and Phoenix dactylifera
(Photograph by Annie Busch)

A highly dangerous Cylindropuntia rosea (syn. Opuntia rosea)
(Photograph by Annie Busch)

The cactus garden will be an inspiration to us all, though whether many of us would be brave enough to introduce all those spines into our gardens is another question. Some looked especially dangerous. As daylight faded, we said a reluctant farewell to Anna and each other, and clutching more cuttings and seeds, made our various ways home. It had been a fascinating day and we were all most grateful to Alan, Carol, and Anna for allowing us to visit their gardens.

Text by Annie Busch

Due to the fact that there was very little demand for staying overnight at Moisés’ casa rural, the programme was changed at short notice. Unfortunately there was in the end not enough time to visit all four large gardens, so the branch head and four other members chose to visit the iconic Moorish-Andalusian garden in Crevillente after the Roman garden.

Looking from the mirador in the new entrance courtyard at a garden room below
(Photograph by Peter Reck)

Text by Edith Haeuser

September 2015
Visit to the Jardín de Santos

The village of Penáguila, near Alcoy, is one of many very old villages in the province of Alicante, and many of its historic buildings are well preserved. It stands on a promontory on the western slope of the Sierra de Aitana, below the Peña de Águila ('Eagle's Rock'), from which it takes its name. It is proud to be the home of the famous Jardín de Santos, which is one kilometre away along the original path created between the garden and the village.

The village below the Peña de Águila
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

When we visited the garden, one member of our group, who had researched the history of the garden, gave us an introductory talk at the entrance before we split up to explore. The entrance to the garden is in Andalusian style and features finely-worked iron gates and specially-designed floor tiles and plant containers. The original house now contains an interesting museum, illustrating the history of the garden and the concepts behind its design.

At the entrance to the garden
(Photograph by Karen Leathers)

The garden was created during the 1840s by a young, highly-educated member of a wealthy, landowning family, Joachín Rico i Soler. He had travelled widely through Spain, visiting many important gardens with his friend, the artist Antonio Cabrera. The many paintings which they brought back from their journeys provided the inspiration for the design of the garden. The result is a harmonious mixture of Arabic, neoclassical and romantic elements condensed into a garden of less than 3000 square metres.

The pool and its surrounding parterres
(Photograph by Karen Leathers)

The gem at the centre of the garden is the large rectangular pool, which reflects the clear blue of the sky. It is important not only for its beauty but also for its essential function in the ingenious irrigation system designed by the owner. Water coming from the nearby mountains is stored here before it is channelled to the various parts of the garden.

The central area of the pergola with Begonia boliviensis
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

On a level slightly higher than the pool is a long cypress-shaded pergola, in the centre of which is an oval sitting area with an original statue representing spring. The pergola is lined with potted plants, including many begonias (of which the original owner had a notable collection), and leads to a conservatory. This originally served as a nursery for the many flowering plants which the owner raised to furnish the garden in the summer. It now houses an orchid display and other tender plants. On the terrace above the pergola, there are polyantha roses beneath a huge Sorbus domestica and ancient banksia roses, which also shade the pergola.

The romantic grotto and drawbridge
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

To one side of the pool one descends along narrow paths hedged with pittosporum and finds oneself in a small, dark wood. There are many evergreen trees, including large specimens of box, pines, cypresses and firs. These provide deep shade as one walks to the grotto, temptingly cool inside, but accessed across a drawbridge which can be raised only from the outside.

Looking towards the old cypress pergola
(Photograph by Karen Leathers)

One corner of the parterres
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

On returning from the wood to the level of the pool, there is a set of elegant parterres, neatly edged with low hedges of euonymus. They contain a variety of flowering shrubs and bulbs as well as impressive topiary specimens and an unusually tall Phoenix canariensis. In the centre of the area is a small wrought-iron aviary, sheltered by tall hedges of cypress and myrtle. On the side of the pool opposite the wood, the path descends again to the level below the house, where a labyrinth of cypress and box surrounds a tall cedar of Lebanon.

The house and entrance to the labyrinth
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

This small historic garden seems very intimate, never overpowering the visitor, offering many quiet corners and shady walks within its walls so that the occasional view to the bright world beyond its boundaries is almost a shock. It has suffered damage from time, weather and vandals, but has now been well restored and is open free of charge at weekends. It has excellent facilities for visitors, including a picnic area where we enjoyed a relaxed lunch after viewing the garden. Afterwards, we strolled along the cypress-shaded path to the village and admired its historic centre, a pleasing way to end the visit.

The cypress-shaded walk to the village
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

Text by Carol Hawes

June 2015
Visit to the garden of Ana Sanchez and Pedro Moya

Our visit to this garden was very enjoyable, and at the same time instructive. Pedro has made a virtue of necessity by concentrating on the use of drought-tolerant plants in a garden with very low rainfall and a meagre supply of irrigation water. The garden, surrounding a small casita, is in an area to the north of the city of Alicante, one of the driest parts of the region, with an average annual rainfall of around 300mm. There has been significantly less in the past two years, with no rain last year and only 90 mm in this one, giving the surrounding countryside a desert-like appearance.

Having followed Pedro in convoy from our meeting point through a maze of very minor roads, we arrived at the garden, and we were impressed by the mature appearance of the planting in the entrance drive. Many of the evergreen plants that do very well in this region have been planted by family members in the past 15 to 20 years to provide privacy for this weekend house. We all gathered in front of the house and Pedro gave a short introduction to the garden, its history and his plans for its future development.

Mature evergreens surround the entrance drive
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

Shallow steps to the next garden area
(Photograph by Karen Leathers)

Moving from this area, up some shallow steps, there is an area which was redeveloped last year by Pedro, with a collection of fruit trees including olives, mulberries, carobs, and quince. Other plants include myrtle, Limoniastrum, iris, Retama, Myrteola phylicoides (syn. Myrtus microphylla), Spanish broom, roses, agapanthus, oleanders, arbutus, vinca, Viburnum tinus, Echium candicans, and the attractive, rarely-seen Scabiosa cretica (syn. S. cretica ssp. minoana). There are also plans for more plantings of aromatic plants in the open area at the centre of this terrace.

The newly-constructed fuente
Photograph by Alan Hawes

The fruit tree area under development
(Photograph by Karen Leathers)

The change of level up to the next terrace is edged with a new natural stone wall (just completed by Pedro), which incorporates a small fountain in the form of a spring (fuente). This terrace is planted as a small wood or arboleda, containing Pedro's collection of some of the native and endemic
 plants of the area. Within a framework of existing pines, there were many newly-planted oaks, namely Quercus pyrenaica (syn. Quercus humilis), Q. pubescens, Q. ilex together with Fraxinus ornus, Juniperus oxycedrus, and Pistacia terebinthus.

A young Quercus pyrenaica in the arboleda
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

This arboleda shelters many plants which can be found growing wild in parts of this region, including Rosa centifolia, Teucrium capitatum, sedums, aeoniums, and many other plants known only to the most knowledgeable of those present. Several members of the group with similar gardening constraints, or an enthusiasm for plants native to this region, found this area fascinating and instructive as to what can be achieved with minimal water resources. There was a discussion amongst the professional gardeners in the group, who agreed on the importance of plantings such as this in dry zones as a means to increase the organic content and structure of the soil through root action and leaf fall. They also stressed its value as an example to owners of other properties in this region.

A young Schinus terebinthifolia shades Pistacia lentiscus,
Chamaerops humilis and a young honeysuckle
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

The quiet, green shade in this arboleda was a welcome respite from the increasing heat of the day. Later, we all retired to the shady terrace of the house, where we enjoyed an informal lunch provided by Ana Sanchez, augmented by contributions from the visitors.

A Ceratonia siliqua, which could be two hundred years old
(Photograph by Edith Haeuser)

Limoniastrum monopetalum
(Photograph by Edith Haeuser)

An informal lunch on the shady terrace
(Photograph by Karen Leathers)

Although much smaller than many of the gardens that the branch has visited in the past, this garden is full of interest, and a testament to the dedication and attention to detail of its owners. The visit also provided an ideal opportunity for many of the new members and friends who attended to get to know key members of the Branch and experience the type of meeting that we organise.

Text by Alan Hawes

May 2015                  
Visits to the Iris Garden, the Lavender Garden and the Plantas Jalón Nursery

On May 15th, fifteen members and guests of the Mediterranean Garden Society made three visits: to the Iris Garden, the Lavender Garden and the Plantas Jalón Nursery, which specialises in drought-tolerant and autochthonous plants.

The Iris Garden has been created over the past 20 years by Christine Lomer and Nick Brown. It is situated in the hamlet of Marnes, above Benissa, at an altitude of 500 metres, and has 20,000 square metres of cultivated land, to which the Sierra Bernia forms a dramatic backdrop. The day before our visit saw unseasonable temperatures of 40 degrees, a record for May. This, with the wind, had adversely affected some of the plants, especially the roses.

Roses surround a bed of irises against the backdrop of the Sierra Bernia

A beautiful late-flowering bearded iris

Originally the garden concentrated on the many species of iris, especially the cultivars of bearded iris, of which it now has the largest collection in Spain. With the development of the garden, thousands of bulbs have been planted, including narcissus, tulips, snowdrops and cyclamen, which herald the arrival of spring. A notable achievement for Christine was when Josie Elias won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Photographer of the Year 2012 award for her picture "Beneath the Olive Tree", depicting the tulips and other bulbs in full flower in spring.

Christine went on to develop a love affair with roses, and there are now 300 modern and old varieties on display. On this day most noticeable were the roses 'Crepuscule', a noisette rose with endless fragrant apricot-yellow flowers, and 'Golden Celebration', a David Austin yellow, scented bush rose, which together surround the bog garden planted with Louisiana irises. Other memorable roses were 'Paul's Himalayan Musk', a beautiful blush pink R. moschata rambler, 'Lady Gray' rambling over an arbour with its cascading pinkish-white blooms, 'Constance Spry', a pink fragrant climber, and 'Francis E. Lester', a white rambling rose with a strong fragrance.

'Paul's Himalayan Musk' covering an elegant framework

Throughout the garden there are many native plants and others especially suited to the terrain, including Olea europaea (olive), Ceratonia siliqua (carob), Cupressus sempervirens, salvias and aromatic plants. Other areas of the garden have been developed, such as the Secret Garden and the Labyrinth, with hard landscaping and seating areas enabling one to enjoy both the garden and the views.

A newly-developed area planted with irises and old roses

When we reluctantly left the Iris Garden, we paid a visit to the nursery Plantas Jalón, where many of us enjoyed the chance to investigate the wide variety of plants for sale, some of them very rarely seen.

An opportunity to investigate the plants on offer at Plantas Jalón

Once purchases had been completed, we all made our way to the Lavender Garden, where we knew that a delicious lunch awaited us. Finca la Cuta, now known as 'The Lavender Gardens', occupies 24,000 square metres of hillside near Lliber in the Jalón valley. It has been owned by Susanne Semjevski since 1983 and has been continually evolving. Some of the original plants were retained, but much work was needed to improve the terraces and add many new drought- tolerant plants. Structure and shade are provided by Ceratonia siliqua, Olea europaea (some of which Susanne has spent many years pruning to shape including 'cloud pruning'), Cupressus sempervirens and Morus (mulberry trees), underplanted with Viburnum tinus, lavenders, salvias, thymes and other aromatic plants. Acanthus grows in abundance in the shaded areas of the garden. There are many seating areas in quiet corners from which the views can be enjoyed, and arbours planted with clematis, roses and wisteria.

One of the many pleasant parts of the garden

As the garden developed, the cost of irrigating it increased, and in order to maintain it to a high standard, Susanne decided to open it to the public in 1996. It continues to be open to the public on Sundays, but for a membership of 30€ a year one may access it any day. The income from this, and from private bookings and events, allows the garden to keep evolving. Susanne also distils and sells lavender oil.

The distillery

The lunch table with a view towards one of the cloud-pruned olives

We enjoyed a beautiful meal here, four interesting courses impeccably presented and accompanied by the delicious local Marnes white wine. It was a useful opportunity for new members to get to know each other and a wonderful way to end the day.

Text by John Male
Photographs by Valerie Brown

April 2015
Return Visit to the Arboretum of Sálvador Pastor at Ráfol de Salem in the Vall d'Albaida

Ten members of the branch visited this arboretum last November to enjoy its autumn colours. A return visit in mid-April allowed us to appreciate the trees in the full glory of their spring flowering.

Fraxinus ornus in flower

The first two areas that we visited (formally planted with rows of Fraxius ornus, Celtis australis and Quercus faginea) are open for public enjoyment. Sálvador, the head gardener of the Montforte Garden in Valencia, told us about the soil on these two terraces, its good depth and fertility and the thorough working that it was given before any planting was begun. Many locally-collected seeds were sown in 1994 and only the most vigorous seedlings selected for planting in 1995. Even so, we could see considerable variation between different trees of the same species, some strongly single-trunked, while others grew more bushily. These areas are not irrigated and the trees experienced difficulties during the dry summer of 2014 (especially those on the higher terrace, where the soil is shallower). In March this year 150 litres per square metre of rain fell and by the time of our visit, the ground under the trees was thickly covered with wild flowers. We noted especially the lush foliage of Scorpiurus muricatus, a legume with pretty yellow pea-flowers, which provides nitrogen to the trees (no chemical fertilisers are used here). We also loved the blue flowers of Cynoglossum creticum, Borago officinalis and Anagallis arvensis subsp. foemina. The delicious scent from the myriad of white blossoms on the Mediterranean ash (Fraxinus ornus) was almost overpowering.

Borago officinalis

Scorpiurus muricatus and Anagallis arvensis subsp. foemina

When we reached the private part of the arboretum, we could appreciate again the careful planning behind the planting schemes. A tall screen of 25-year-old Cupressus sempervirens shelters the garden from the prevailing winds and plays host to a huge and beautiful Rosa banksiae f.lutea. While we admired the impressive collection of trees and shrubs, Sálvador described the system of irrigation which ensures that they flourish. A nearby mountain lake supplies water to the local area and the garden uses drip irrigation (extended in 2014 because of the dry summer) from this source.

