Gardens of Spain Tour 2015

AALD had the incredible opportunity early this spring to visit and discover the gardens, history and culture of Spain. Our group of 12 included landscape designers and their friends and partners. We rendezvoused in the area of Cabo Roig in Southern Costa Blanca at the vacation home of one of our members. This area provided a good home port for day trips to Valencia, Cartagena, Elche, Alicante and Torrevieja . We each had the opportunity to explore other parts of Spain both before and after the week spent together.

Our hosts Marion & Angle Negreira provided an introduction to the local nurseries in the area where we enjoyed exploring the plant varieties that are popular in the landscape trade. The ancient looking potted olive trees and large cactus were particularly interesting. We recognized many plants that we are only able to use as annuals or house plants back home.

Visiting the historic gardens of Spain provided us with a look at landscape design installations that were vastly different than anything we would experience in Canada. With some, such as Alhambra & the Generalife gardens in Granada dating back to the 14th Century, we got to view the Moorish influenced design with its succession of courtyards and pools.

The Jardin de la Sultana (Sultana’s Garden), Generalife, Granada

In the Islamic style there is a continuity and play between internal and external space. As we walked through the varied rooms of the fortress (Alhambra translates to Red Fort) it would lead us one courtyard garden to another. Translating this grand and formal style to landscapes at home would be impossible. These are gardens of kings and emirs with an army of gardeners to do the maintenance. We can however have small pruned hedges to visually divide space and provide a sense of visual movement. We are also able to make effective use of repetition, massing and balance without the formality and corresponding maintenance requirements seen here. Mortared stone walls, that have weathered in Spain for centuries, would be more difficult to incorporate in Canada, due to our severe freeze and thaw cycles.

We took a day trip to the nearby town of Elche to visit El Huerto del Cura, The Jewel of the Palm Park, National Artistic Garden. Elche boasts being the home to over 200,000 palm trees whose origin is believed to be Phoenician 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. The Date Palm, Phoenix dactylifera, is considered to be the star of the El Huerto del Cura garden. The garden is only 13,000 square meters, containing approximately 1,000 palm trees. There is also an exceptional cactus and succulent garden containing specimens from the most arid places around the world. This garden is fronted by beautiful ponds with interconnecting pathways. The resident peacocks were more than happy to pose for their admirers.

Huerto del Cura, Jewel of the Palm Park, Elchie

For those of us who had time to visit Madrid, we were treated to a magnificent public park spanning 300 acres in the heart of Madrid, Parque del Buen Retiro. In addition to extensive formal gardens, historic monuments, manmade lake and a large rose garden, there was a community garden where locals were tending to artichokes, Swiss chard and numerous herbs and fruit trees. On the Saturday we visited, the park was alive with street musicians, rollerblade classes, families on bicycles and many enjoying a picnic in the many open spaces. To us it felt like a brilliant gift of city planning.

The Retiro Park is bordered by many of Madrid’s historic landmarks and the famous Prado Museum and Art Gallery. Adjacent to the Prado is the Real Jardin Botanico, a beautiful Botanical garden housing a great collection of plants from around the world. The garden was begun in 1754 by Fernando VI and was moved to its current location in 1774 by King Charles III. It is organized into three tiered terraces with plants arranged by their Classification.  A part of the gardens early mission was to encourage expeditions to discover and classify new plant species. It was also considered a place to teach & study botany while providing a beautiful display garden. During our visit in late March, the camellias were in full bloom as well as the early star magnolias, a few rhododendron, daffodils and hellebore. It was a wonderful stroll on a cool and damp spring morning.

Real Jardin Botanico, Madrid. The camellias were in full bloom during our visit.

Sevilla is home to the gardens of the Royal Alcazar, declared a World Heritage site, and is considered to be one of the most ancient, beautiful and varied gardens in Europe. It contains close to 1,000 palm trees and almost 200 species of trees and plants including myrtle, rosemary, boxwood, lilies and acanthus.

View to ‘the Ladies Garden’ from the Garden of the Mercury Pond, Gardens of the Royal Alcazar, Seville

A visit to Cordoba provided more garden thrills at The Castle of the Christian Monarchs, Alcazar Viejo, which has been the site of a fortress since Roman times. The series of gardens, ponds and pools were arranged in keeping with Arabic gardening traditions and included palm trees, cypresses, orange and lemon trees.

Garden at the Castle of the Christian Monarchs, Cordoba

This trip provided a wonderful opportunity to share an incredible country with fellow landscape designers and invigorated us with ideas for the coming season. It has wetted our appetite for more travel, could Italy be next!

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