|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Costa Blanca Branch of the MGS
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even more impressive were a line of Brachychiton discolor in full flower and a small Erythrina crista-galli covered in scarlet flowers.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
We then passed into the ‘small’ drawing room with its statues and beautiful rococo-style floor tiles, which date from 1900.
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.
We all expressed our gratitude to our hosts for their kindness in sharing their garden and their time with us.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Text by Carol Hawes
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
Two inspirational gardens made for a wonderful day out and our thanks to Carol, Alan and Anna for making it so enjoyable.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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