Cupressus sempervirens and Rosa banksiae f. lutea

Photinia × fraseri ‘Red Robin’

Berberis thunbergii

He then led us slowly down the various terraces, naming the trees and shrubs. Near the top we saw fine examples of cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), Pinus canariensis and oaks, including Quercus pubescens and Q. macrocarpa. Among the flowering shrubs were Photinia × fraseri‘Red Robin’, Viburnum opulus and ceanothus (in pink and blue forms). Here too we noticed Berberis thunbergii and Cotinus coggygria, showing Sálvador's predeliction for red foliage. As we descended the slope, the shelter provided by the trees increased until we reached the level where the casita is situated, among attractive trees such as ginkgo, liquidambar, copper beech and Quercus polymorpha (of interest because the new and older leaves differ in shape). Here also were roses, lilacs, philadelphus, irises, gladioli, self-sown Lathyrus odoratus and many attractive wild plants, including wild arum (which unfortunately attracts local wild boars). From this level one can follow paths through massed acanthuses right down to the stream-filled valley.

The casita and Fraxinus ornus in flower

Lathyrus odoratus

When we were finally sated with plants, we settled near the casita to enjoy our picnic lunches and the treats provided by our hosts Sálvador and Paco. We much enjoyed hearing more about their arboretum and about the gardens of Valencia. Sálvador told us more of the history of the Jardín de Montforte, known historically by its title in valenciano as L'hort de Romero (Romero's orchard) in honour of its creator, Juan Bautista Romero. He also explained that the Valencia Botanic Garden has such an exceptional collection of plants because it was the first garden in mainland Spain to receive recently-discovered plants from the Americas, after they had been tried in the Botanic Garden 'La Orotava' on Tenerife. We are very lucky to have such a knowledgeable professional gardener among us.

As we sat talking in the tranquil shade of the many mature trees and among beautiful flowering shrubs, nightingales sang. It was a fitting end to a truly memorable visit.

Text by Carol Hawes
Photographs by Alan Hawes

March 2015
Visit to a garden in the Montgó Nature Reserve, and a botanical walk, both to enjoy the wild flowers and to check on regeneration after a recent fire

On March 28th about twenty members and friends gathered in the garden of Beate and Karl Henz, which occupies 22,000 square metres of the driest part of the La Plana area of the Montgó Nature Reserve. Originally the land was used for agriculture and planted with olives, carobs, almonds and vines, but now most of the plot, as it slopes upward away from the house, is covered with a mature mixture of pines, olives, rhamnus, arbutus, kermes oak, cistus, lentiscus, figs, laurel and some Chamaerops humilis. Where there is space and light, smaller plants thrive, such as the orchid Ophrys lutea and Drimia maritima (formerly Urginea maritima). It has taken ten years' work by the owners and their inspired landscape gardener to create paths, giving access to the furthest parts of the garden, and retaining walls to enclose beds for decorative planting nearer the house. Some tall washingtonia palms and cypress trees give height to the large paved terraces around the house, where decorative succulents are extensively used to minimise the need for irrigation. We all enjoyed exploring the garden and identifying the trees, shrubs and flowering plants shown on the list provided by Beate.

Shady paths were created through the pine woodland

Ophrys lutea grows in small patches of sun in the woodland

Succulents were planted in the raised beds near the house

Later, we drove towards the Cabo de San Antonio, to view the area where the vegetation was destroyed by a serious (and deliberate) fire last September. We were pleased to see that the land had been cleared of debris and that many small plants were taking advantage of the lack of tree cover to thrive. Our knowledgable guide, Pedro Moya, pointed out many beautiful plants and identified them for us. Those with cameras found them impossible to resist. Particularly lovely were Minuartia geniculata (syn. Rhodalsine geniculata), Gladiolus illyricus, Galactites tomentosa, Asphodelus fistulosus, Echium creticum and Oxalis pes-caprae, nestling amongst the rocky outcrops.

The area cleared after the fire provides opportunities for regeneration

Minuartia geniculata

Lastly, we returned to the area near to the garden visited earlier and walked along the shady road past the picturesque Sanctuario towards 'Los Molinos', a set of restored windmills perched on the edge of the plateau. In the shade we saw some exquisite flowers of Moraea sisyrinchium (syn. Iris sisyrinchium), and out in the sun by the windmills the established vegetation was in full flower, with many bushes of Lavandula dentata, and Malva subovata (syn. Lavatera maritima), amongst which we saw bright clusters of Pallenis maritima (syn. Asteriscus maritimus). The views from this spot, down to the sea and Jávea, were spectacular.

Moraea sisyrinchium

Lavandula dentata and Malva subovata

Pallenis maritima

The warm temperatures and some welcome rain had combined this spring to produce a wonderful display of wild flowers and we felt privileged to have been shown so many of them.

Text by Carol Hawes
Photographs by Alan Hawes

November 2014
Visit to the Arboretum of Sálvador Pastor at Ráfol de Salem in the Vall D’Albaida

The word arboretum, i.e. a collection of trees, is now more commonly used for a collection of woody plants intended at least partly for scientific purposes.

Ten members of the branch visited this arboretum to enjoy its autumn colours. Sálvador is a professional horticulturist and Head Gardener of the Montfort Garden in Valencia. The arboretum is located on two sites outside the village, one being more private than the other. Both parts were established in 1994.

Trees planted in rows

The first part we visited (which is open to the people of the village) is planted on two levels in formal rows, the upper level having shallower soil than the lower one. The seeds for the three species of trees were collected locally, sown in 1994, and planted out in 1995. The main planting consists of Fraxinus ornus and Celtis australis, with the odd Quercus faginea (called Valencian oak in this region) and Pinus halepensis.

Fraxinus ornus and Celtis australis

Fraxinus ornus (manna ash) occurs in the shadowy areas of the calcareous mountains of the Mediterranean Basin, usually close to ravines and seasonal watercourses. It colonises well both from seed in open spaces or vegetatively. This provides variation in the nature of the trees. F. ornus grows up to ten metres with showy white flowers. In Spain it grows only in the Valencia region, but it is also found in Corsica, Sardinia, Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.

Fraxinus ornus set against the autumnal sky

Celtis australis (Mediterranean hackberry) has smooth grey, almost elephant-like, bark. It has a dark grey-green leaf with the colour changing to pale yellow in autumn. This tree is drought-tolerant due to its deeply-spreading roots, and it is happiest in hot summers with good sunlight. It is a popular tree for wildlife and occurs in Southern Europe.

Quercus faginea is a species of oak which is native to the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic Islands.
These trees combined gave great autumn colour with the reds of the Fraxinus and the yellows of the Celtis, along with the bark of this tree, all contrasting with the Quercus and Pinus species.

General view of the second area

The second area has a more private setting, with a fine collection of woody plants which is protected from the westerly winds by a Cupressus sempervirens hedge with Rosa banksiae climbing up the trees.

Platanus x hispanica

This garden was planted with a number of specimen trees and shrubs including a fine Platanus x hispanica (syn. P. x acerifolia) planted in 1995 and a lovely specimen of Pinus canariensis with a Magnolia grandiflora planted next to it. Other specimens included Quercus pubescens, Q. macrocarpa, Q. ilex, and Q. polymorpha (Mexican white oak), Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree), Populus alba (white poplar), and a fine specimen of Calocedrus decurrens (syn. Libocedrus decurrens), theincense cedar. On the steep slopes leading down to the stream there were more Celtis and Populus, and a Juglans regia (walnut) with a spreading crown, a lovely deciduous tree underplanted with Acanthus mollis, which has a stately upright habit. There were also Ginkgo biloba and Crataegus monogyna (hawthorn) which were interplanted with shrubs to add form and colour.

Pinus canariensis and a Magnolia grandiflora in the foreground

The autumn colours in this area stemmed from the reds of the Platanus x hispanica, Fraxinus ornus, Viburnum lantana, Nandina domestica, and Berberis thunbergii (syn. B. thunbergii var. atropurpurea), and the yellows and oranges from Acer platanoides, Celtis and Cotinus coggygria.

Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea

Throughout the garden the colours contrasted beautifully with the evergreen Pinus, Quercus, Cupressus, Calocedrus and palms, and Cydonia oblonga (quince), which although deciduous were still bearing leaves.

Other notable plants in this garden were the Ceanothus xGloire de Versailles’ still in flower, Viburnum tinus and Washingtonia palms.
All in all it is a very attractive garden, and a pleasure to see autumn colours in this part of Spain.

Ceanothus x delileanus ‘Gloire de Versailles’

Text by John Male
Photographs by Valery and Roger Brown

October 2014
Visit to Valencia – Jardines de Monforte and Botanic Garden

Now that the seemingly interminable hot and dry summer was over, the thirteen members who made their way to Valencia on October 11th were pleased to enjoy warm autumnal sunshine while visiting two of the best gardens in the city.

The Palacete de Monforte and its most intimate garden

We began the day in the gardens of the Palacete y Jardines de Monforte, which were created in the mid-nineteenth century by the architect Sebastián Monleón Estellés for a wealthy Valencian landowner, Juan Bautista Romero. The 12,000m2 plot was an old orchard outside the city, and in one corner a small summer residence was built, from which the carefully created vistas and garden features could be enjoyed. Near the attractive neoclassical-style mansion the planting is very formal, with many intricate hedges forming patterns (to be viewed from above) and some fine marble statues. Rows of clipped cylindrical Cupressus sempervirens frame this area very attractively. Nearby there is a rosaleda, with colourful roses in beds edged with clipped evergreen hedges, leading to a long, shady, bougainvillea-covered pergola against an original outside wall of the garden.

The shady bougainvillea-covered pergola

Further from the house the design gradually becomes more informal, with many splendid large trees shading the winding walks which intersect pleasingly at small statues or fountains. A large marble-edged pool is encircled and shaded by weeping cypresses and grey-green casuarinas, which give it a very cool and sombre aspect. There is an artificial mound in this 'romantic' area, with paths that circle and climb to a place from which, originally, views of the peaceful fields of the Valencian huerta (orchards and vegetable fields) could have been seen. Set into the side of the mound, among rocks and old intertwining tree trunks, is a cool fern-filled grotto. The overall tone of the gardens is restrained, with many shades of green provided by the large variety of trees, hedges and underplantings. We noted fine specimens of Pinus pinea, Ceiba speciosa and statuesque, ancient yuccas. Pittosporum tobira is found both as a small tree and as one of the various species used as evergreen hedges, while acanthus, clivias and ivy are common underplantings. Occasional splashes of colour are provided by bushes of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and tall cannas.

The dark waters of the shady, marble-edged pool

The fern-filled grotto below ancient yuccas

Although the gardens are now entirely surrounded by modern developments, the many tall trees ensure that they retain an atmosphere of tranquillity, and they are much appreciated by those seeking a beautiful place to escape the city bustle. These gardens were designed to give pleasure, and they do so charmingly.

By contrast, the Botanic Garden has many different ambitions: it houses important collections of plants of all kinds from all over the world; it is active in plant research and conservation, and it aims to educate visitors and involve local citizens through exhibitions and lectures, while providing a green space where nature can be enjoyed to the full. The garden is owned by the University of Valencia and it began its life as a medicinal garden in the 16th century. In 1802 it was moved to its current location and the main collections were begun. After a decline in the 20th century, a major refurbishment was started in 1987 and completed in 2000.

The soaring trunks of Brachychiton discolor

At the beginning of our visit one of our very knowledgeable members, Pedro Moya, explained in his clear Spanish the reasoning behind the design of the planting areas, which show the evolution of plants through time, and told us about some of the major collections. The beneficial climate of Valencia allows plants to grow extremely well and some trees have reached astonishing sizes. We were amazed by two enormous multi-trunked Brachychiton discolor and some majestic Magnolia grandiflora covered in seedpods. Also eye-catching were beautiful Ceiba speciosa, covered in pink orchid-like flowers, and a large flowering Brachychiton acerifolius. There were many impressive palms (in which the garden specializes), growing healthily and in great variety in the open garden. We noticed species from many different genera including Sabal, Brahea, Caryota, Livistona and Archontophoenix, some in flower or with their distinctive fruits.

A fine Archontophoenix cunninghamiana in flower

There is a small (but historic) palm house for tropical palms and a tropical glasshouse (built in 1861) for rainforest plants. An iron-lattice shadehouse (umbráculo), rebuilt in 1990, features attractive displays of shade-loving plants. Ferns, orchids, bromeliads and carnivorous plants each have their own small glasshouses.

The spacious modern shadehouse (umbráculo)

A rare drought-tolerant tree Dichrostachys cinerea flowering amongst aloes

Some areas are devoted to plants from specific climatic zones. There are many examples of plants from the Mediterranean region and, in the large area dedicated to drought-tolerant plants, there are interesting collections of agaves, aloes, cacti, euphorbias and other succulents together with some very unusual flowering trees. There are also areas of the garden filled with flowering shrubs, medicinal plants, citrus and other fruit trees, and with vegetables.

We spent hours wandering the paths and exploring the plantings and we discovered some unexpected inhabitants. Unusually, the Botanic Garden also contains a collection of fifty cats, in all colours, who add a final decorative touch. They are very well cared for by holding a fund-raising exhibition of paintings of cats, which some of us enjoyed visiting.

Eventually, even the most enthusiastic among us had to admit that another visit would be necessary to see everything on offer. We left with the firm intention of revisiting both gardens in the not too distant future.

Text by Carol Hawes
Photographs by Alan Hawes

June 2014
Visit to André Spiekerman’s Jardín de los Sentidos in Altea and to El Bótanico at Sagra

In the Costa Blanca area of southern Spain, in June, one of the prime requirements of a beautiful garden is shade. This year particularly, the sky has been clear and blue practically every day. Thankfully, the two gardens we visited for this meeting were well provided with mature trees, allowing members to relax in the shelter they afforded from the sun’s glare.

