Mediterranean Garden Society

The Costa Blanca Branch of the MGS

The Costa Blanca branch welcomes all gardeners to our activities regardless of their nationality. We are a multilingual branch where the languages spoken are mostly Spanish and English. Our meetings are held mainly in the province of Alicante, but we also travel to Valencia. We visit the gardens of partner associations and friends and notable gardens of the region; every year we find new gardens to visit. We write a summary of each of our meetings in the "Past Events" section of this page. These reports show the range of our activities and the types of gardens we visit. Anyone interested in gardening is welcome to attend our meetings.

Contacts for the Branch are Alan and Carol Hawes (biography) and prospective and new members are encouraged to make contact with them by email.

Gardeners located in Andalucía may also like to contact Lindsay Blyth or in Cataluña contact Paul Gans.

Versión española
Versión española

The photos at the top of this page show scenes from the 2018 AGM held in Costa Blanca: Alan describing the eucalyptus species in our garden (Carol Hawes); Paella lunch (Karen Leathers); Members enjoying the guided tour of the Albarda garden (Karen Leathers); Turia Rose Garden and Valencia Opera House (Alan Hawes); Group preparing to visit Central Park, Valencia (Alan Hawes); Central Park, Valencia (Alan Hawes).

Past Events

November 2019
End-of-year Branch Meeting and Plant Fair

After a long hot summer, the cool autumn/winter weather arrived suddenly here in November with storms and heavy rain. However, we were lucky in having a sunny day for our last meeting of the year and the accompanying Plant Fair. This was kindly hosted by two of our Dutch members, Cora and Nico Dekkers, at their beautiful house in Teulada, about 70km. north of Alicante and just a few kilometres from the coast.

The main terrace and pool, with a blue theme to pots, pergola and furniture

The 11,000 m2 hillside plot contains a central level terrace, where the house and main garden are situated, lower areas informally planted with drought-resistant trees and shrubs, plus higher terraced land left in a very natural state. There, spring can bring wonderful displays of native orchids.

Members gathered on the terrace around the plant table to chat and exchange plants

As members arrived, many were pleased to acquire plants and advice on their care, while others added to the array of delicious cakes and biscuits indoors. All enjoyed the refreshments while we listened to a very interesting report on the Greek gardens visited on the Saturday of the recent MGS AGM in Athens. This was given by Edith Haeuser and was illustrated with a display of 64 beautiful photographs.

Refreshments to suit every taste - including ‘gluten-free’ (Cora Dekkers)

After the talk, Cora led a tour of the garden, while some members investigated plants of particular interest to them. The collection of palms and cycads on the main terrace frames a view of the surrounding mountains.

Main terrace

The lower part of the garden features a large ‘strawberry tree’ (Arbutus unedo) in fruit, cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens), palms and ground-cover plants. This area also holds olive and almond trees where members enjoyed stopping to chat.

Lower part of the garden

Plant discussions in the lower garden

More discussions, between French and Spanish members, and views to the hillside above

Returning to the main terrace, we passed through a ‘dry garden’, with a fine Agave weberi, Ceiba speciosa and other succulent plants

Dry garden

We then noticed an attractive set of established palms, Strelitzia nicolai and Agave attenuata at the far end of the main pool area. Cora emphasized that wall shelter was vital for the survival of more tender plants in their garden.

Tender plants sheltered by a wall

After the garden tour some people gathered a few more plants from the depleted plant table

Plant table

We were all then guided to the restaurant in nearby Teulada where Cora had booked a table. The three course typical Spanish ‘meal of the day’ was interesting and generous, and lasted several hours, allowing us plenty of opportunity to share views on many topics. It was wonderful to hear conversations in Spanish, French, German and Dutch as well as English, emphasising the multilingual nature of the group and the pleasure which we all enjoy in each other’s company. Our thanks go to Cora and Nico for their efforts in organizing this very pleasant day, and for showing us their maturing garden.

Text by Carol Hawes
Photos by Alan Hawes unless otherwise stated

June 2019
Visit to Central Park in Valencia

On 2 June, 27 members and friends from as far away as Murcia gathered to enjoy a guided tour of the new park by member Salvador Pastor, who, as one of the city's head gardeners, is partially responsible for its planting and maintenance. This 11 hectare site is the first stage of a long term project which aims to reclaim 23 hectares of land long occupied by railways and associated buildings, in order to unite neighbourhoods in the south of the city and provide them with green spaces, attractive gardens and buildings for social and cultural activities. The park was designed by an international team, led by the American landscape architect Karen Gustafson, which won a worldwide competition attracting 36 proposals from 8 countries. Their exciting design was felt the best to reflect the history, culture and geographical uniqueness of the whole Valencian region.

