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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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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