From the entrance area, the visitor descends quickly into the ravine

Here in the ravine, stream-side plants revel in the shade and humidity

The first garden – Jardín de los Sentidos (Garden of the Senses) in Altea – has been developed by its artistic owner over a period of 26 years. His continual attention to details of planting and design over this period has resulted in a garden with great charm. The visitor is immediately among narrow winding paths, shaded by lush planting chosen to create a tropical effect, with a great variety of shades of green and texture (palm and pine trees, cycads, figs, agave, ivy), and at every turn is diverted by interesting or amusing effects or objects placed to catch the eye. One descends gradually to the bottom of the ravine, where there is a small, continually-running stream (a rare thing in this very dry area) providing a cool humid atmosphere ideal for sub-tropical stream-side planting, including bamboos, Alocasia macrorrhizos, Zantedeschia aethiopica andCyperus papyrus. A sunny bank around a pond was colourful with flowers of Plumbago auriculata (syn. P. capensis), Brugmansia, Ipomoea and Bougainvillea. Back up out of the ravine, in a more open area with ‘dry’ planting (with agaves, Xanthorrhoea, dasylirions and yuccas), several thatched shelters create a variety of relaxing places to sit. The visitor can enjoy refreshments with a view over the ravine – the owner serves a wide range of teas, as well as coffee and a choice of cakes. Members had to be stirred out of a state of peace and relaxation to go to the next garden.

Above a pond, the increased light allows a colourful display

Several thatched shelters create a variety of relaxing places to sit

The owner serves a wide range of teas, as well as coffee and a choice of cakes in a pavilion by the entrance

The second garden - El Botanico in Sagra – has been created in an arboretum that was planted 50 years ago, and which has been loved and developed by subsequent owners. The huge trees have a powerful presence and create an atmosphere of peace and calm, as well as providing shade and protection from the sun. As well as a wide range of conifers and palms, there are various species of Araucaria, Ceiba (syn. Chorisia), Brachychiton, Ficus, Yucca and Strelitzia, with underplanting of Hibiscus, Philodendron, ferns, and a range of tropical fruit trees. The present owners take advantage of the benign environment created by this mature planting to provide accommodation to visitors who desire quiet and relaxation by hiring out four stylish and beautifully appointed casitas spread through the garden.

The entrance to El Bótanico, with deep shade from mature trees and lush underplanting

One of the casitas, illustrating the combination of bright colours and shade

The way that a ‘natural’ atmosphere is maintained in this garden is exemplified by the use of local spring water in the casitas’ swimming pool, which is subsequently used to irrigate the garden. The owners also produce a range of naturally-grown fruit and vegetables from the garden for the use of guests. They provided us with a delicious paella lunch, in front of one of the casitas, in an open-air setting in the shade of pine trees. It would have been very easy to settle in and relax, rather than driving off home, at the end of our visit.

The buildings are hidden among the trees, which provide shade and a peaceful environment

The casita where we enjoyed our paella lunch

Text and photographs by Alan Hawes

May 2014
Visit to Granada and Córdoba

This long-awaited trip was the result of a lot of hard work and planning by MGS member Pedro José Moya and Branch head Edith Haeuser. It began with a vista-filled journey travelling down to Granada in a minibus driven by Pedro, arriving in the old quarter of Granada in the late afternoon.

There we met the remainder of the group who had travelled independently. Our group now consisted of a diverse mix of ten people: not only our own branch members, but also members from other MGS branches (Catalonia, France and the UK) and, more interestingly, of different nationalities (Spanish, Swiss, German, French and British). Language was not a problem: we were able to communicate well with each other as we could all speak some or all of the required languages. Our common interest in Mediterranean plants was the over-riding factor.

On the first day we visited the Alhambra Palace and the Generalife. To enhance our limited time there, we had a personal guide who introduced us to the history of the Alhambra, the Generalife and surrounding areas. As our interest was in plants, she attempted to give us as much plant detail as possible while we walked through the gardens to the Nasrid Palaces and beyond. In the Generalife gardens we were impressed by the traditional layout with roses and orange trees providing the backbone of this garden area along with exciting seasonal colour. At every level we reached, the views below became more stunning.

The Alhambra and Generalife Palaces and gardens v iewed from the Albayzín, the old Moorish district

One of the interior patios of the Generalife Palace

A detail of the beautiful Moorish architecture of the Patio de los Leones in the Alhambra Palace

We then walked a fair distance towards the Nasrid Palaces, passing under a huge oleander-covered tunnel, the Paseo de las Adelfas. Many photographs were taken of the spectacular Islamic architecture, the courtyards and planting while we learnt a little about the history of the Palaces. A special lunch inspired by Moorish history and flavours was enjoyed at the famous Alhambra Parador.

The second visit of the day was to a former private carmen (garden) located on the same hill as the Alhambra, the Carmen de la Fundación Rodríguez-Acosta. This is a twentieth-century house with steeply-terraced gardens in the art deco style and it was the studio of artist José María Rodríguez-Acosta. Its modernist, simple, angular lines, concrete hard landscaping and minimalistic (predominately green) planting was a stark contrast to the opulence of the Alhambra that we had just visited.

The perfect start to the second day was a visit to the Carmen de los Mártires, a former ancient monastery which had been converted into an art nouveau residence. The garden featured many different areas, all quite distinctive, ranging from a romantic garden complete with lake and island folly to woodland and formal gardens. Next we visited the ancient upper Albayzín area on the hillside opposite the Alhambra. As we walked, our guide related more of the history of this area. We were taken on a private visit to the 16th- century closed convent of Santa Isabel La Real on the site of a former mosque, then on to another private carmen. We enjoyed lunch alfresco at a beautiful carmen restaurant with spectacular views across to the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada beyond. A transfer by chauffeured minibus took us in the late afternoon to Córdoba, for the second stage of the trip.

The formal palm garden in the Carmen de los Mártires in Granada

Some members of the group enjoying a relaxing outdoor lunch in the Albayzín

As a precursor to the main Patio Tour on the third day, some of the group had an early morning walk into the nearby atmospheric Judería. We briefly visited the ancient synagogue and the patio of the Casa Árabe, which is now a restored public building and museum. Later in the morning we met up with the rest of the group and our guide who was to take us on the long-awaited tour to a selection of private residential patios. There are literally hundreds all around the city within six main zones and we visited the Alcázar Viejo zone just inside the ancient walls of the city. This is primarily a traditional residential area with small shady plazas, many with jacaranda trees just starting to flower. Everything was at its absolute best, as our visit had been planned to coincide with the famous annual Patio Festival. There was a palpable competitive spirit in the air between the patio residents competing for the many awards: not a deadhead in sight nor a petal out of place. Various styles of patio were to be seen. They ranged from the traditional, where pelargonium-filled pots were displayed on every available centimetre of wall or floor space, to others which were modern and minimalist. These offered a more unusual choice of plants and the design element was more important.

One of the stunning traditional patios seen on the Patio Tour in Córdoba

An unexpected encounter during the Patio Tour

Another splendid lunch was enjoyed – this time an authentic full ‘Córdoban’ meal.
The afternoon was devoted to visiting the twelve courtyard gardens of the Palacio de Viana. It was a particular highlight of the trip, as many had never been there before. Everything was in a grand style, but on a small scale, well-maintained, every patio unique and special, created at different periods from medieval times up to the 21st century. They were all equally beautiful and distinctive with magnificent plants providing all-year-round colour and interest.

The impressive entrance courtyard of the Palacio de Viana

On the following day we joined our guide on the ancient Roman bridge over the Guadalquivir river. We walked to the nearby gardens of the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and learnt its history along the way. The first view of this beautiful formal garden was from the higher level of the castle grounds, where we looked down at the terraced Patio Morisco and the long pools with delicate jets of crossing water. It had a calm and gentle ambience that encouraged the visitor to take time to enjoy every detail of the colourful, informal planting within the formal framework of this garden. Next we had an excellent guided tour of the Mezquita. We were able to benefit from an interesting insight into the history of this famous mosque-cathedral while also having ample time for quiet enjoyment and contemplation of this truly impressive historical building.

The Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, viewed from the formal garden below

A moment of peace to contemplate the beauty of the Mezquita de Córdoba

Lunch was a welcome break from the heat of the day in another authentic restaurant nearby. Afterwards we were taken to the Real Jardín Botánico de Córdoba, where we spent the late afternoon and early evening exploring. This botanical garden is jointly managed by the University of Córdoba and the city, which ensures that this important garden is accessible to the public. It is divided into fourteen main areas, with emphasis on research and education,via both on-site museums and practical hands-on sensory experience of the plants. In this garden one could appreciate the benefit to the plants of the neutral soil in the area as the leaves were lush and dark green, as we had noticed everywhere in the city. We all greatly enjoyed this visit, so much that some of the group simply could not tear themselves away and elected to stay longer, until they were asked politely to leave at closing time.

This trip was really quite special: I can’t wait to go there again. I will endeavour to give more details of the wonderful plants and their beautiful settings in a future article for the Journal.
Many thanks once again to Pedro and Edith for their infectious enthusiasm throughout the trip and their desire for all of us to enjoy it.

Text and photographs by Karen Leathers

May 2014
Visit to the two gardens of Julio Lacarra López and Ximo Sánchez Bruñé at Ráfol de Salem in the Vall d'Albaida

A large group of members visited these gardens near Gandía, just north of the Costa Blanca. Julio Lacarra lectures on horticulture at the University of Valencia, and he studies the Andalusian, Persian, and Moroccan influences within this field; Ximo has been a professional gardener for many years and a specialist in restoring impoverished land.

They have two gardens, the first started 23 years ago. Over this period, the trees and shrubs have grown to such an extent that there was so little light and space left for new planting that they decided to create a new garden opposite the original one, in which many roses, shrubs, medicinal, herbal and poisonous plants are set. This garden was built on two broad terraces, with the rose garden on the upper level and the orchard on the lower one. The beautiful green mountains of the Vall d’Albaida form the backdrop for these gardens.

Under the canopy of Rosa ‘La Sevillana’and grape vines
(Photo by Edith Haeuser)

Paeonia officinalis
(Photo by Camilla Sorgatz)

Paeonia officinalis set against the green background of Taxus baccata
(Photo by Joan/Tom Birch)

Climbing roses grow over a series of tunnels with R. 'La Sevillana' being the main specimen on one side, with vines on the other side to create a canopy. When fully grown this will look stunning. As under-planting for the tunnels, they chose Taxus baccata, used as low hedging, and inter-planted with Paeonia officinalis in various colours. Julio explained that with the lack of rain this year the flowering has been rapid and short, but there were still some gorgeous blossoms. The tunnels have been used to form a boundary in which a large parterre consisting of a circle and a rectangle has been created. The rectangle is planted with a mass of Iris x germanica, but the flowering period was at the beginning of April.

R. ‘André le Nôtre’, a hybrid tea rose
(Photo by Joan/Tom Birch)

Rose from Shiraz, Iran
(Photo by Joan/Tom Birch)

On the opposite side, a hedge of Viburnum tinus is interplanted with roses. At the far end of the rose garden, when heading towards the lower terrace, there was a stunning Meilland rose named ‘André leNôtre’, some damask roses with their unmistakable fragrance, and an interesting pink rose from the town of Shiraz in Iran. While wandering through the rose garden, we were aware of a nightingale singing in the trees. The reason that the plant material grows so successfully here is the microclimate, with cold, wet and fresh weather from October to April. An additional reason is probably the fact that these two gardens are not watered with a drip system but with the traditional flooding system used in medieval Moorish times.

Hypericum perfoliatum - macerated in olive oil it is a popular disinfectant,
while as an infusion it is used as an antidepressant
(Photo by Joan/Tom Birch)

We descended from the Rose Garden into the Fruit Garden, where the owners originally tried to grow vegetables as well, but had to give that up due to the abundance of rabbits. On entering this area, there is an avenue formed by a row of Punica granatum interplanted with Cydonia oblonga on the left side, and Acanthus mollis, Ginkgo biloba, Viburnum tinus, Spiraea cantoniensis and Cercis siliquastrum on the other. There are also specimens of both Ficus carica and Prunus avium, the wildcherry, and peonies planted in rows, more like a nursery bed. There was also a beautiful clump of Lilium candidum, theMadonna lily, which is widely used in Spanish gardens. The end of the lower garden is accentuated by a lovely specimen of Eriobotrya japonica.

When the sun was at its zenith, we entered through a gateway with an old wooden door, almost a hidden garden entrance, framed by an Arbutus unedo and a Cupressus sempervirens. Behind the gate we were met with refreshing shade and mature green planting, lush with various forms and textures: Ruscus hypophyllum, ivy, viburnum and ferns. The canopy is formed by cypresses, Taxus and palms.

Ruscus hypophyllum
(Photo by Joan/Tom Birch)

A winding terracotta path led us to a series of pavilions and terraces with water features and viewpoints to enjoy the lower level of the garden. Along the walls of the pavilions, there are many potted plants, such as Clivia miniata, Aspidistra elatior, Ruscus aculeatus, and some interesting air plants hanging from branches, some of them in flower, one with vibrant blue blossoms – something I had never seen before. The terraces and pavilions were painted in so-called Valencian blue and Venetian red. As we walked through the garden, it became increasingly atmospheric, with the mature planting offering shade, and views of the lower part of the garden with the main water feature in the centre, an octagonal-shaped water reservoir. At the second pavilion we were offered an apéritif, which was generous of our hosts, but it also enabled us to stop and absorb the atmosphere and beauty of this garden.

Afterwards we walked along the back of the third pavilion where there are many plants in pots, mainly peonies and succulents – part of their propagation programme, along with staging and benches for them. It became obvious that Julio and Ximo are plantsmen. From there we began what I would call a circular woodland walk. One of the features in this Mediterranean wood were the many species of Quercus, Q. robur, Q. faginea, Q. polymorpha, among others, which they had obviously propagated, but also Chamaerops humilis, a Washingtonia and a Brahea armata (Mexican blue palm).

Tillandsia aeranthos
(Photo by Joan/Tom Birch)

A flight of steps leading to the lower level has a special water feature, namely a small canal in the railing running down the balustrade to cool your hands – an echo of the Alhambra gardens. The decorative water reservoir is encircled by mature cypress trees, with exuberant roses climbing through them, another stunning feature. Further back there are Ginkgo biloba, Cercis siliquastrum, Viburnum opulus, Liquidambar styraciflua - the American sweetgum – one of my favourite trees for autumn colour, and large washingtonias. The underplanting in this completely shady area includes a number of Paeonia x suffruticosa, obviously a passion of the owners. The whole bank between the terrace of the upper level and the lower part is covered with Acanthus mollis, which looked superb.