The site needed much modification and soil improvement before planting could begin. All of the six historic buildings attributed to the fine architect Demetrio Ribes (also responsible for the design of the North Station with its splendid tiled panels depicting flowers and gardens) were renovated and will be used for various cultural and sporting activities. The park’s design required that soil levels be lowered in some areas creating ‘bowls’, allowing rain to be collected and stored for use in the irrigation systems. This makes it much more interesting, because there are several levels from which different parts of the park can be viewed, and has prompted the construction of some fascinating ‘vertical gardens’. 

A long curving pathway, covered by a metal pergola planted with a variety of climbing plants, connects the two opposite sides of the park and allows visitors to look down into two of the ‘bowls’, one of which holds a large grassy space for children to play and the other, a very interesting collection of small plots representative of the typical crops and gardens found in the region of Valencia. On the other side of the pergola there is a set of beautifully planted beds filled with a wide range of flowering shrubs and many tastefully combined herbaceous plants, many of which are new to Spain.

Water plays an important role in the layout of the park, with several pools and channels along which water can flow, often between avenues of trees. Especially peaceful is a long, narrow pool planted with aquatic plants, shaded by lines of trees and surrounded by beds of ornamental plants in soothing tones of colour.

Altogether, the new park contains more than 100,000 plants and 1000 trees (of 69 different species, some of which are being grown in the area for the first time). It has only been open for 6 months but is aready popular with the local residents, as we noticed during our tour of the park.

Local familiesenjoying the part of the park near the Children’s play area

Our tour began with an introduction to the park by Salvador, after which we followed the path under the large pergola, frequently pausing to look down to our left into the lower zone devoted to the traditional plants and gardens of the region, called the ‘Jardín de la Huerta'.

The ‘Jardín de la Huerta'

To the right of the pergola, and on the same level, was the ‘Jardín de las Flores’ (the Flower Garden), which richly deserved its name. It was comprised of many beds of colourful shrubs and herbaceous plants, some areas brightly coloured and others filled with clever combinations of plants with flowers in cooler shades.

Salvador was worried about the long-term future of the closely planted shrubs such as these Grevilleas, whose spacing had been specified in the original design

The Flower Garden, with one of the main restored buildings in the background

We next descended into the children’s area, to take a close look at the sunny ‘vertical garden’ which edges it. The sinuous curving concrete walls offer a multitude of pockets for plants such as Cistus, Helichrysum, Scaevola, Armeria, Festuca glauca, Scabiosa, Stachys lanata, Cerastium and trailing Lantana.

We found the ‘vertical gardens’ interesting and attractive, with a wide range of happy plants in a sustainable setting

Between the two ‘bowls’ there is a very attractive long pool planted with aquatic plants and lined with Albizia  trees, backed by sloping beds of mixed trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials.  

Aquatic plants in the pool include water lilies and Thalia dealbata

Entering the ‘Jardín de la Huerta', which we had earlier viewed from above, we passed along the shadier of the two ‘vertical gardens’, and here we saw the planting pockets had been filled with a variety of ferns, Hemerocallis, Tulbaghia and several trailing plants including Trachelospermum and white and blue varieties of Vinca.

Part of the ‘Jardín de la Huerta', looking along the shadier ‘vertical garden’

Walking through the main area we noted that it had been divided up into many smaller plots, each of which contained plants typical of local gardens and agricultural areas. Groups of trees included not only varieties of citrus, widely grown around the city itself, but others which thrive in drier or cooler conditions, such as date palms, almonds, olives, mulberries and cherries. Some of the beds held shrubs with traditional uses, such as Sambucus, (elder, used in elderflower drinks) or coppiced willow, for making baskets. Others contained fruits, including thornless blackberry bushes and grape vines, or plants with medicinal uses like Aloe Vera. Even the walls were covered with kiwi fruit vines and fan-trained Prunus trees.

View across the ‘Jardín de la Huerta', showing the diversity of the plantings and a small water storage tank, as would historically be used for irrigation

Our tour had brought us back to our starting point at access point no.2 of the park, next to the Russafa neighbourhood. Just inside Russafa, in a restaurant in a small tree-shaded park, we all enjoyed a long and delicious lunch.

The group enjoying an excellent Spanish lunch (José-Miguel Herrero)

Afterwards, Salvador led many of us on an exploratory walk through this interesting area. Originally an independent town with mainly 19th century buildings, before being engulfed by the growth of the city, it later suffered a period of decline. However recently, after an effort by the city to revitalise the district, it has become a popular area of specialist restaurants and eccentric cafes, and possesses its own enticing and colourfully-painted market. Members gradually left the tour during the afternoon to make their way home and just six of us accompanied Salvador to the North Station, where we offered him our grateful thanks for providing us all with a memorable day.

