|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Costa Blanca Branch of the MGS
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 x ‘Gloire de Versailles’ still in flower, Viburnum tinus and Washingtonia palms.
Text by John Male
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Text by Carol Hawes
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.
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.
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 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.
Text and photographs by Alan Hawes
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.
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.
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.
Another splendid lunch was enjoyed – this time an authentic full ‘Córdoban’ meal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.