|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Costa Blanca Branch of the MGS
On Thursday December 5th a small but enthusiastic group of members took advantage of the opportunity to visit two small, mature, but very different gardens.
Every plant demands and deserves close attention: many are exquisitely branched, almost abstract art-works, while others have a personal history, having been collected by the owners on their botanic expeditions. Some are extremely rare, and Gérard propagates many of his plants, filling his large greenhouse and various quiet corners near the house with hundreds of small pots. (He is very generous too, and we all came away with young plants and material for cuttings.)
While the emphasis is on growing as wide a range of plants as possible (there are some 800 different ones), a special focus is the collection of approximately 200 members of the genus Euphorbia in their multitudinous forms. There are also large numbers of attractive specimens of the genera Cactus, Agave, Aloe, Yucca, Dasylirion, Aeonium, Kalanchoe, Crassula, Cycas, etc.
Even the small terrace where we enjoyed coffee and biscuits houses shelves of jewel-like smaller specimens, which are best appreciated at close range. The variety of plants in this small garden is truly incredible and every new visit would afford a different view. Above all, it is a beautiful garden, where the mix of plant forms never jars, and the blending of foliage colours, and of flowers, is harmonious. For me, the visit was a marvellous experience.
After an enjoyable lunch on the quiet seafront in Jávea, we drove the short distance to the garden of Pauline Gale, who was an enthusiastic member of the MGS for many years. Her peaceful garden was also begun almost thirty years ago, in the pleasant shade of fairly young pines. Now, however, the few pines remaining (one very close to the house) are so large, and their roots so demanding, that gardening beneath them presents a real challenge.
The walls surrounding this part of the garden are well-clothed with climbers such as Podranea ricasoliana and a large white night-flowering cactus. In one corner of the garden there is a raised seating area in the shade of a tree-sized specimen of Pittosporum tobira, which offers an alternative view over the mixed plantings. In other areas around the house, we noticed a large lemon tree full of fruit and a mature loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) in flower.
Pauline is also fond of roses, and she has been trying some locally purchased plants in large pots at the front of the house. We had an interesting discussion about the problems of sourcing plants here in Spain as opposed to ordering them from Britain or elsewhere.
It was a very pleasant hour that we spent in this restful garden and a fine end to a most interesting day.
Text by Carol Hawes, photographs by Edith Haeuser unless otherwise stated.
The branch visit to the southern Costa Blanca attracted thirty participants with more members than ever. Carol and Alan Hawes’ garden had recovered with the lower temperatures of September and it was showing a lot of colour in the African and Australian sections, and some in the Americas area. The eucalypts were beginning to bloom. The most notable were Eucalyptus erythrocorys, with yellow flowers and red bud caps, E. leucoxylon subsp. megalocarpa, with glowing red flowers on both mature and young trees, E. torquata, with a few pink flowers, and E. crucis with clusters of white flowers around the stems. The Ceiba (syn. Chorisia) speciosa with its orchid-like flowers was also admired. The Australian grevilleas and callistemons were in full bloom, and a few yellow flowers on Cassia artemisioides remained among the glossy brown seed pods.
The main performers in the African section were the sky-blue Plumbago auriculata (syn. P. capensis), multicoloured Tecoma (syn.Tecomaria) capensis and the pink-flowered climber Podranea ricasoliana.
The visit to the next garden consisted of two parts: lunch in the garden of Moisés Grau’s parents, and a visit to his adjacent Roman Garden, still under construction. The first was a traditional Spanish country garden, with generous shade from trees, many plants in pots, such as clivias and aspidistras, and a large cooking area. We were spoilt with a very large home-made paella and many other delicious dishes.
The Roman Garden has developed since our visit with the Mallorcan branch members in May, with many more large plants established. The palm-frond cover on the pergola provided welcome shade during our visit in the middle of the afternoon. See the March report for a more detailed description.
The Moorish Garden in Crevillente is a worthy favourite for our visits to the south. It was built to reflect the Islamic paradise garden as described in the Qur’an and it is therefore a much more static garden, with no pronounced seasonal change. The element of change and motion is found in the flowing water of the various fountains and streamlets, its murmur heard here and there as one wanders through the various garden rooms, now and then interrupted by the shrill sound of a peacock. All in all it was a long but very happy day.
Text by Alan Hawes and William Haeuser.