The North Station, Valencia, designed by Demetrio Ribes

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

May 2019
Visit to the Christine Lomer Iris Collection at the Estación Biológica y Jardín Botánico at Torretes   

When Christine Lomer regretfully decided that she could no longer open her famous Iris Garden to the public she donated a large part of her impressive collection to the Botanic Garden at Torretes. Local MGS member Pedro Moya, who has a great love for and knowledge of, irises worked hard to establish the plants, in an area high up the sloping site above many of the other plant collections, where conditions would suit them.

Pedro telling the group about the different members of the iris family, their history and cultivation

Pedro with the donor of her collection, Christine Lomer

Pedro and Christine discussing the development of the area with Segundo Rios, who is responsible for the Botanic Garden

After only a few years it is now possible to enjoy the colourful sight of two longitudinal raised beds filled with many different and exquisite named iris cultivars, interplanted with some attractive small conifers. Pedro was kind enough to arrange this visit for the group and to explain to us the information about the iris family on the display boards.

The irises were planted in attractively landscaped raised beds to ensure good drainage

Every plant is accurately labelled

We all enjoyed wandering along the iris terraces, admiring the gorgeous range of flower shades and the many different combinations of colours

Afterwards, we took the opportunity to visit some of the other interesting features of the garden. For those who were here for the first time there were many to see, but especially important were the two latest projects: the collection of ferns and the collection of liverworts and mosses (bryophytes), both artistically and practically housed in a large greenhouse where temperatures and humidity levels can be controlled.

Part of the greenhouse containing the bryophytes, with the fern collection at the other en

Part of the collection of bryophytes

Nearby, we noticed an eye-catching plant which was identified as Genista umbellata

It was difficult for some of the group to leave the exploration and enjoyment of the garden in time for us all to reach the restaurant in the nearby town of Ibi for the lunch which Pedro had kindly organised. However, it proved to be a very enjoyable afternoon, with the chance to chat about what we had seen and discuss future plans while we ate a delicious Spanish meal. Many thanks for your efforts, Pedro.

Text by Carol Hawes; Photographs by Alan and Carol Hawes

May 2019
Visit to the garden ‘El Sueño’ (The Dream) near Ondara, in the north of our area.

Our first visit of the year was recommended and arranged by a local member, Ann-Marie Monet, who felt that this special garden would be enjoyed by our group, and she was proved to be correct. This garden is privately owned by Pedro and his wife Lucrecia but is open to the public on most days by appointment. It has been created over the last 16 years to fulfil their long-held ambition to house a wide collection of plants of especial fascination to the owners, from succulents of many kinds to varieties of fruit trees and roses. There are also several extra features to enjoy, including a ‘cave' with cascading water to shelter ferns and a small museum holding collections of fossils, minerals and shells. The interest shown by the many visitors to the garden is of great importance to the owners because they love to share their enthusiasm and knowledge of plants.

Beginning our tour of the garden and museum

The plot of more than 5000 square metres of land, with its own well, was formerly used for growing oranges and so has a good fertile soil. This suits the collections of Mediterranean and more tropical plants, but the area devoted to the succulents has been designed as a series of narrow raised beds filled with a more porous soil and mulched with volcanic lava. All the planted areas are carefully watered by drip irrigation according to the particular needs of the plants.

The raised beds filled with many different succulent plants

The smallest cacti of the many hundreds in the collection

Pedro first showed us many different cacti, from tiny species such as early-flowering Mammilaria, through a set of barrel-shaped Echinacea grussonia and Ferrocacti, to some small star-shaped Astrophytum species. As a contrast, we soon came to a huge Cereus peruvianus from Mexico, which produces large white flowers which last only one night. There were also some large climbing cacti with wonderful fruits called ‘pitayas' (‘dragon fruits’). Pedro told us that specimens of Opuntia (of which he has more than 20)were the first cacti to be introduced into Spain from America, bringing with them cochinilla insects (the source of the red cochineal). All of the fruits of cacti can be eaten, and we were invited to sample some of them.

Sampling the colourful cactus fruits

We next visited the bed devoted to plants in the genera Agave, Yucca and Dracaena, where there were large examples of Yucca rostrata (with beautiful silvery leaves), Yucca elephantipes, Agave americana marginata and A.ferox, among others.

A striking example of Yucca rostrata amongst the other related plants in this bed

Many other raised beds are devoted to some of the other genera of succulent plants such as Aloe, Crassula, Kalanchoe, Aeonium, Echeveria, Sedum, Stapelia, and Senecio.

