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Annual General Meetings over the Years
1998 Mallorca, Spain
A Weekend in Mallorca
by Freda Cox, reprinted from TMG No. 15 Winter 1998/9
‘What happened to the rain?’ asked members of the MGS who visited Mallorca for the AGM from 6th - 9th November 1998. Having been warned that the month was usually wet, we found warm sunshine and blue skies; however, no one complained – least of all those members attending from the UK.
Around 50 members from around the world joined those living on Mallorca for a weekend which opened in spectacular fashion with visits to two very different private gardens. The first was brilliantly contrived and manicured by one of Spain’s foremost garden designers, Fernando Caruncho. Clean lines, geometric shapes and minimalist plantings concentrating on various tones of green and grey surrounded a large central pool and fountain. Wide beds of pure white oleander were clipped into neat bushes, sadly without flowers at the time of year when we saw them, while narrow spires of Cupressus sempervirens added darker tones and height to the landscape.
The more romantically styled second garden was in total contrast. Surrounded by high Cupressus hedges, an enclosed courtyard had bushes of an unusual creamy-beige Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. A profusion of purest white, sweetly-scented Ipomoea alba and the mauve-flowered Thunbergia grandiflora smothered pergolas; a series of spacious trellis-rooms in turn were covered with jasmine, pale blue plumbago or softly perfumed roses. A narrow pathway wound between shoulder-high bushes of pungent Rosmarinus officinalis. Stone columns and Grecian urns created focal points, while a stepped stairway of water, reminiscent of Chatsworth, cascaded between tangerine groves. Citrus and olive trees in huge terracotta pots edged pathways, and the picture was completed by a vast and dramatic backdrop of mountains which turned first blue and then deep pink with the setting sun. A chill breeze sprang up and we were pleased to retreat into the warmth of the house where we were offered delicious refreshments. It is hard to believe that both of these gardens are less than five years old; a great feature of Mallorca appeared to be that even very recently planted gardens looked as lush and well established as if they had been growing for many, many years.
The following morning, Saturday, started early with a visit to the historic Arab gardens of Alfabia near Sóller in the south of the island. Pathways wound beneath tall, shady palms whose tops were silhouetted against the deep blue, cloudless sky. All manner of plants cascaded from pergolas and grew in abundance along the walkways, while one footpath running beneath a long tunnel of dappled green shade had secret fountains set into the edges along its length: switched on, the whole arched pergola became a showering cascade of crystal droplets – but whether this was intended to soak the unwary visitor or to water the plants we were not too sure. An enormous and very aged wisteria twined through the treetops, stems now as thick as tree trunks twisted together in a permanent embrace. Relaxing pools of deep water spread beneath trees, with the tinkle of distant fountains.
Pergola at Alfabia, by Wim de Vries for Google Maps 2012
A few kilometres down the road we were in a very different world: the ancient gardens of Raixa. Although Raixa’s origins are Arab, Cardinal Despuig carried out restoration work in the early 17th century, converting the villa to the Italian style. Raixa has passed through the hands of many noble families down the centuries, but it was the work carried out by Cardinal Despuig which left its mark on the villa and gardens. Many famous architects and sculptors were employed to embellish the wonderful gardens, including Giovanni Tribelli, Francesco Lazzarini, Pasqual Cortes and Llula Mells. Now most of the statuary has been removed, leaving the gardens lonely and the villa shuttered. The entrance courtyard with tall palm trees leads through to an impressive and grand staircase mounting into the garden, guarded by two stone lions each of which has a different expression on his face. At one time the huge cisterns of crystal-clear water at Raixa were the largest artificial water reservoirs on Mallorca.
The house and garden at Raixa, Wikipedia 2004
Stony footpaths lead steeply upwards, culminating at the small ‘Es Pulget’ pavilion giving extensive views across scorched grass and red-earthed valleys of almond, fig and olive trees to distant mountains. Much work is needed to restore these great gardens to something of their former glory, yet today they possess their own very different and special wild, lonely and beautiful character.
Sóller Botanic Gardens returned us to a more modern era. Extensive work is being carried out to establish outstanding collections of mainly endemic Balearic plants, as well as smaller collections of plants from further afield, for example from the Canary Islands. This botanic garden is beautifully laid out with shaped beds and pathways; the plants are all carefully labelled and a visit is a must for anyone interested in the plants of the Mediterranean regions. Later we wound up narrow roads in the mountains for dinner at yet another outstanding private garden. Although darkness had fallen, soft floodlighting infused trees and plants with a delicate, mysterious glow and the house was warm and inviting with roaring log fires and wonderful food. A lively party discussed the day’s events, made new friends and planned for the next day.
On Sunday members were given a rare treat: a visit to one of Mallorca’s most spectacular private gardens* approached by a narrow, well-metalled road hairpinning upwards between woods of palm and pine with breathtaking views. Cradled in the heart of mountains, art and nature had been so skilfully moulded together that it was impossible to see where one ended and the other began. Locally growing plants such as Pistacia lentiscus had been carefully trimmed to complement sweeps of other drought-tolerant plants, most of them native to the island. Rocks and mountains formed both foundation and backdrop. Plants tumbled from crevices or forced their way upwards through impenetrable mountainside. Sweet-smelling shrubs and herbs scented the warm air, while pale mauve autumn crocus and tiny pink and white cyclamens peeped from between boulders. The wilder areas, extensively under-planted with bulbs, must look incredible in springtime. This garden was nothing less than a total paradise.
It was difficult to tear ourselves away, but the afternoon heralded the business side of the weekend – and before that a traditional Mallorcan lunch of fish stew. By late afternoon we were at yet another beautiful venue, shaded by ancient oaks, whose owners had kindly offered the use of their house for the AGM. Lush plantings once again belied the fact that the garden was barely a few months old. Plants rioted over the house and filled beds and borders with colour and perfume. A master stroke here was the swimming pool: not the harsh blue one normally sees, but outstandingly effective soft, serene expanses and calming silver-grey water. Following the AGM, we were once more generously entertained in yet another private house.
A visit to the well-stocked Hortus nursery just outside Palma on Monday morning brought the whole glorious weekend to a fitting conclusion. Hugo Latymer offered much helpful advice and inspiration, and cars bristled with all manner of plants as they drove away.
*The garden not identified in Freda’s article was in fact La finca de Ariant, the garden created on waterwise principles by Heidi Gildemeister. In 2012 the garden was donated to the Black Vulture Foundation and is now open to the public. If you are able to read Spanish see the foundation’s site at www.fvsm.eu and an article about the donation here.