The bank covered in Acanthus mollis
(Photo by Edith Haeuser)

The atmospheric old garden
(Photo by Joan/Tom Birch)

I was lucky enough to visit this garden last November when the autumn colour of Liquidambar and Viburnum opulus were showing their fiery reds, the Ginkgo biloba trees their beautiful yellow, and the tree peonies giving some colour, too. Autumn colour is a rare sight in a Mediterranean garden.

In my opinion, these are two outstanding gardens, lovingly created, with the older garden providing shade, atmosphere and many green textures, and the new garden offering its colour and openness to the landscape, the use of roses, peonies and irises as its main plants, and with the lower terrace devoted to fruit trees.
Text by John Male

April 2014
Visit to the Botanic Garden at the Estación Biológica Ibi-Torretes

A group of seventeen members met at the Jardín Botánico on this bright and breezy April morning. We wanted to learn more about the important work on the genus Narcissus and to see the newly-established arboretum, to which the branch has donated six trees.

Professor Segundo Ríos Ruiz, the director of the Estación, welcomed us with a highly detailed and interesting lecture on the research being carried out here on the morphology and cultivation of the many different species of narcissi, the majority of which are endemic to Spain and Portugal. (The information in this talk could inspire a future article for the Journal.) It has been discovered that extracts from these bulbs can be used to ameliorate the effects of Alzheimer’s disease (as can extracts from bulbs of Galanthus and Leucojum species). However, the best narcissus bulbs for this purpose are those of wild species, not domesticated ‘garden’ cultivars, and so it has become important to be able to reproduce these species in cultivation and in large numbers. This is not proving easy, and several methods are being trialled. However, Segundo hopes to be able to establish and maintain a collection containing the most important species and to liaise with other individuals and organisations to share knowledge and plants. He told us, rather wryly, that Dutch growers had not been willing to divulge their propagation techniques. It is vital work, as wild populations are being stripped by unscrupulous people for their high sale price. We were able to view the propagation greenhouse and demonstration beds outside, where a few of these beautiful, diminutive bulbs were in flower.

Narcissus rupicola growing in one of the demonstration beds
Photograph by Alan Hawes

Narcissus rupicola
Photograph by Edith Haeuser

We then walked up the hillside behind the greenhouses, which is the site for the new Arboretum. It has good soil, so that the long-term growth of the trees should be ensured, and it has been ingeniously planned so that the evolution of trees during hundreds of millions of years, through cycads, ginkgos, yews and conifers, can be appreciated as you wind your way along the gently ascending zigzag paths.

A view of the greenhouses and the lower slopes of the arboretum
Photograph by Alan Hawes

Seedlings growing in the Narcissus propagation greenhouse
Photograph by Alan Hawes

Exploring the newly planted terraces of the arboretum
Photograph by Alan Hawes

The original wide terraces up the hill are being thoughtfully planted with a wide range of beautiful and interesting specimens, donated by individuals, organisations and companies who wish to contribute to this impressive project. Trees are labelled with the donors’ names, and donors are given an official certificate of thanks.
The six trees donated by members of our branch were chosen from the campaign list of one hundred by Pedro Moya, a member from Alicante. He selected them to represent, to some extent, the global membership of the MGS, while including some unusual trees not often seen in more conventional botanic gardens. The trees chosen were: Abies x masjoannis, a naturally occurring fir hybrid recently found in a nursery in Cataluña; Picea abies, the Norway spruce, frequently used as a Christmas tree; a black pine from the interior of Spain considered here to be Pinus nigra subsp. hispanica; Pinus strobus, the Weymouth pine, one of the principal American conifers; Juniperus thurifera, an unusual European conifer suited to extreme climatic conditions; and Cryptomeria japonica (syn. C. japonica f. araucarioides), an important tree from China and Japan, in a form where its growth resembles that of an araucaria.

Juniperus thurifera, in Spanish sabina albar, donated by our branch
Photograph by Edith Haeuser

Abies x masjoannis, donated by our branch
Photograph by Edith Haeuser

The upper edge of the botanic garden with rosemary bushes in full bloom a
nd a gorgeous Juniperus oxycedrus and Pinus halepensis in the background
Photograph by Alan Hawes

We were pleased to see five of ‘our’ six trees happily settled, while the last is due to arrive soon. There is a plan to plant deciduous trees further up the hillside in the future, providing a wonderful prospect from the lower levels.

We were reluctant to leave the garden, having much enjoyed the company of Segundo (who is so knowledgeable and passionate about his work), but some of us were keen to explore and walk to the top of the hill (l’Escalet) and others, to rest and enjoy an excellent lunch at the nearby restaurant.
Altogether an excellent and inspiring day.

Text by Carol Hawes
Photographs by Alan Hawes and Edith Haeuser

April 2014
Visit to a garden designed by Jan van Eijle in Jávea and to the garden of Nico and Cora Dekkers in Teulada

On the morning of April 25th, Jan van Eijle of ‘Jardín Sostenible’ showed a group of thirteen members around one of his recently-designed gardens in Jávea. When bought by the present owners, the garden structure was complete, but extremely uninteresting, filled with common, unexciting plants. The influential Mexican architect Luis Barragán once said that ‘colour is imperative for adding that touch of magic to an area’. The same thought inspired Jan to bring this garden to life by introducing strong contrasting colours - cobalt blue, deep pink and glowing orange. He has applied this idea both to the hard landscaping (plain concrete steps and planters on several levels of the steeply-sloping site) and to the plants themselves, always contrasting plant colours with that of the structure.

The focal point of the entrance courtyard

Exuberant planting in contrasting forms and colours

In the small entrance courtyard between the house and the road, Jan has placed a mature, clipped carob tree as a focal point next to a small pool, with a fountain to provide the continuous murmur of water. Further along, the outside wall is thickly covered in bright pink Bougainvillea, with the contrasting blue/mauve flowers of Duranta erecta, Rotheca myricoides (syn. Clerodendrum ugandense), Alyogyne hakeifolia, Vitex trifolia 'Purpurea', and Convolvulus sabatius below. The silver and grey leaves of Echium candicans, Salvia officinalis, rosemary and lavender add a welcome coolness to the mix of foliage. These plants are enclosed by low walls painted a luscious cobalt blue, and the similarly-coloured concrete planters which descend the slope on this side of the house flank bright pink steps.

Colour scheme inspired by Mexican architecture

Jan has planted a wide selection of pink-flowered shrubs, including Anisodontea, Pimelea, Raphiolepis and Hibiscus, and herbaceous plants to contrast with the blue walls. A hedge of Myoporum laetum and mature evergreen figs give shelter and shade, and colourful evergreen shrubs such as Photinia ‘Red Robin’, red Cordyline australis and clipped myrtle provide solidity to the planting.

The steps descend to the lowest area of the garden, below the house and pool, where a plainly-paved terrace with an open aspect from the houses below has been ingeniously enhanced with a feature screen of oxidised steel, which partially blocks the view. The circular openings in the metal contain troughs into which eye-catching succulents have been introduced. The ‘circle’ theme echoes the shape of the planting holes of the several mature Phoenix canariensis palms and of the globes of mauve-flowering bougainvillea. Jan plans to install a multi-faceted mirror along the back wall of the terrace to provide another focus of interest.

The lower terrace and feature screen

Strong colours heighten the impact of the striking plants

On the far side of the terrace, there is another set of planter-edged steps, which ascend following the other side of the house to the top courtyard. Here Jan has used orange for the steps between walls alternately pink and orange, and has selected plants with orange or pink flowers, such as Grevillea robusta, Metrosideros, Punica granatum, Leonotis, Strelitzia, Arctotis, Gazania, Clivia and Hemerocallis.

This garden is truly a feast for the eyes. It is difficult to imagine a more fundamental change made to the attractiveness of a garden by the use of little more than a few pots of paint and an informed and artistic approach to the choice and arrangement of plants. This garden is a triumph of design over plain practicality.

Cora Dekkers introduces us to her garden

As a complete contrast, our second garden of the day enjoys wide-open views of the sea and the hills surrounding Teulada. Its owners, Cora and Nico Dekkers, selected the 11,000-square-metre site for the joint benefits of the fine views and easy access to the shops and railway station below. Unfortunately the soil on which the house was built in 2001 is extremely alkaline and infertile, and this has limited both the choice of plants and the rate at which they will grow with minimal irrigation. However, Cora and Nico have adapted their style of gardening to the conditions, and have learnt to appreciate to the full the plants that grow happily there. The native wild flowers have been encouraged by clearing the competing gorse, and appear in wide variety, including an impressive number of native orchids.

The terrace, on which the attractive house and pool stand, holds the main ‘garden’ where the most exotic plants are situated. There are several themed areas, including a succulent garden (with Ceiba and Ziziphus jujuba among aloes, agaves, and aeoniums), a citrus garden, a raised planting area by the pool with mixed shrubs and underplanting, and a lawn area with fine, mature Washingtonia robusta and Phoenix canariensis. On this level, one can identify the single theme which links this garden with the previous one - Cora, too, loves cobalt blue, and has a fine collection of glazed pots, glass bottles and many other treasures.

We began our tour by descending to view the five bancales (terraces) below the house, planted with figs, oleanders and olives, whose careful pruning to pleasing forms is important to Cora and Nico. The ground is covered in the naturally-growing grasses and other pretty ‘wildings’, such as Blackstonia perfoliata and Urospermum dalechampii. We returned to the house to enjoy a buffet lunch (and rest and chat) in the various peaceful sitting areas before viewing the higher slopes of the plot.

Digitalis obscura

Anacamptis pyramidalis

Ophrys scolopax (Bee orchid)

These natural terraces are subject to erosion and landslips, such as after the gota fría (sudden extremely heavy rainfall caused by a clash of hot and cold air), which occurred in 2007. Originally covered in gorse, which took five years to eradicate, they are now open grassy areas with just a few vertical accents in the form of Pinus halepensis, Paraserianthes lophantha (syn. Albizia lophantha) or Acacia saligna. They are home to many species of spring-flowering natives, including a wide variety of orchids. We spotted clumps of Linum narbonense, Digitalis obscura, Anacamptis pyramidalis and Ophrys scolopax even after such an abnormally dry winter and spring – in fact, the past seven months have been the driest within the past 150 years, with 85 % less rainfall than what is usual in the northern Costa Blanca region. (Luckily, Nico has amassed a collection of professional photographs of all the orchids they have seen on their plot, which we were pleased to be able to view.)

Descending again towards the house, we passed through other themed plantings of Arbutus unedo, pomegranates and vines (which are very successful and yield sweet muscatel grapes).
This is a garden with a very natural feel, perfectly in keeping with its setting, and a very restful place to end an interesting day.

A very restful place

Text by Carol Hawes
Photographs by Alan Hawes

March 2014
Visit to the garden of Gérard Nicaise and Jacqueline de Bilde and to the Nature Reserve Peñón d’Ifach, both in Calpe

We visited the garden of Gérard Nicaise and Jacqueline de Bilde on a beautiful, warm and sunny day, under a blue sky. Their garden represents nearly 30 years of true plantsman’s work.

This mature garden has an enormous range of plant forms, foliage and flower colour

On entering this botanical paradise, one realises that a work of art has been created by using plants from all over the world. From Mexico to Madagascar, Australia to Africa, the plants flourish in their own microclimate. Tall aloes are underplanted with bulbous plants, e.g. freesias, which are probably self-set. Spiny cacti have bright flowers and a wonderful Kalanchoe citrina mingles with a tall Aloe marlothii. A dramatic plant is Salvia sessei, with bright red, pendulous flowers.

The garden contains many types of kalanchoe, including this Kalanchoe citrina

The larger aloes, such as this Aloe marlothii arch over the paths

Plants clamber up palm trees towards the sunlight, as they do in ancient tropical forests. A Xerosicyos, which is native to Madagascar, climbs up a Washingtoniaand Tillandsia usneoides hangs like hair from deciduous trees. Colour from the pink grevillea and red calliandra fans contrasts with the many cacti and succulents whose names I do not know – yet!

The ‘air plant’ Tillandsia usneoides grows
well in the garden’s special microclimate

Aloe ciliaris was one of many aloes in flower

Euphorbia obesa is one of the smallest species of
many hundreds from this genus in the garden

Euphorbia obesa grows in a small bed, where it can develop undisturbed by more vigorous plants.
Gomphocarpus physocarpus - not our wild G. fruticosus - mingles with two hundred euphorbias from all over the world and with many colours. The garden is heavily mulched with not a single weed in sight. I loved it.

The bright pink flowers of Cleistocactus straussii

A view from the base of the Peñón d’Ifach mountain showing
the lower slopes which we explored searching for wild flowers

During the second part of the day, Pedro Moya, our biologist guide, led us halfway up the Peñón d’ Ifach, a steep rock promontory, on a botanical walk to identify the numerous indigenous plants. Pedro provided work sheets to help us recognise more common wild plants. Silene hifacensis proved elusive, but Hippocrepis valentina and the yellow crucifer Succowia balearica were interesting finds. Pedro explained that ephedrine, a medical substance, can be extracted from Ephedra fragilis. Other interesting plants were Osyris lanceolata with red berries and Rhamnus alaternus in full flower.

An interesting day – some of us even explored the tunnel which leads to the top of the mountain.

Hippocrepis valentina seen on the mountain walk

One of the rarer plants seen on the mountain was Succowia balearica

Text by Joan Birch
Photographs by Tom Birch

December 2013
Visit to the garden of Jacqueline de Bilde and Gérard Nicaise in Calpe and to the garden of Pauline Gale in Jávea

On Thursday December 5th a small but enthusiastic group of members took advantage of the opportunity to visit two small, mature, but very different gardens.
The first garden, in Calpe, is owned by two retired Belgian botanists, Gérard Nicaise and Jacqueline de Bilde, who selected the site with great care as being highly suitable to house their collection of mediterranean-climate succulents. Almost thirty years later, the garden is full of mature specimens of succulents of many genera, underplanted with an amazing mixture of smaller plants, in mulched and weed-free beds, which steadily encroach on the narrow paths, forcing the visitor to tread carefully amongst the many spiny leaves.

