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BRANCH HEAD
Alan Hawes

Versión española

 

The Costa Blanca Branch of the MGS

Past Events   2017   2016    2015    2013    2012    Older

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

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