Several of the Aloe species were in flower

The raised beds often house trees which partially shade the other plants

The perimeter of the garden around the raised succulent beds is planted with a variety of interesting trees and shrubs including Gleditsia tricanthos, Parkinsonia aculeata and Carissa macrocarpa (all three with vicious spines), a Macadamia tree, Erythrina crista-galli and E.caffra, a group of young cedars  (Cedrus) and a stone pine (Pinus pinea). There are also many examples of citrus trees, almonds, apricots and figs as well as other attractive trees such as Acca sellowiana (flowering beautifully, with pink flowers whose petals are edible, as are the fruits which follow) and a large Dombeya, which has hanging clusters of showy pink flowers early in the year. Close to this we saw a small pond, home to turtles, frogs and fish, and surrounded by plants including sugarcane, Phormiums, Metrosideros, Chirimoya, Avocado, Actinidia deliciosa (kiwifruits) and a huge guava tree (Psidium guajava).

The ‘cave' above the pool has water cascading from the roof to the pool

The artificial ‘cave' houses ferns, which enjoy the humidity provided by collected rainwater stored in a tank and fed to them by gravity. Below the cave there is a cleverly constructed room which is cooled by the cascades of water and is a wonderful place to relax and escape the summer heat. Surrounding the pool and cave there are many impressive plants including huge bamboos, a large Strelitzia augusta and a big Eriobotrya japonica (loquat or, locally, nispero) tree, which was made even more interesting because of the many potted Epiphyllum plantshanging from its branches.

Nisperos and flowering Epiphyllum plants

Nearby we saw some beehives which ensure that the fruit trees are pollinated, and collections of Pelargonium varieties in pots and Tillandsia, (air plants) hanging at eye height. We then had the opportunity to walk through the propagation tunnels (and to buy some of the amazing array of small plants available).

One of the sheltered areas for the propagation of plants from this extensive collection

The final feature of the visit was a small but very interesting museum which holds the collections of fossils, shells and beautiful mineral specimens which have been amassed over many years. In all, it was a very exciting and amazing experience to visit such a fantastic and personal garden, the result of many years of hard work for both of the owners, and a tribute to their knowledge and dedication.

We were extremely pleased to have the chance to relax and discuss all that we had seen while we enjoyed a delicious meal in a nearby restaurant (also arranged by Anne-Marie – again, many thanks!)

Text by Carol Hawes; Photographs by Alan and Carol Hawes

November 2018
Final branch meeting of the year at the house of Branch Heads, Alan and Carol Hawes, Crevillente  

We were pleased to welcome a large number of members and friends, both old and new, including several Spanish ones. It was a splendid opportunity for us to get to know those who had most recently joined the group, and to have time to chat about their interests and gardens.

Toni Pont, professional gardener, took charge of the exchange of plants, while our stalwart helpers with refreshments and the contributions to the lunch brought by those attending (Karen Leathers and Pauline Weal) worked hard to keep everyone happy.

Alan gave a presentation about the AGM tour and post-AGM tour in Valencia, which had been both exciting and exhausting, showing photos of many of the gardens which had been visited. One of the visits in Valencia was to a large redevelopment of redundant railway land, the new ‘Central Park’, which would be a good subject for a branch visit next year. For other branch meetings, Alan requested help from members with suggestions for suitable gardens or themes. More importantly, he stressed that in the future we shall also need help with the practical arrangements in the areas chosen, although we feel that we can continue to coordinate attendance lists, travel plans and visit reports.

After sharing a relaxed buffet lunch and touring the garden everyone collected their plants and made their farewells, until the ‘New Gardening Year'.

The Alicante AGM

The 24th Annual General Meeting of the MGS was held on the Costa Blanca from 25 to 28 October, based in Alicante. This was an ambitious undertaking for a small branch such as ours but a number of branch members and friends (Guy and Elizabeth Marriott, Diane Wright, Karen Leathers, Moisés Grau, Jacqueline Charron and Ana Rodriguez) shouldered much of the responsibility for the arrangements for the AGM and the post-AGM tour to Valencia, where member Salvador Pastor was also a great help and a highly knowledgeable guide.

We were pleased to welcome a total of 73 participants, including 20 from Australia, 12 from California and 1 from Canada, with the rest coming from 8 European countries including Spain. We were sorry to have to turn away a few late applicants because the pre-AGM and post-AGM tours were fully booked. The 50 people who visited MGS members’ gardens in Mallorca, guided and organised by the Balearic Islands Branch Head Sally Beale, told us that they had very much enjoyed the experience.