Every plant demands and deserves close attention: many are exquisitely branched, almost abstract art-works, while others have a personal history, having been collected by the owners on their botanic expeditions. Some are extremely rare, and Gérard propagates many of his plants, filling his large greenhouse and various quiet corners near the house with hundreds of small pots. (He is very generous too, and we all came away with young plants and material for cuttings.)

While the emphasis is on growing as wide a range of plants as possible (there are some 800 different ones), a special focus is the collection of approximately 200 members of the genus Euphorbia in their multitudinous forms. There are also large numbers of attractive specimens of the genera Cactus, Agave, Aloe, Yucca, Dasylirion, Aeonium, Kalanchoe, Crassula, Cycas, etc.

A fine Yucca rostrata with Crassula and Opuntia undulata

One of the few non-succulent plants, an attractive Salvia sessei

An interesting Gomphocarpus with inflated seed pods, growing
next to a rarely-seen Madagascan Alluaudia

A large Kleinia covered in ripe seed near another unusual Euphorbia

Even the small terrace where we enjoyed coffee and biscuits houses shelves of jewel-like smaller specimens, which are best appreciated at close range. The variety of plants in this small garden is truly incredible and every new visit would afford a different view. Above all, it is a beautiful garden, where the mix of plant forms never jars, and the blending of foliage colours, and of flowers, is harmonious. For me, the visit was a marvellous experience.

A very beautiful Pancratium in a shady corner with small
specimens of Cactus and Euphorbia

A view to the highest point of the garden showing how well the
differing elements of the planting combine together

The terrace walk with many interesting small succulents in pots
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

After an enjoyable lunch on the quiet seafront in Jávea, we drove the short distance to the garden of Pauline Gale, who was an enthusiastic member of the MGS for many years. Her peaceful garden was also begun almost thirty years ago, in the pleasant shade of fairly young pines. Now, however, the few pines remaining (one very close to the house) are so large, and their roots so demanding, that gardening beneath them presents a real challenge.
However, a scheme of raised beds, holding extra soil supported by attractive rocks and contrasting lengths of railway sleeper, in pleasing curved forms, allows a wide variety of fairly drought-tolerant plants to thrive. Succulents such as Aeonium in several colours mix with lavenders, grasses and small shrubs, among taller specimens of Polygala, Metrosideros and two ‘mimosas’ (Acacia dealbata). These beautiful small trees are usually difficult in this area of highly alkaline soils, and Pauline is lucky to have two large specimens, now full of flower buds. (Perhaps they appreciate the acidity of the pine needles?)

A general view with a large Acacia dealbata in the foreground

One of the attractive raised beds, with a wide variety of drought-tolerant plants

The raised seating area with a colourful Agave, Aeonium, and a small Arbutus unedo

The walls surrounding this part of the garden are well-clothed with climbers such as Podranea ricasoliana and a large white night-flowering cactus. In one corner of the garden there is a raised seating area in the shade of a tree-sized specimen of Pittosporum tobira, which offers an alternative view over the mixed plantings. In other areas around the house, we noticed a large lemon tree full of fruit and a mature loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) in flower.

Pauline is also fond of roses, and she has been trying some locally purchased plants in large pots at the front of the house. We had an interesting discussion about the problems of sourcing plants here in Spain as opposed to ordering them from Britain or elsewhere.

It was a very pleasant hour that we spent in this restful garden and a fine end to a most interesting day.

Text by Carol Hawes, photographs by Edith Haeuser unless otherwise stated.

September 2013
Visit to Carol and Alan Hawes' garden in Crevillente, to Moises Grau’s Roman Garden in Catral and to the Moorish Garden in Crevillente

The branch visit to the southern Costa Blanca attracted thirty participants with more members than ever. Carol and Alan Hawes’ garden had recovered with the lower temperatures of September and it was showing a lot of colour in the African and Australian sections, and some in the Americas area. The eucalypts were beginning to bloom. The most notable were Eucalyptus erythrocorys, with yellow flowers and red bud caps, E. leucoxylon subsp. megalocarpa, with glowing red flowers on both mature and young trees, E. torquata, with a few pink flowers, and E. crucis with clusters of white flowers around the stems. The Ceiba (syn. Chorisia) speciosa with its orchid-like flowers was also admired. The Australian grevilleas and callistemons were in full bloom, and a few yellow flowers on Cassia artemisioides remained among the glossy brown seed pods.

Eucalyptus erythrocorys has beautiful yellow flowers and
red buds at this time of year
(Photo by Alan Hawes)

Eucalyptus leucoxylon subsp. megalocarpa flowers well when young
(Photo by Alan Hawes)

The main performers in the African section were the sky-blue Plumbago auriculata (syn. P. capensis), multicoloured Tecoma (syn.Tecomaria) capensis and the pink-flowered climber Podranea ricasoliana.
The most colourful area was the patio garden, where the pergola was covered by the gorgeous lilac-blue blossoms of Thunbergia laurifolia (syn. T. grandiflora), as well as bougainvilleas and Podranea ricasoliana. The beds were full of multicoloured gaillardias.

The top of the pergola with Podranea ricasoliana, Thunbergia laurifolia
and varieties of bougainvillea
(Photo by Alan Hawes)

The large mauve flowers of Thunbergia laurifolia contrast
well with the bracts of Bougainvillea glabra
(Photo by Alan Hawes)

The visit to the next garden consisted of two parts: lunch in the garden of Moisés Grau’s parents, and a visit to his adjacent Roman Garden, still under construction. The first was a traditional Spanish country garden, with generous shade from trees, many plants in pots, such as clivias and aspidistras, and a large cooking area. We were spoilt with a very large home-made paella and many other delicious dishes.

Members and friends enjoying a Spanish lunch in the
tree-shaded garden of Moisés Grau’s parents
(Photo by Karen Leathers)

The Roman Garden has developed since our visit with the Mallorcan branch members in May, with many more large plants established. The palm-frond cover on the pergola provided welcome shade during our visit in the middle of the afternoon. See the March report for a more detailed description.

Moisés explaining the layout of his Roman Garden
(Photo by Alan Hawes)

The Moorish Garden in Crevillente is a worthy favourite for our visits to the south. It was built to reflect the Islamic paradise garden as described in the Qur’an and it is therefore a much more static garden, with no pronounced seasonal change. The element of change and motion is found in the flowing water of the various fountains and streamlets, its murmur heard here and there as one wanders through the various garden rooms, now and then interrupted by the shrill sound of a peacock. All in all it was a long but very happy day.

In the foreground Myoporum tenuifolium on both sides,
Ipomoea cairica cascading over a gated entrance to another
garden room with citrus trees
(Photo by William Haeuser)

View through a grating of a lower garden room with an ancient
Olea europaea and a white bougainvillea
(Photo by William Haeuser)

A pergola, one of several architectural features in this garden, the s
quare form accentuated by Cyperus alternifolius at each corner,
with Jasminum azoricum providing shade, and on the right
the glossy, pinnate leaves of Ziziphus jujuba
(Photo by William Haeuser)

A Moorish fountain surrounded by Ligustrum ovalifolium,
in the background from left to right Asparagus falcatus,
Malvaviscus penduliflorus,
two Washingtonia robusta
palm trees, and purple bougainvillea
(Photo by William Haeuser)

Text by Alan Hawes and William Haeuser.

June 2013
Visit to the Jardín de los Sentidos (Garden of the Senses) in Altea and the Algar Cactus Botanic Garden in Callosa d’en Serrià

On the 12th June twelve members of our branch visited André Spiekerman’s ‘Secret Garden’ at the end of a bumpy lane on the outskirts of Altea. On entering through an old hand-carved Indian door, you come to the Tea House, which overlooks the garden – a profusion of perfumes, colours, forms and sounds greets you, enticing you to explore further. In every corner of the garden you can hear the sound of water from the stream which runs through it, and in each area there are seats inviting you to stop and enjoy the lush scenery. The profusion of shades of green and texture (palm and pine trees, cycads, ficus, agave, ivy) is everywhere, and running through these are the pinks, purples, blues and reds of Bougainvillea, Plumbago auriculata (syn. P. capensis), oleanders, and a pomegranate tree with beautiful crimson blossoms. One of the walls above the pond is covered with exuberant Russelia equisetiformis. On the steep slope behind the four Asian-head-fountains, there is a rainbow of colours: Brugmansia, Bougainvillea, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, Plumbago and Lantana hybrids. The ideal place to enjoy this is from swinging basket seats made of hand-woven cloth under the gazebo covered in Ipomoea indica.

From the Tea House there are views
through lush foliage to the valley below

Paths wind through the valley, repeatedly crossing the stream, and
give access to shady sitting areas, such as this one beneath Ipomoea indica

There are particularly nice specimens of the staghorn fern, epiphytic plants and bromeliads, Strelitzia nicolai, Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo), Araucaria heterophylla, yuccas, and many more.

Still pools of water create a humid atmosphere
ideal for palms, bananas and Strelitzia nicolai

Here and there you see decorative pots, statues, and larger and smaller beetles and grasshoppers made of dry plant material by the owner, organic statues so to speak, hanging in the air or sitting on the ground. Everything in this garden is organic, not just the fertilizers: Plants are supported by various types of bamboo, the railings along the paths are also of bamboo, cocoa shell mulch is used around some delicate plants, and almond shells on many of the paths- very pleasant to walk on

André Spiekerman grew up in Amsterdam, where he also studied at the Plant Flower School before working with florists specializing in tropical plants. He has designed many gardens and travelled widely before settling in Altea twenty-five years ago and creating his paradise garden. It is a fusion of influences from the Far East to Northern Africa, with exciting plants from all over the world, a very sheltered garden built on 3000 square metres in a gully, where every corner has been put to use. The stream-bed is planted with Alocasia macrorrhizos, Zantedeschia aethiopica, and Cyperus papyrus. The water is full of life with carp, beautiful ducks and other birds. This garden is very atmospheric and magical, a fusion of styles and plants which form a unit, an oasis of peace and tranquillity.

Near the Tea House at the top of the garden
there is an interesting collection of succulents

The deep, sheltered valley is a perfect home for large-leaved
and tender plants, and Cyperus papyrus thrives in the stream-bed

Our second garden visit took us to a completely different world, barely a half-hour ride inland from Altea, the Cactus Botanic Garden by Callosa d’en Serrià and very close to the springs and waterfall of the Algar river. The garden was begun on a plot of 50,000 square metres in 1996 and inaugurated in 2001. Before the tour of the garden, we had a picnic lunch in the shade of beautiful mulberry trees, enjoying the stunning views over to Altea and the Mediterranean Sea.

The garden is structured with broad terraces, forming an amphitheatre – ideal for collecting warmth for the more than 500 different species of cacti and succulents. To some degree it is laid out in a botanical order, housing various collections of plants. There are no architectural barriers, so you can easily stroll around on wide, well-constructed paths. Water flows down the terraces into a pool at the bottom of the garden. There is always the sound of water in the background, along with the sound of some music from loudspeakers inconspicuously placed, a relaxing, new experience.

Within the collections of cacti and succulents there are some outstanding tree specimens, which add character to the garden, among them a Pseudobombax ellipticum, which none of us had ever seen, some Quercus ilex, once very common also on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, a stunning Erythrina crista-galli, Catalpa bignonioides in full flower and Albizia julibrissin. Some specimens of Caesalpinia gilliesii are noticeable. Olive trees, carob and Aleppo pines are scattered through the garden.

A large specimen of an extraordinary
Pseudobombax ellipticum
was new to all of the visitors

Several large trees of Catalpa bignonioides
were covered in their beautiful flowers

Erythrina crista-galli, one of the many
attractive trees flowering amongst the cacti

Shrub and herbaceous material has been used throughout the garden, such as Russelia equisetiformis, Callistemon citrinus and C. viminalis along with agapanthus. There are collections of aeoniums with a fine sample of Aeonium canariense,of agaves, aloes, and cereus – the columnar cactus with spiny stems and pronounced ribs is very effective. There is a stunning mass planting of Echinocactus grusonii, the golden barrel cactus from Central Mexico, interesting specimens of Cephalocereus senilis, the old man cactus, with their grey hair.

There were several examples of the tropical Bismarkia nobilis
in the extensive collection of palms and cycads

There are some prime specimens of Pachypodium geayi, Yucca brevifolia, Facheiroa ulei (syn. Pilosocereus ulei), and innumerable other plants. The succulents include Sedum, Echeveria, Crassula, Senecio articulatus and euphorbias. This botanic garden is a collector’s paradise; and the nursery is well-stocked with many varieties for sale.

Although not knowledgeable in cacti, I found this garden very interesting. All in all an enjoyable and stimulating day.

Text by John Male
Photographs by Alan Hawes

May 2013
Visit to the Estación Biológica Torretes

In the hills above the town of Ibi in the Alicante province, at the edge of the Parc Natural del Carrascal de la Font Roja (900 m above sea level), the University of Alicante has a biological research station which focuses on biodiversity research and conservation issues. One of our local members knew of the centre through his time at university, and he managed to arrange a guided tour with Professor Segundo Ríos Ruiz, the director of the centre.

View through the entrance archway to the Cultures Garden,
with the administration building of the research centre,
a converted farmhouse, in the background

After an introductory talk about the history, activities and future plans for the centre, we were taken round the living collections of plants, which are the foundation for the research activities, and which have led to the centre’s classification as a botanic garden. The collections were arranged into various areas: a garden of plants of cultural and religious importance, plants with medicinal value, spice plants, agricultural and industrial plants, food crop plants, and those with magical associations. There were also large areas given over to specific genera, including a worldwide collection of salvias, one of rose species and hybrids, and an extensive range of narcissi. The latter are particularly important in the centre’s collaborative research programme. They are working with partners investigating the medicinal value of substances derived from narcissus bulbs, which are used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Segundo Ríos discusses decorative salvia cultivars with two members

Professor Segundo Ríos describes a new planting of Mediterranean native plants

Seeing the extensive areas under development and hearing the director’s ambitious plans for further developments, it is clear that, given the success of his enthusiastic efforts to create interest and generate funding, the centre deserves to grow and thrive and become a valuable local resource. There is increasing interest these days in the subjects of biodiversity and the value of plants to man, so the role of this centre as a storehouse of knowledge and a facility for the dissemination of it to society is particularly important.