The schedule then allowed time in Alicante for the members of the Administrative Committee to hold an afternoon meeting and enjoy dinner together, while on the following morning the AC met with all the Branch Heads. We were especially glad to see so many present, and to meet the heads of the branches in Greece, Crete, Italy, Cyprus, Southern and Northern California, Western Australia, Victoria Australia and the new head in the UK. Two committee members of the South Australian branch attended in place of their Branch Head. Having such a large group of people to discuss issues with the President, Vice-president, Secretary and Treasurer made possible wide-ranging and useful expressions of interest or concern, including possible future aims for the Society as a whole and suggestions for sites for future AGM’s.

In the evening of Thursday 25 there was a Welcome Reception at the Melia Alicante Hotel, during which participants registered and were given a pack of useful information about the cities and gardens to be visited. We all had the chance to get to know each other as we enjoyed the Spanish snacks and the wonderful view of the lights along the Alicante coastline.

The Welcome Reception (Karen Leathers)

Friday 26 was devoted to visits to gardens in the fertile plain south of Alicante, including a visit to our own garden. Alan enjoyed discussing our collection of eucalypts with the many Australians present and we both appreciated the enthusiastic comments on the garden during the visit.

Alan describing the eucalyptus species in the section of our garden for Australian plants (Carol Hawes)

We all shared a delicious Spanish paella lunch in the attractive country garden of a local member, who also showed us his collections of citrus and jasmine varieties.

The paella lunch, enjoyed in the warm sunshine amidst the scent of jasmines (Karen Leathers)

Visitors were also guided through the best features of the nearby city of Elche, famous for its situation among 300,000 date palms, and especially for the ‘Huerto del Cura’ garden, which has received many important visits in the past. The impressive ‘Imperial Palm’ records the visit of the Empress of Austria in 1894.

The ‘Imperial Palm’ in the ‘Huerto del Cura’ garden in Elche (Karen Leathers)

We ended the day at a favourite local Tea Garden, whose owner has created an incredibly beautiful garden in the Moorish style, reminiscent of that of the Alhambra palace in the city of Granada, where he was born.

The Moorish Tea Garden at dusk (Karen Leathers)

On Saturday 27 we all journeyed northwards to visit gardens in the mountainous interior of the province. In the morning we spent time in two historic gardens, both created in the mid 19th century. The highlight of the Brutinel Garden, built for a paper manufacturer next to his now-abandoned factory, is its Pavilion, a combination of reception rooms, large greenhouse and aviary, where a local historian described the fascinating history and the architectural features of the garden and its buildings.

The Pavilion and a persimmon tree with beautiful autumnal colour (Carol Hawes)

Inside the aviary section of the Pavilion (Carol Hawes)

The other garden, the ‘Jardín de Santos’, in the Romantic style, contains many different and contrasting garden features around a large central pool (which holds the water needed to irrigate the garden). There is also a small museum which explains the planning and the history of the garden.

The central pool and some of the surrounding parterres (Karen Leathers)

For lunch on this day we arranged another typically Spanish meal, this time of 'tapas' (a succession of different small dishes, designed to be shared), in a nearby restaurant which concentrates on offering home-cooked local specialities. Afterwards, some people decided to return to their hotels to prepare for the evening talk, while the rest accompanied us to the inspirational demonstration garden at 'Casa Tápena', set up quite recently as a Centre of Sustainable Gardening. It has been designed to show how attractive gardens can be made using drought tolerant plants, with suitable mulches, and to house a representative collection of local crops (especially fruit trees), as well as demonstrating past and present methods of irrigation.

Members at the Demonstration Garden at ‘Casa Tápena’ (Karen Leathers)

In the evening, many members attended an interesting talk by a specialist in the design and restoration of Botanic Gardens. He described the evolution of Spanish Botanic Gardens during the 20th century, in the context of the history of the country during that period, with particular emphasis on his own involvement in projects in various parts of Spain.

Sunday 28 began with a scenic drive along the coast northwards from Alicante to the town of Jávea, where the Parador Hotel was the venue for the General Assembly. Some Costa Blanca branch members joined the visitors for the GA, and for events later in the day, which allowed them better to understand the workings of the MGS and to meet its leaders.

The GA began with an expression of thanks from the President, Caroline Davies, to all those who had organised and managed the AGM, and the pre-AGM and post-AGM tours. She then gave a summarised account of the many developments during the past year, including those at the Sparoza garden, the revitalizing of the UK branch, the affiliation with the Mediterranean Gardening Association of Portugal (MGAP), the foreign tours organised by the MGS and the new responsive website. She thanked the many people who had put great efforts into both new and long-standing elements of the MGS’s activities (including the Journal, Facebook page, Plant Forum, and the Seed Exchange), other members of the AC and all the Branch Heads. She also announced a small increase in the annual subscription.

The Treasurer then read and explained her statement for the year and thanked the Auditors and others who had checked her accounts. This statement was approved by the members present and was followed by the year's report by the Secretary, a report on the year at Sparoza, and a report by the Editor of the Journal (encouraging members to contribute more articles and noting the approach of the 100th issue in April 2020). The report about the MGS Forum and Facebook pages showed how widely popular these pages are, and how much information about mediterranean plants and gardens is available to the public via the MGS.

An important part of this GA was the report about the new ‘responsive’ MGS website, and the changes that have been made to its format. There are several new features, others have been redesigned, and now all the different branches will be encouraged to express their own personalities on their branch webpages. The President issued a password which allowed those present immediate access to the new website so that we could see and comment on the new format.

Preliminary plans for the 2019 AGM (the 25th) were announced, which fittingly will take place in Greece. The President encouraged all members to consider standing for election to the AC, now that modern communication systems make possible online meetings. She also announced that the annual donation to a local garden would this year be given to the ‘Foundation Enrique Montoliu’ (FUNDEM), based at the Albarda garden, which would be visited that afternoon.

Before the meeting ended there was a short talk about the April 2019 MGAP event in Portugal, (to which all MGS members are invited), discussion about the site for the 2020 AGM and a mention that some seeds from the MGS seed collection were available at the meeting. The holder of the MGS seed collection mentioned that she was having difficulty in contacting members in France and a new French member offered to resurrect the French branch, an offer which was very gratefully accepted. The meeting concluded with thanks to the participants in the AGM, with special thanks to all those in the Costa Blanca and Mallorca for their efforts in making it such a success.

NB The full official minutes of the meeting can be requested from the Secretary via the link on the website.

A buffet lunch was then served at the hotel, which was much appreciated, as was the opportunity for participants to mingle and discuss the morning’s meeting. After lunch we drove the short distance to the ‘Jardín de L'Albarda’, the base for FUNDEM, which demonstrates the richness of the flora that survive in this climate and especially promotes the use of native plants. It also funds the purchase of threatened areas of land so that they can be retained in a natural state. The five-hectare site contains many beautiful and varied gardens, and we were given a guided tour or allowed to wander about before we were offered drinks and homemade cakes by the owner and his staff.

Members enjoying the guided tour of the Albarda garden (Karen Leathers)

We all returned to Alicante to enjoy the evening’s Farewell Dinner at the Melia Hotel, during which all the organisers of the AGM tour received the thanks of the MGS, and the personal gratitude of the President, for having provided such an interesting and enjoyable three days.

Author Carol Hawes

October 2018
Post-AGM Tour to Valencia

After the main AGM tour, which was based in Alicante, on Monday 29 October 43 of the AGM participants travelled to Valencia for the post-AGM Tour. This three-day tour was designed to give a brief view of some of the many public gardens of this historic city and was organised with the help of MGS member Salvador Pastor, a city head gardener, who also acted as guide to the gardens.

We started with a visit to the Turia Gardens, an 8 km long park created in the old course of the diverted River Turia through the centre of the city. This has been designed as a multifaceted public space accessible to the city centre – we visited a rose garden, a palm walk, a floral bridge and part of the “City of Arts and Sciences”, a stunning development of museums, exhibition halls and an opera house designed by Santiago Calatrava.

The Turia Rose Garden and the exciting Opera House (Alan Hawes)

After lunch in a seafront restaurant we were given a guided walk to the plantings along one of the main avenues of the city centre, the Gran Vía Marqués del Turia, which leads to the central commercial area near the historic North Station where most of us were staying. The station is a wonderful modernista-style building with a beautiful tiled interior. A free evening was spent shopping and visiting some of the many bars and restaurants in this area.

Some of the tiled panels inside the station depict life in the Spanish countryside (Alan Hawes)

On Tuesday 30th the morning was spent in the University Botanic Garden, which has existed since 1567, and which has occupied its present site since 1802. The garden has a fantastic collection of mature trees established from this time and a wonderful collection of plants brought from around the world by Spanish plant collectors, who used this garden to test their hardiness in the city’s mediterranean climate.

Part of the Palm Collection in the Botanic Garden (Alan Hawes)

Another area contains a large variety of succulent plants (Alan Hawes)

From the Botanic Garden the group was taken on a guided walk into the historic centre of the city, taking in parts of the city walls, the Central Market, the 14th century Silk Exchange and the Cathedral, after which the afternoon was free for sightseeing and shopping.