The greenhouses are used to raise seedlings, to harden off young plants and to isolate
flowering plants from pollinators, thereby preventing hybridisation of pure strains

The almond trees in the Traditional Agricultural Collections are surrounded
by a rich meadow of wild flowers, thanks to some rain shortly before our visit

After the tour, a small number of the group took a short walk up the mountain into the fringes of the Parc Natural and saw a wide range of the wild flowers of the area. The display was at its springtime peak, helped by a small amount of rain in the previous weeks. The rest of the group and the professor retired to a nearby restaurant and discussed the visit over lunch.

Higher up the mountain, dry slopes are covered
with native shrubs, among them Cistus albidus,
providing a fine show of pink flowers

The branch is hoping to visit the centre again in early March next year, when the collection of Mediterranean narcissi will be at their best.

Text and photographs by Alan Hawes

May 2013
Mallorca Branch garden tour on the Costa Blanca

When I attended my first AGM – Mallorca in 2011 - I recognised what makes the MGS so special for me: it is not just a local gardening group somewhere in the Mediterranean Basin, but an organization that brings together people with the similar interests from many different countries with a mediterranean climate. So motivated, I invited Sally Beale to hop over to the mainland with some of her branch members to visit our gardens. I wanted the Costa Blanca branch members to experience that international spirit. Three weeks before their visit, we were spoilt with a generous portion of spring rain, up to 200 litres per square metre in the north of our coastline and around 50 litres in the south. All the gardens were at their best for our visitors. We had such a marvellous and enriching time together that I would like to encourage every branch to invite other branches for garden tours.

On the first day we travelled to the south, leaving the hills and mountains of the north behind us for a completely different, flatter, drier landscape with sand dunes and marshland, the plains (Vega baja) of the Segura river.
Our first destination was the Huerto del Cura (the Priest’s garden) in Elche, a town near Alicante, which was founded by the Greeks around 600 B.C. and was later occupied by Carthaginians, then Romans. The Carthaginians brought the first palm trees (Phoenix dactylifera) to their town. The Moors greatly extended the palm forests in the early Middle Ages. Now there are about 200,000 palm trees in Elche. Many have been integrated in the municipal park in the centre of the town; many others still grow in the sandy soil throughout the town. The Huerto del Cura, also in the centre of the town, was established at the beginning of the 19th century by a priest and it is still in private hands. Gradually, these palm trees, which shade the garden throughout the whole day, have created a special microclimate. The lush green vegetation of this garden with several ponds is in stark contrast to the arid landscape around Alicante.

Pond in the Huerto del Cura, in the background the cactus collection
(Photograph by John Male)

Next we visited Carol and Alan Hawes’ garden in the agricultural area of Crevillente, a small town near Elche. They have grown about 500 trees from seed: eucalypts, melias, parkinsonias, jacarandas, among others. The size of the trees makes it difficult to believe that this unusual, complex garden was established as recently as in 2005. Many of the plants are arranged in various sections according to their origin: Australia, Africa, and the Americas. Some species of Eucalyptus (the pink E. torquata and the yellow E. woodwardii) were still blooming along with grevilleas and callistemons in the Australian garden. In the African section, the gazanias glowed yellow, brown, orange and pink beside the path, and exuberant Plumbago capensis showed the first blossoms here and there between bushes of Polygala and Tecoma. The American area was bright with eschscholzias around the cacti and agaves, and gaillardias and coreopsis amongst the prairie grasses. One characteristic of their rose garden is the rich underplanting, with plants such as Convolvulus sabatius and Geranium species, but also annuals, including poppies, phacelias and nigella. We enjoyed freshly-pressed orange juice from their own deliciously sweet fruit, coffee, home-made sweets and savoury cakes in the shade of the Thunbergia grandiflora that grows over their pergola.

A group of fragrant David Austin roses, including ‘Jude the Obscure’, and ‘Lady Hamilton’
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

Then we went to the neighbouring town of Catral, which was founded by the Romans, to visit Ana Rodriguez’ garden. Only six years old, it is divided into various zones and colour areas. Palm trees and olive trees shade the gravel path to the house, a Callistemon citrinus and a tall Melia azedarach lead to the pool area. Further away from the house are the most drought-resistant plants, succulents and cacti, agaves and aloes. By the steps to the kitchen is a rose bed underplanted with herbs.

The Vega baja of the river Segura had a rich agricultural economy even in Roman and Moorish times, thanks to a sophisticated irrigation system, which is in use to this day and provides ample water for her garden. With the help of some dear friends, Ana spoilt us with an opulent lunch with many delicacies.

Lunch on the terrace, a Schinus molle and the citrus grove in the background

Our next stop was at Moises Grau’s Garden, El jardín de la carrasca (the garden of the holm oak, Quercus ilex). This garden is an addition to an old rural farm, which has been renovated and is now used for agrotourism. The garden was established on an additional plot of 5000 square metres two years ago. It was divided into seven zones, each enclosed by a covered lane for strolling in shade, a typical element of ancient Roman gardens. Two of these zones have been reserved exclusively for citrus trees, mainly various types of oranges. Another zone has been planted with other fruit trees, most of them deciduous and autochthonous: quince, fig, pomegranate, plum, and apricot. A fourth section is reserved for the kitchen garden, which provides vegetables for winter and summer. The area closest to the house has been divided into three zones, with palm trees in one of them, and rare species of citrus trees, (bergamot, citron, and 'Buddha’s Hand') in the others. In the centre of these various zones is a very large square (75 x 75 metres) planted with lawn. It is framed by a pergola made with blue pillars standing on blocks of stone with a metal canopy above. It will be shaded by many jasmine species, which have already been planted: Jasminum grandiflorum, J. fruticans, J. azoricum, J. simplicifolium, J. sambac, J. sambac ‘Grand Duke of Tuscany'’ among others. This zone near the house will be for strolling and relaxing, with its large central space resembling the Forum Romanum.

View from the house towards the pergola in the Roman garden

The last place visited on this first day was the Moorish Garden, half-hidden in the agricultural zone of Crevillente. This garden is more than 30 years old and has become progressively larger over the years. It is an intriguing example of a Moorish paradise garden, with its lush green, shaded garden rooms with many seating places, its intimate corners and the murmur of water everywhere. Privet and cypress hedges separate the various spaces, innumerable pots of Clivia miniata and Aspidistra elatior line the paths. Hedera canariensis, with its jungly growth, forms a nice contrast to the neatly trimmed hedges. Tall palm trees, Ficus benjamina (synonym S. nitida)and Schinus molle shade the garden.

Privet hedges separate and guide the visitor’s eyes to a lemon tree
and a fragrant Philadelphus coronarius in the background

On the second and third day we visited gardens in the north of the Costa Blanca. The first was Christine Lomer’s and Nick Brown’s Iris Garden in the hamlet of Marnes, above Benissa at an altitude of 500 metres. As our coach climbed the narrow road that winds up the mountain, past Cistus clusii, some Cistus albidus and the low Helichrysum pendulum (syn. H. rupestre), pastmany Pistacia lentiscus shrubs and Chamaerops humilis - the dwarf fan palm, the only palm which has not (yet) been affected by the red palm weevil - our visitors began to wonder where we were going. Christine has created a large garden on ancient Moorish agricultural land, which attracts several thousand visitors each year in April and May, when the garden is open to the public. At the beginning she focused on Iris x germanica, salvias and cistus hybrids,as there is no water source on her property. Since then she has experimented endlessly and added thousands of plants (especially from California and South Africa), with a strong focus on rare ones, hundreds of bulbous plants, and ever more magnificent roses, many from David Austin. Christine has a special talent for combining plants to make her garden a feast of colour in spring.

Beautifully scented David Austin roses
(Photograph by John Male)

Our next stop was at Susanne Semjevski’s Finca La Cuta and her Lavender Garden near Lliber. Like Christine Lomer, Susanne has treated the ancient agricultural land with its dry stone walls, its terraces and gnarled olive trees with great respect and built a garden, embedded in the hills, which is in total harmony with its surroundings and radiates tranquillity and harmony. Mediterranean clover and Clematis flammula thrive beside roses and irises, rose-coloured thistles beside salvias and Perovskia. While enjoying the delicious lunch that Susanne had prepared for us, a nightingale on a nearby tree enhanced our meal with its extraordinary song.

Rosa 'Leonardo da Vinci', a cluster rose
(Photograph by Manuel Baumann)

The day ended with a visit to Edith and Bill Haeuser's much smaller garden. When planning it, they thought of the hot, dry Mediterranean summer months. Their garden should provide a sense of freshness and calm, and so the focus was placed on shades of green and silvery-green, so typical of many mediterranean plants. Colour was used sparingly, limited to white, blue and some pale pink and mauve. This restriction makes one much more aware of foliage and texture. Aromatic plants, such as rosemary, thyme, lavenders (Lavandula angustifolia on the north and east side, L. dentata and L. dentata hybrids on the south side), Salvia officinalis and Ocimum basilicum ‘Purpureum’ all attract bees. One corner at the top of the garden was left in its original wild state with typical maquis plants, which also attract many birds and insects: Rhamnus alaternus, Quercus coccifera, Pistacia lentiscus, Rosmarinus officinalis, Thymus vulgaris, Helichrysum pendulum, Globularia alypum, Cistus clusii, C. salviifolius, Micromeria inodora, Centaurium quadrifolium, Ruta angustifolia, among others.

Scabiosa columbaria, Westringia fruticosa and Abelia grandiflora by a young carob tree,
Lavandula dentata hybrids and Nerium oleander marking the edge of the terraced land

We opened the last day of the tour with a visit to Francisco’s garden, which is located at the edge of Jávea and at the foot of the impressive Montgò mountain, which at 753 metres above sea level is the highest mountain on the western Mediterranean coast. Francisco can look back on a lifetime of gardening, experimenting with seeds and cuttings. With great enthusiasm he introduced the visitors to his plants and trees. On the upper level of the garden there are still some of the old olive trees from his father’s former agricultural land, which provide dappled shade for a seating area and for plants, such as magnificent sicas. His hedges are a delightful mixture of Jasminum officinalis and J. mesnyi, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, Pittosporum tobira. Hibiscus syriacus is under-planted with Ruta graveolens and Coronilla glauca, forming a screen along the border with his nearest neighbour’s land. His orchard and vegetable garden is on the lower level, where he grows many types of fruit, such as persimmon, cherimoya, and feijoa, but also grapefruit, orange, lemon and plum so that he can proudly pick fruit from his garden all the year round. Some of his fruit trees are under-planted with annual flowers and onions, the cherimoya with Coronilla glauca. Between the tomatoes, dahlias are thriving, and there are two Salvia leucantha by the peppers. He has grafted all of his plum trees on almond trees to make them more resistant to pests and drought.

Salvia leucantha and dahlias beside tomatoes in front of an Eriobotrya japonica
with a Juglans regia on the right, the Montgò mountain in the background

Our next stop was at Alison Tain’s garden, another beautiful, mature garden. The charming patio garden attached to the house has niches on either side for sitting in the shade and listening to the murmur of a typical Moorish fountain. Plants in pots, such as a Ruellia simplex (syn. R. brittoniana), a beautiful climbing tea rose 'Gloire de Dijon' (launched in 1853 by Jacotot), a lemon tree, succulents and ferns add to the Moorish atmosphere of this patio. In the garden below the house, the plants grow in an exuberant manner: the glowing blue Convolvulus sabatius gracefully falls over stone steps that lead to the lower level, an elegant, white rambling Rosa lucieae var. lucieae (syn. R. wichurana) nearly covers an old carob tree, a Solandra maxima forms an archway over the path, while on the other side a field of Acanthus mollis are in full bloom.

Acanthus mollis and Centranthus ruber, with Convolvulus sabatius cascading over the steps

The tour ended at the Albarda Garden of the Enrique Montoliu Foundation. On 50,000 square metres, Enrique has created his version of a paradise garden with a strong influence from Italian Renaissance gardens and the Moorish garden tradition. Close to the house is the formal garden, further away the more natural areas. It also includes a Valencian Moorish garden with four symmetrical squares separated by paths, each square planted with many orange trees and framed with myrtle hedges, with a fountain in the centre. There are pergolas with climbing roses, with wisterias, another one with jasmine. In the palm house the under-planting consists of typical plants seen in the shaded corners around Valencian houses: clivias and cycads. There is a Mediterranean forest with Viburnum tinus, Fraxinus ornus, Quercus ilex, among other trees, where nightingales build their nests every year. Old Persian wisdom says that as long as the nightingales cannot be heard in a garden, it is not a real garden. There is also a small version of the Montgò mountain, which separates Dénia from Jávea, which is famous for its more than 600 plant species. Tasty food and wine were served under the rose pergola, and three enriching days came to an end.

Text and all other photographs by Edith Haeuser

April 2013
Visit to the Sculpture Garden of the Klein-Schreuder Foundation in Alfaz del Pi
and to Christine Lomer’s Iris Garden near Benissa

On April 20th Johanna Schreuder welcomed fourteen members and friends to her Jardín Escultórico in Alfaz del Pi, and gave us a short history of the project. She and her husband Johannes Klein bought 20,000 square metres of neglected orange groves in 1996, designed and built a house and then worked on the layout of the garden and the choice of appropriate trees and shrubs. Over the next four years, they planted hundreds of trees, shrubs and roses, which grew rapidly with the help of the ample supply of agricultural water and the benign climate.

By 2002 the garden was ready to receive its first sculpture. To protect the garden in the longer term, the Fundación Klein-Schreuder was formed and became the owner of the garden, which opened to the public in 2003. Over the years, more sculptures have been bought, mainly in iron and bronze, always with man and/or animals as the subject, so they are easy to understand and appreciate.