The magnificent interior of the Silk Exchange (Lonja de la Seda) (Alan Hawes)

On Wednesday 31st in the morning we visited, by special arrangement, the new 20-hectare Central Park, which was still under construction at the time of our visit, necessitating our wearing high-visibility jackets. This park is a development of land that was part of the railway terminus in the centre of the city and because of its central location it should be a great asset to the residents. The highly imaginative modern design, by the Californian architects Gustafson Porter + Bowman, was a marked contrast to the more historic gardens in the city.

The group prepared for the visit to Central Park, our guide Salvador in the centre (Alan Hawes)

An overview of the Park, showing the formal style of the design and some of the original station buildings, which will be retained and restored for use by the public (Alan Hawes)

One of the most unusual features is this attractive wall full of plants which supports a high level walkway through the garden (Alan Hawes)

During lunch in a restaurant on the edge of the Viveros Garden we had a small farewell celebration, where thanks were given to the organisers, especially to Salvador, our guide to the city’s gardens.

The most formal part of the Monforte Garden, with classical statues and immaculate topiary (Alan Hawes)

After lunch, as a deliberate contrast to the morning visit, and as a fitting end to the tour, we visited the beautiful neoclassical Monforte Garden, a survival from the 19th century, full of symbolism and precise formality, and wonderfully maintained by the city parks department.

Author Alan Hawes

June 2018
Visit to the Monforte Garden and the Ayora Garden in Valencia

Both of these gardens were created in the 19th century on land that was then outside the city and was used for farming, orchards, for nurseries or for growing cut flowers. Although they are now surrounded by urban developments, they are important green oases, full of mature trees and interesting garden features, and free access to them is very much valued.

The Monforte Garden is one of the most important Neoclassical gardens in Spain. It was created for the Marquis of San Juan, Juan Bautista Romero, a rich silk merchant, and the mansion and garden were completed in 1859. On the death of the owner it passed to a close relative, Josefa Monforte Parrés, from whom it takes its current name. The original garden has been restored and enlarged several times but always the design aspects of the first plans have been respected. During the last thirty years, modern methods of irrigation and garden maintenance have been introduced in order to conserve this historic gem.

The Monforte mansion and part of the Old Parterre

The lions at the entrance to the Old Parterre and an original Phoenix canariensis

The three-storey mansion, in one corner of the plot, dictates the layout of the garden. The northern face overlooks the severely Neoclassical Old Parterre and at ground level it opens out on to a semi-circular patio featuring busts of important men of ideas, such as Dante and Petrarch. Two domesticated lions, symbolizing the dominance of man over nature, guard the gate to the geometrically-designed Old Parterre. The four areas of topiary hedges on each side of the main axis surround statues representing the four continents and at the crossing of the paths there is a central fountain with a statue of Daphnis and Chloe, as a reminder of the power of love. Two more areas of topiary contain statues representing Winter and Spring. All of the many fine statues of Italian marble were made in Rome by a Valencian sculptor.

The vista from the house ends at a long pergola, which follows the south-facing wall of the plot and provides a shady retreat. Long hedges of cypresses, trimmed to provide a cloister-like effect, enclose the Old Parterre. Beyond the hedge is a small triangular area with a central fountain in a circle of orange trees, from which there is an entrance to a large formal rose garden. Another path leads on to the New Parterre, in whose centre stands a statue of Flora, the goddess of flowers and good harvests. This statue is surrounded by an array of hidden water jets which can be turned on to surprise those who pause to admire her.

The statue of the goddess Flora with the water jets in action

After this point the design of the garden becomes much less formal, with winding paths in a more Romantic style, all part of the original desire of the architect to reflect the idea that in some areas nature should be allowed to rule instead of man. Almost at the furthest point from the house there is an artificial mound, which was constructed partly out of the necessity to conceal a large reservoir of water at a level higher than the rest of the garden for irrigation purposes, but it is surrounded by attractive paths circling it and leading to a Mirador at the top. There are many mature trees in this area, some of them original, including huge specimens of Pinus halepensis, and later plantings of trees such as Magnolia grandiflora, Ceiba speciosa, Ginkgo biloba and Bauhinia variegata.

The mound and another fine statue, of Poseidon

Between the mound and the mansion there is a large circular pool, ringed with weeping evergreen trees, two of which are the rare Cupressus funebris and Casuarina. It contains clumps of Papyrus and it is surrounded by hedges of Pittosporum tobira.

The impressive weeping cypresses which shade the pool

Nearby is another informal area leading back towards the eastern façade of the mansion and the impressive arch which separates the Romantic and Neoclassical areas. This arch is surmounted by statues of mythical seahorses and it has been restored to its original colours. On the other side of the arch, the formality of the design returns and the patio on the eastern side of the mansion features many small statues of children or cherubs surrounded by the original paving made of small stones laid in attractive patterns.

The arch, viewed from the mansion, with statues of Mercury (left) and Bacchus

The mansion and garden remained the property of the Monforte family until 1971, when they were acquired by the City Council. Some land adjoining the garden was also bought and planted following the themes of the original garden, and later the mansion itself was restored. Now both mansion and garden are important components of life in the city.

The Ayora mansion and garden created for José Ayora at the end of the nineteenth century are also important today to those who live around them. The mansion is used for educational purposes by the ‘People’s University’ and for social events; the old garden has been restored and many new species have been introduced. Recently a new metro station nearby prompted the redevelopment of another part of the historic Ayora garden and the inclusion of a new landscaped open space and sports facilities.

The Ayora Mansion

The mansion was built to a square plan in the Modernista style, with attractive facades of natural stone and contrasting red brick, ornamented with ceramic plaques in blue and white. Its most outstanding feature is an impressive square tower above the four-sided hipped roof, topped with a cupola covered in tiles with a copper-coloured metallic sheen. It stands in the most northerly part of the current garden and it was used as a family home until the 1960s, after which its condition deteriorated and it was bought by the City Council in 1976. It was saved from the threat of demolition and instead declared a ‘Building of Cultural Interest’ in 1983. After being used by the council in various ways, it was recently thoroughly restored and opened to the public.

Immediately surrounding the mansion there are many tall Phoenix canariensis and Washingtonia filifera palms, which frame and complement the building and form part of the original plantings. Another screen of trees, including many jacarandas, follows the boundary walls with an opening into a section where some original plants such as orange and lemon trees remain among others which were part of the redevelopment of the area in the 1980s, including an impressive Araucaria columnaris.

The largest and most richly planted area is reached through another opening in the wall around the mansion. It is a large rectangular space enclosed by high walls and it was also bought by José Ayora when he bought the site for his house. It was at that time a plant nursery and contained some trees which still exist, including clumps of Ficus macrophyllaf. columnaris with gigantic trunks.

The huge clump of trunks of Ficus macrophylla f. columnaris dominates this part of the garden

Large parts of this garden were replanted after its purchase in 1976 so there are now many mature trees which offer welcome shade to the visitor. Many sinuous paths wind between hedged beds containing a wide variety of trees and shrubs, underplanted with attractive flowering plants. Some of the most interesting and beautiful examples are huge trees of Ceiba speciosa, Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Casuarina cunninghamiana, Livistona chinensis, Grevillea robusta, Magnolia grandiflora, Metrosideros and Hibiscus. Underplantings include many Brugmansia, Acanthus and Crinum plants. There are ceramic benches on which to rest, fountains and a rose pergola, all of which help to make this garden an enticing place in which to linger.

Brugmansia under a Livistona chinensis palm  (photo by Karen Leathers)

Outside the original wall, to the west of the mansion, another area was redeveloped to provide an open space for public enjoyment and games, enclosed by a huge curving pergola covered in Bougainvillea, and planted with Jacaranda trees and many palms. More developments are under way to landscape the new metro station and sports facilities, which will enhance the already highly popular Ayora Garden.

The impressive pergola covered with Bougainvillea

On June 9th a group of local members was privileged to be guided around the Monforte and Ayora Gardens by one of our members, Salvador Pastor, who is one of the city’s head gardeners. His knowledge of these gardens is extensive and inspiring. Our visit to Valencia ended with a delicious paella lunch in the beautiful Viveros Gardens and we all felt that we had experienced a very special day.

For older reports and articles please check out the archived (non-responsive) Costa Blanca Branch page.

Alan and Carol Hawes
We have always enjoyed visiting gardens and also planning, planting and caring for our own. Alan’s career in computing gave us the opportunity to spend time in Australia and Singapore, where we came to love the exciting tropical and subtropical plants. We made a ‘subtropical garden’ on the south coast of England (growing some of the plants in pots and sheltering them in conservatories during the coldest months). It was featured in several magazines and was open to the public under the ‘National Gardens Scheme’.


The only way to expand the growing of our favourite plants, when taking early retirement, was to move to somewhere with a warmer climate. So, we chose a suitable plot of land in south-east Spain and began to design and create our current garden in 2003. The garden is now quite mature and gives us great pleasure, as do the visits from gardening groups with whom we enjoy sharing the results of our efforts. For several years we have greatly valued our association with the multinational Costa Blanca branch of the MGS and now look forward to the challenge of ensuring its continuation, with the help of some of our enthusiastic members

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