Sculptures of sheep and a sheepdog, with a view over the palm garden to the mountains beyond
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

A group of angels in the centre of the rose garden
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

A sow and piglets in a bed of hemerocallis
(Photograph by Johanna Klein)

We began our tour of the garden in the most colourful area, the Rose Garden, and then proceeded to investigate the different terraces, each of which has a distinct planting scheme to frame its sculptures. (The amusing animal sculptures in iron by Antonio Marì from Jávea were much enjoyed.) There are numerous fine examples of many of the species of trees usually grown in this area – schinus, tipuana, ficus, jacaranda, robinia, chorisia, cercis, melia, mulberry, almonds and olives – together with some well-labelled rarities in the arboretum. We were especially pleased to see the exciting orange flowers of several large Erythrina caffra trees.

The spectacular flowers of Erythrina caffra
(Photograph by José Miguel Herrero)

The extensive avenues of washingtonia and phoenix palms in the Palm Garden shelter some rarer species of palms as well as a temporary exhibition of small colourful sculptures, which stood out well against their rich green surroundings. The garden in general feels very spacious, tranquil and calming to the senses.

We eventually arrived back at the top of the garden, where we shared our thoughts over coffee, and thanked Johanna for an interesting morning.

We then made our way to the Iris Garden up in the hills at Pinos-Los Marnes, where we found the skies grey and the air cooler. We were warmly welcomed by Christine and Nick and soon gathered in groups to enjoy our picnic lunches. We were then free to wander the many paths and enjoy the multitude of beautiful plants, whose colours took on a special glow in the misty light. The irises and mixed plantings of tulips and other bulbs were especially lovely.

(Irises with ceanothus, gladioli, and roses, and the Bernia mountain as a backdrop
(Photograph by Belén Molina)

A mixed planting of tulips and other bulbs beneath ancient olive trees
(Photograph by Belén Molina)

It was interesting to see the new Labyrinth, where this year the irises were replaced by a mixture of early bulbs and a ‘pictorial-meadow’ mixture of annuals such as Linum rubrum, Phacelia tanacetifolia, Eschscholzia californica, with Linaria, Papaver and other genera. The result was a colourful ‘jewel-like’ tapestry whose individual components could be closely viewed along the spiralling paths.

A spectacular mixture of annuals and bulbs in the replanted Labyrinth
(Photograph by Pedro J. Moya)

The lower terrace also has a new feature where the ground level changes, at the end of the main path. The ‘Tranquillity Garden’ is named for the new David Austin white roses which surround the small circular pool. To the right, steps in the centre of a low semicircular stone wall pass between newly-planted hedges of Teucrium fruticans.

The new 'Tranquillity Garden'
(Photograph by Alan Hawes)

Great gardens are always developing, as new themes and areas are explored for future interest. A day passed in these two contrasting gardens stimulated much discussion and was certainly a day well spent.
Text by Carol Hawes

March 2013
Narcissus Mountain Walk

Twelve members and friends of the Costa Blanca Branch gathered at the house of Christine Lomer and Nick Brown in Los Marnes, a hamlet near Pinos in the vicinity of Benissa, on a bright sunny day at the beginning of March, equipped for a walk up into the nearby hills to look for wild flowers. Christine had warned us that the unusual weather this year had resulted in early flowering of the narcissi near her house, so we had brought the meeting forward by two weeks, to ensure that we saw them at their best.

After a walk of twenty minutes, passing through areas of abandoned vine cultivation, we began to see some of the common plants of the area – Teucrium sp., Santolina viridis, Daphne gnidium, various Cistus spp., Silene sp., Asphodelus aestivus, and some bee orchids (Ophrys sp.). On the open flat areas at the top of the hill we started to see clumps of Narcissus assoanus, with heads of tiny bright yellow flowers, which were growing through gaps in the rocky covering of the ground. Further on we found Narcissus dubius, also thriving in the rocky soil. (This small white narcissus is believed to be a hybrid between N. assoanus and N. papyraceus, the latter being the origin of ’paperwhite narcissi’.) At the top of the hill we saw thousands of these narcissi, spread across a large area, creating a wonderful sight. Growing amongst them were isolated plants of muscari, and Fritillaria lusitanica (synonym L. hispanica). We were fortunate in having several members of the group who were able to identify most of the plants that we encountered.

After this feast of beautiful wild flowers, we returned to the house and enjoyed a lunch of tapas, provided by the members, on the terrace, with a spectacular coastal view of Calpe and the Peñón de Ifach rock, dramatically rising 332 metres out of the sea. Christine then invited us all to have a look around her garden, apologising for the lack of flowers, particularly irises, for which it is famous. We found plenty to enjoy, as her garden has a wide range of spring-flowering bulbs and plants. Particularly notable were the hellebores, cyclamen, ipheions, narcissi, Scilla peruviana, and some dramatic lachenalias.

Our first meeting of the year was greatly appreciated by the hardy group that ventured out on what turned out to be one of the glorious winter days that we can experience in this part of Spain.

Deep in the undergrowth on the slope of the hill we
discovered bee orchids (Ophrys sp.)

This small Silene sp. was growing in dense low-level undergrowth

Narcissus assoanus was first spotted when we reached the
top of the hill, in more open rocky ground

Narcissus assoanus flowers have the classic ‘trumpet daffodil’ shape

Several examples of Fritillaria lusitanica were seen in the
same area on the top of the hill as the narcissi

Large numbers of white-flowered Narcissus dubius
were growing in one area on the top of the hill

Text and photographs by Alan Hawes

September 2012
Visit to a garden designed by Jan van Eijle and to the garden of Gabriela and Felix Gschwend in Pedreguer

The September Branch Meeting took us to two impressive gardens, very different in character, but both illustrating the importance of a strong and well-thought-out initial design plan. Also essential, we came to realise, were the knowledge and experience needed to select appropriate plants, and the commitment and energy to plant and maintain them. Even the best initial plans need to be amended as the gardens develop, and these two gardens impress because they are still being refined by those who envisaged them.

The first garden (designed, planted and maintained by Jan van Eijle) seemed to me almost Californian in style, with its curvaceous estanque (pond) full of Koi carp, palms both towering above and leaning over the water, lush green lawns and an exquisite dark swimming pool of small iridescent tiles. This garden has been very carefully designed, respecting the few valuable trees still on-site and creating many different ‘garden rooms’, each with its own atmosphere. There is a wide range of trees and shrubs to enjoy, including architectural palms, which all contribute to the exotic feeling with their exuberant foliage and brilliant flowers. Much thought has been given to the choice and maintenance of screens and hedges, and to the more intimate planting of small areas for relaxation. This is not a ‘low-maintenance’ garden, but it demonstrates some of the exciting things that can be achieved by a good designer if ample resources are available. We were all very grateful to the owner for allowing Jan to use it as a classroom for his enthusiastic lecture on the importance and ‘finer points’ of garden design.

Fine examples of palms, including Phoenix dactylifera,
Washingtonia robusta
and Livistona chinensis

An unusual Washingtonia robusta reflected in the estanque

Streamside planting of Russelia equisetiformis, Cycas revoluta and
Xanthosoma sagittifolium(syn. X.violaceum)

Architectural Butia capitata against a handsome screen
of Schefflera actinophylla

The formal rose garden with box-edged beds

(Photographs by Alan Hawes)

The second garden, La Hacienda Garden in Pedreguer, belonging to Gabriela and Felix Gschwend, was begun only seven years ago, on a plot of two hectares, and has been designed to blend into the surrounding countryside (phase I was designed by Xavi Moncho, phase II by Jan van Eijle). It has a very ‘green’ theme, with areas of woodland towards the outer edges of the plot, which are planted solely with native species of trees and shrubs. Interspersed with these are agricultural areas, where citrus and other fruits, olives, grapes and almonds are cultivated. Paths edged with unusual hedges of clipped wild olive wind through these crops, with occasional flashes of contrasting colour from red roses. Nearer to the house are other woodland plantings containing attractive non-native species which are well adapted to local conditions. There is also a vegetable garden with raised beds. All of the vegetables and fruit, and olive oil, are produced organically.

Closest to the house is the most decorative area, with lawns, flowering shrubs and palms surrounding a swimming pool. The smallest, most private garden is designed for quiet contemplation, with a cross-shaped fountain providing the delicious sound of flowing water, surrounded by beds of scented herbs. The house itself, and a guesthouse, are in the centre of the plot, behind a welcoming courtyard with an Arab fountain, creating an atmosphere of seclusion and peace, which can only increase as the woodlands mature. This whole garden has a very personal feeling, and it is obviously the focus of much thought and care.

The swimming pool and relaxation area at 'La Hacienda Garden'

The main house behind a developing woodland screen,
and an area of newly-planted olive trees

(Photographs by Alan Hawes)

Hedges of Olea europaea ssp. europaea and Cupressus sempervirens
marking a resting place

A beautiful Melia azedarach in a woodland area closer to the house

A Tamarix africana to the right of the entrance to the Secret Garden,
protected by high hedges of Pittosporum tobira. View through the gate of olive trees
and lavender in raised beds

(Photographs by William Haeuser)

After lunching in the welcome shade of the patio, those of us who still had the time and energy visited the new Món Verd Garden Centre in Ondara, where we were warmly welcomed by Xavi Moncho, and offered drinks, cakes and a 10% discount on the plants that we bought. A great end to a very interesting day.

Text by Carol Hawes

June 2012
A Visit to the Lavender Garden near Benissa

The Lavender Garden at Finca La Cuta was in a tranquil mood when we visited it on June 9th for the last branch meeting before the summer break. The dry spring and the heat of early summer had hastened the passing of many flowers, and exposed the true Mediterranean character of the garden, leaving the main roles to the trees and shrubs. There are many different species of these, but all are essentially drought-tolerant and happy in their surroundings.

After a brief welcome by Susanne, when she told us about the history of the garden and of the summer routines of cutting, drying and distilling the lavender flowers, we were keen to explore all the paths, finding many secluded areas, each with its own focus. Pergolas, often covered with vigorously growing wisteria, and several pools added to the enjoyment of discovering, and trying to identify, new plants around every corner.

We were served a truly delicious four-course lunch, with special care taken to cater for those with varying dietary requirements. Both Spanish- and English-speaking members enjoyed long discussions during the meal, and we all found it difficult to tear ourselves away, so strongly had we absorbed the soothing ambience of the garden and its surrounding hills.

A view across one of the lavender fields, the crop almost ready for cutting

The distillery where the lavender flowers are processed
to produce lavender oil and lavender water

This arbour overlooks colourful plantings of Gaura lindheimeri,
Salvia sclarea
, and Perovskia atriplicifolia

A quiet corner under a carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua),
with Cupressus sempervirens and Eriobotrya japonica trees
and flowering Acanthus mollis

A view from the terrace of the shady dining area where we enjoyed lunch

Text by Carol Hawes
Photographs by Alan Hawes

May 2012
Jan van Eijle’s Garden at Cau-Marnes

Several kilometres from Christine Lomer’s Iris Garden, in a natural depression surrounded by hills, Jan has created a dry garden with endemic plants and trees. He first asked us to look closely at the surrounding and mostly bare hills. But on one slope there is dense young growth of Aleppo pine trees, a clear sign that there had been a fire: a man-made fire - an old Spanish and Mediterranean tradition to regain land, e.g. for sheep grazing or agricultural use. Thus the biodiversity in the Mediterranean Basin has been maintained over centuries, decreasing as wooded areas mature and increasing again after a fire. At some distance from his house there are two lonely cypresses, for Jan a sure sign that there had been a house nearby in Roman times. The Roman custom of planting a cypress tree on either side of the entrance survived long afterwards.

From old local people Jan learnt that they remembered cherry trees in this particular area, an incentive for him to plant some. They were blooming nicely when we visited, as were the Mediterranean ash trees (Fraxinus ornus), with their cream-coloured, scented flower panicles, forming with some Cupressus sempervirensa backdrop for the immediate area by the house, which is planted with various cistus species, Salvia officinalis and Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’. Jan recommended that we avoid the traditional Rosmarinus officinalis as it is prone to a fungus. An exuberant Mediterranean honeysuckle (Lonicera implexa)grows by one of the pillars of the terrace, and Jasminum officinale surrounds the bedroom window.On the other side of the house there are Grenache grape vines - typical of this region, as well as the Muscat grape (Moscatel de Alexandria) - a pomegranate tree, and some recently re-planted old olive trees to give more privacy to the garden.

Path to the house lined with Vinca major, and Salvia officinalis
around a Ficus carica,by the steps prostrate rosemary and a Chamaerops humilis

Centranthus ruber‘Albus’ in front of Cistus ladanifer and
Cistus albidus and in the middle a Cistus monspeliensis

Phlomis fruticosa under Punica granatum, in the background various cistus species

The flowers of Cistus ladanifer bear close examination, and they are
appreciated by the local insects
Photo by Alan Hawes

Centranthus ruber, a variegated form of Vinca major and rosemary
under a gnarled olive tree; at the back a lavender.

Text by Edith Haeuser
Photographs by Alan Hawes and Edith Haeuser

May 2012
Christine Lomer’s Iris Garden

One cannot be but awed by Christine Lomer’s garden, which is open to the public in April and May and attracts more visitors every year – more than 6000 this spring. Even the Minister of Tourism for the Province of Alicante visited the garden the other day to discover the formula for its success. Certainly the location is magical, 500 metres above sea level and yet so close to the coast. Christine has turned ancient Moorish agricultural land into a garden that each spring becomes a feast of colours and blossoms – even this year when we had about 80% less precipitation on the Costa Blanca than last year. Apart from the roses, no other plants have artificial watering; most of the garden is dormant in summer and re-awakes with the autumn rain.

Originally the focus was on Iris xgermanica, but Christine has since experimented very successfully with many different plants from other mediterranean climates, especially from South Africa and California. The focus seems to have shifted to roses: climbers, ramblers and shrubs. Last October she planted 300 David Austin roses, which we were all eager to see.

For our picnic lunch we appreciated the comfortable shade under one of Christine Lomer’s beautiful old carob trees (Ceratonia siliqua). Everybody was fascinated by the fact that we visited three completely different gardens situated very close to each other on our May garden visit.
See also Past Events, May 2011.

The garden is famous locally for its wonderful
display of irises in April and May

There are many new rose cultivars,
including the award-winning ‘Eyes For You’

A display of ixias, one of the many types of
South African bulbs grown in this garden

South African Tritonia crocata and Ornithogalum dubium
against a background of cistuses

This example of the rarely-seen South African
lancifolia (syn. Polygala virgata) was
grown from seed

Text by Edith Haeuser
Photographs by Alan Hawes

May 2012
Visit to Jan Steven’s Rock Garden at Pinos

After a winter of unduly cold weather and little rainfall on The Costa since January, we were wondering how any garden, at a relatively high altitude and with no natural water, would have coped, but any uncertainty disappeared at the first sight of Jan’s Mediterranean Rock Garden.
Created out of the garrigue of the lower slopes of the Sierra Bernia, Jan would have had little with which to start except solid rock, interspersed with shallow pockets of soil where pistachio, wild olive and gorse had grown. From this she has created an oasis of colour and form.

The entrance to the house is dominated by a very large rockery, with sculptured shapes of agave, aloes and many cactus species, but the starkness is softened by splashes of colour from irises, cistus and other rock-loving plants.

The drive drops down and curves round into a natural basin where the landscape is softened by bright yellow and orange-coloured flower beds of Verbena rigida, Iris x germanica, gazanias, Argyranthemum shrubs and many succulents. Here, below the house, one can imagine oneself sitting with a chilled glass of wine in the gazebo or on the terrace, calmed by the sounds from a natural-looking waterfall.

With the help of her partner, Jan has achieved a sympathetic and peaceful garden for people AND wildlife. Throughout the visit there was the constant humming of honey bees, large carpenter bees (Xylocopa violacea) buzzed busily from shrub to shrub, and even a wasp relative (Scolia flavifrons) was actively hunting small caterpillars amongst the plants.

Two lizard species (Podarcis muralis and Psammodromus algirus) were active on the sunny side of the rocks, and although it did not appear that day, I was given a photograph of the largest European lizard, the eyed lizard – Timon lepidus (formerly Lacerta lepida) - which had recently wandered into the garden.

To me, the Mediterranean garden is as much about wildlife as about plants and shrubs and this garden, with the owners’ sympathetic design and planting, appears to have achieved the perfect balance. What a treat!

Text by Simon Beattie
Photographs by Tricia Beattie

Aeonium arboreum, aloes, Iris x germanica and Chamaerops humilis
planted in the natural rock formations

The yellow tones of euonymus bushes are echoed by plantings of irises
and Argyranthemum frutescens

Unusual combination of Kleinia, yucca, iris, and Argyranthemum

Architectural plantings of Cycas revoluta, yuccas, agaves and
humilis enhancing the rocks around the waterfall;
in the foreground Cyperus

April 2012
Visit to Carol and Alan Hawes' Garden and a Moorish garden nearby

After having passed a wood of eucalypts in the middle of the agricultural zone around Crevillente (southern Costa Blanca) and then bright colours along the rural lane, you can easily guess which is Carol and Alan Hawes’ garden.

When meeting a group of people for the first time, I always need a while to analyse each face, each tone of voice. I compare that with investigating a garden full of unknown flowers. In this case it’s a very suitable comparison, since this garden was a discovery for me. Both in its diversity and its composition it is an extremely original garden, and I fully understand that Carol and Alan are proud of it. It is a beautiful garden with many architectural elements, well connected by paths and organised according to the vegetation of the continents. This is what I had read before visiting it, but I found much more. This garden is a small investigation centre, where all the theories of mediterranean gardening have been put into practice: compost production, meticulous watering, the use of plants which are adapted to the climate, the arrangement of plants according to their watering necessities, and the use of decorative elements from the surrounding landscape. I am still fascinated by the California poppies, which I knew only from photographs, by the many eucalypts whose forms and sizes were unknown to me, and by the magnificent Melianthus major surrounded by Carpobrotus edulis.

A view along the avenue of orange trees, which are bearing blossom and
fruit, with a seasonal groundcover of self-sown Oenothera speciosa and
Verbena tenuisecta
(syn. Glandularia aristigera)

Verbena tenuisecta and Cerinthe major subsp. purpurascens forming
a carpet around Echium vulgare 'Blue Bedder'in the Rosaleda

Diminutive Nemophila maculata (Five Spot) plants growing amongst
tomentosum 'Silver Carpet'

Shrubby Cassia artemisioides flowers all winter and through the spring in the Australian area

California poppies

Text Pedro J. Moya
Translation and photographs Edith Haeuser

The Moorish Garden
After our picnic lunch in the Pergola Garden, with carpets of gazanias flowering at our feet, we drove inland a couple of kilometres, passing fields of pomegranate and fig trees, to visit a completely different garden: a Moorish garden built by a man from Granada and started more than thirty years ago.

It is a magnificent example of the Arab garden style, which has a long tradition in the Islamic world. The Arabs took over the idea of the enclosed garden from the Persians and developed it to perfection. In ancient Persian the word pairi-daeza meant 'enclosure'; in Greek this word became parádeisos, meaning'park'; in Latin paradisus,the word which in the Bible is used for the garden Eden.

Ultimately, an Arab/Moorish garden always reflects paradise as described in the Koran, with lush green to soothe the eye, cool shade, fragrant blossoms, delicious fruit and the refreshing sound of flowing water: a garden addressing all the senses. It is always an enclosed garden, an area where the visitor can enjoy peace and harmony and forget the bustle of the outside world. The Moorish garden which we visited consists of innumerable green rooms, many of them separated by neatly trimmed hedges of privet, others by rows of cypresses or – unusual in a Moorish garden - a screen of bamboos. Paths, each made with a different stone pattern, lead from room to room, a special stone pattern marks a threshold. Some rooms are larger, others intimately small. Tall trees shade the rooms. Stone benches and seats invite the visitor to pause and look and listen. This garden is a feast of many shades and textures of green, a sophisticated play with leaves of different form. Along a hedge of Ligustrum there is a line of bulging pots with Clivia miniata, in another corner pots with Ruscus aculeatus, with asparagus, while in one sunny corner an intricate arrangement of small amphoras lies on the ground. The bubbling sound of water can be heard here and there, water running in a shallow fountain or an inlaid rectangular pool reflecting the greenery around it, also the sound of peacocks.

The Arab garden is also an architecturally structured garden, where architecture and garden intertwine, and so it did not surprise us that as we strolled from one green room to another, we suddenly found ourselves walking through a charming small patio, with the walls tiled in the Moorish-Andalusian style and an octagonal fountain in the centre, so typical of Arab gardens, with some potted plants along the wall; stone archways led to two more patios, the last one, the darkest and most intimate one featuring a round white marble bowl set in a marble square and water flowing over the edge, and a white geranium glowing in a corner. As one member told me enthusiastically afterwards, she felt as if she were in the Arabian Nights.

Alocasia, Aspidistra, Lagunaria patersonia

Hedges of Ligustrum vulgare forming an intimate room for a fountain
consisting of an upper round bowl and an octagonal base, in the
background a Strelitzia reginae

An arch of Cypressus sempervirens leading to the next room, orange trees on either side

Potted tropical palm trees framing a low fountain

A typical Moorish fountain set lower than the paths,
surrounded by privet hedges

Text Edith Haeuser
Photographs William Haeuser

March 2012 - Visit to the Montgo Verd Garden Centre and Alison Tain’s Garden
On Friday 23rd March the group visited the Montgo Verd Garden Centre near Jávea on the northern Costa Blanca for an illustrated talk on plants that thrive in our hot and dry part of the Mediterranean coast. We were taken around the centre’s extensive range of plants by the resident horticulturist Rocio, who has specialised botanical knowledge of plants that thrive here. There was an impressive range of Australian plants, with many species and varieties of Callistemon, Grevillea, Eremophila, etc. As well as introducing us to plants that were new to many of the group, she gave valuable cultivation tips, particularly on watering (or not watering) and pruning difficult subjects. It was a very enjoyable hour, and many of the group took advantage of the visit to acquire some new and interesting plants for their gardens.

We all moved on to Alison Tain’s garden nearby in the village of Jesus Pobre, where we enjoyed a lunch of tapas provided by members on her terrace. Alison’s is a mature garden, designed together with a Moorish style house, by Alison and her painter husband nearly thirty years ago. It is based around a delightful enclosed patio, which uses much terracotta and stone to create a peaceful space. It is organised as a series of broad steps which lead down to a pool, and provides westerly views of the nearby wooded hills and distant mountains. Colour is provided by quiet formal planting, accented by groups of attractive pots containing a varied collection of Alison’s favourite plants. The rocky outer garden, which surrounds the house and patio, takes advantage of the steep site, with the area below the house being a set of informal terraces. This area is very mature, making use of large well-established trees and shrubs to give a shady, private, woodland ambiance. Alison generously provided cutting material from some of her more interesting plants. Many of the group expressed their delight in the charming atmosphere that had been created in this garden by its two artistic owners.

Wisteria floribunda to the right of the entrance

The studio windows framed by Ficus pumila

View from the patio to the pool below and hills beyond. Helichrysum petiolare
and an olive tree contribute to the quiet green and silver colour scheme

The north-facing studio and the terracotta and stone open-air
kitchen provide precious shade on a hot day

View from the fountain, the base of which echoes a typical feature of Arab gardens

Billbergia nutans

Myrtus communis, Senecio cineraria and Jasminum polyanthum

Text by Alan Hawes
Photographs by Alan Hawes and William Haeuser

March 2012 - Visit to the Albarda Garden and a lecture on invasive plants
Our visit to the Albarda Garden took place on a perfect spring morning. The garden, which is owned by FUNDEM, a foundation created by Enrique Montoliu with the purpose of conserving both land and indigenous plant species, is divided into several sections, both formal, as in the Italian Renaissance garden adjoining the house, and also completely natural plantings of indigenous trees and shrubs.

Before touring the garden, we heard a fascinating and somewhat alarming talk by horticulturist Jan van Eijle about the dangers posed to our endemic flora by invasive exotic plants. It was shocking to learn that so many of the plants which we have in our gardens, and which we welcome because they grow so easily - too easily, are in fact dangerous invaders. Among them are the lovely but thuggish climbers Ipomoea tricolor and Araujia sericifera, the spiky agaves, yuccas, aloes and opuntias, so useful around the margins of the garden, and the ubiquitous mimosas and lantanas. These plants spread from gardens, not only by natural means, but also by the long-established custom of dumping garden rubbish into the barrancos (steep, usually dry riverbeds), where they take hold and spread, threatening not only the local flora but also the fauna, for which they are not appropriate food and shelter.

After this sobering talk we were taken on a tour by Felix Gschwend and shown the effects which can be achieved by using only indigenous species, especially on the mini-Montgó created and planted to demonstrate the wide biodiversity of the mountain between Jávea and Dénia. Among the more formal features of the garden is the Mirror Pool, a pool of dark water in a traditional Moorish shape. In order that the fairly shallow water does not become too warm for the koi carp that inhabit it, an ingenious system of pumping the water through a hidden cooling tank before returning it to the pool has been devised.
Our visit ended with a very welcome offering of tapas and wine under the magnificent decorative iron cupola of the pergola, covered in roses and wisteria, some of which were already in flower.
All in all an enjoyable and most enlightening morning.

The shaded entrance drive lined with Myrtus microphylla,
Pistacia lentiscus, Viburnum tinus and Cypressus sempervirens

"Montgó" with the real Montgó in the background

The Mirror Pool

The formal design of the Valencian orange garden
reflects the Moorish influence

Our group enjoying refreshments under the rose
and wisteria pergola

Text by Alison Tain
Photographs by Alan Hawes

See also the description of the Albarda Garden in The Mediterranean Garden No 53, July 2008, and more photos here.

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Branch Head Alan Hawes writes:

"My wife Carol and I have always enjoyed visiting gardens and also planning, planting and caring for our own. My career in computing gave us the opportunity to spend time in Australia and Singapore, where we came to love the exciting tropical and subtropical plants. We made a ‘subtropical garden’ on the south coast of England (growing some of the plants in pots and sheltering them in conservatories during the coldest months). It was featured in several magazines and was open to the public under the ‘National Gardens Scheme’. The only way to expand the growing of our favourite plants, when taking early retirement, was to move to somewhere with a warmer climate. So we chose a suitable plot of land in south-east Spain and began to design and create our current garden in 2003. The garden is now quite mature and gives us great pleasure, as do the visits from gardening groups with whom we enjoy sharing the results of our efforts. For several years were have greatly valued our association with the Costa Blanca branch of the MGS and now look forward to the challenge of ensuring its continuation, with the help of some of our enthusiastic Spanish members."

"Mi esposa Carol y yo siempre hemos disfrutado visitando jardines y también la planificación, la plantación y el cuidado de nuestro propio. Mi carrera en la informática nos dio la oportunidad de pasar tiempo en Australia y Singapur, donde llegamos a amar a las emocionantes plantas tropicales y subtropicales. Hicimos un 'jardín subtropical' en la costa sur de Inglaterra (creciendo algunas de las plantas en macetas y abrigandolas en invernaderos durante los meses más frios). Apareció en varias revistas y fue abierto al público en el marco del "Plan Nacional de Jardines”. La única forma de expandir el cultivo de nuestras plantas favoritas, al tomar la jubilación anticipada, era para ir a algún lugar con un clima más cálido. Así que elegimos un terreno adecuado en el sureste de España y comenzó a diseñar y crear nuestro jardín actual en 2003. El jardín es ahora bastante maduro, y nos da mucho gusto, al igual que las visitas de grupos de jardinería con los que nos gusta compartir los resultados de nuestros esfuerzos. Desde hace varios años apreciamos mucho nuestra asociación con la sucursal de la Costa Blanca del MGS y ahora esperamos con interés el desafío de asegurar su.continuación, con la ayuda de algunos de nuestros miembros españoles entusiastos."
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