On the 12th June twelve members of our branch visited André Spiekerman’s ‘Secret Garden’ at the end of a bumpy lane on the outskirts of Altea. On entering through an old hand-carved Indian door, you come to the Tea House, which overlooks the garden – a profusion of perfumes, colours, forms and sounds greets you, enticing you to explore further. In every corner of the garden you can hear the sound of water from the stream which runs through it, and in each area there are seats inviting you to stop and enjoy the lush scenery. The profusion of shades of green and texture (palm and pine trees, cycads, ficus, agave, ivy) is everywhere, and running through these are the pinks, purples, blues and reds of Bougainvillea, Plumbago auriculata (syn. P. capensis), oleanders, and a pomegranate tree with beautiful crimson blossoms. One of the walls above the pond is covered with exuberant Russelia equisetiformis. On the steep slope behind the four Asian-head-fountains, there is a rainbow of colours: Brugmansia, Bougainvillea, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, Plumbago and Lantana hybrids. The ideal place to enjoy this is from swinging basket seats made of hand-woven cloth under the gazebo covered in Ipomoea indica.
There are particularly nice specimens of the staghorn fern, epiphytic plants and bromeliads, Strelitzia nicolai, Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo), Araucaria heterophylla, yuccas, and many more.
Here and there you see decorative pots, statues, and larger and smaller beetles and grasshoppers made of dry plant material by the owner, organic statues so to speak, hanging in the air or sitting on the ground. Everything in this garden is organic, not just the fertilizers: Plants are supported by various types of bamboo, the railings along the paths are also of bamboo, cocoa shell mulch is used around some delicate plants, and almond shells on many of the paths- very pleasant to walk on
André Spiekerman grew up in Amsterdam, where he also studied at the Plant Flower School before working with florists specializing in tropical plants. He has designed many gardens and travelled widely before settling in Altea twenty-five years ago and creating his paradise garden. It is a fusion of influences from the Far East to Northern Africa, with exciting plants from all over the world, a very sheltered garden built on 3000 square metres in a gully, where every corner has been put to use. The stream-bed is planted with Alocasia macrorrhizos, Zantedeschia aethiopica, and Cyperus papyrus. The water is full of life with carp, beautiful ducks and other birds. This garden is very atmospheric and magical, a fusion of styles and plants which form a unit, an oasis of peace and tranquillity.
Our second garden visit took us to a completely different world, barely a half-hour ride inland from Altea, the Cactus Botanic Garden by Callosa d’en Serrià and very close to the springs and waterfall of the Algar river. The garden was begun on a plot of 50,000 square metres in 1996 and inaugurated in 2001. Before the tour of the garden, we had a picnic lunch in the shade of beautiful mulberry trees, enjoying the stunning views over to Altea and the Mediterranean Sea.
The garden is structured with broad terraces, forming an amphitheatre – ideal for collecting warmth for the more than 500 different species of cacti and succulents. To some degree it is laid out in a botanical order, housing various collections of plants. There are no architectural barriers, so you can easily stroll around on wide, well-constructed paths. Water flows down the terraces into a pool at the bottom of the garden. There is always the sound of water in the background, along with the sound of some music from loudspeakers inconspicuously placed, a relaxing, new experience.
Within the collections of cacti and succulents there are some outstanding tree specimens, which add character to the garden, among them a Pseudobombax ellipticum, which none of us had ever seen, some Quercus ilex, once very common also on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, a stunning Erythrina crista-galli, Catalpa bignonioides in full flower and Albizia julibrissin. Some specimens of Caesalpinia gilliesii are noticeable. Olive trees, carob and Aleppo pines are scattered through the garden.
Shrub and herbaceous material has been used throughout the garden, such as Russelia equisetiformis, Callistemon citrinus and C. viminalis along with agapanthus. There are collections of aeoniums with a fine sample of Aeonium canariense,of agaves, aloes, and cereus – the columnar cactus with spiny stems and pronounced ribs is very effective. There is a stunning mass planting of Echinocactus grusonii, the golden barrel cactus from Central Mexico, interesting specimens of Cephalocereus senilis, the old man cactus, with their grey hair.
There are some prime specimens of Pachypodium geayi, Yucca brevifolia, Facheiroa ulei (syn. Pilosocereus ulei), and innumerable other plants. The succulents include Sedum, Echeveria, Crassula, Senecio articulatus and euphorbias. This botanic garden is a collector’s paradise; and the nursery is well-stocked with many varieties for sale.
Although not knowledgeable in cacti, I found this garden very interesting. All in all an enjoyable and stimulating day.
Text by John Male
In the hills above the town of Ibi in the Alicante province, at the edge of the Parc Natural del Carrascal de la Font Roja (900 m above sea level), the University of Alicante has a biological research station which focuses on biodiversity research and conservation issues. One of our local members knew of the centre through his time at university, and he managed to arrange a guided tour with Professor Segundo Ríos Ruiz, the director of the centre.
After an introductory talk about the history, activities and future plans for the centre, we were taken round the living collections of plants, which are the foundation for the research activities, and which have led to the centre’s classification as a botanic garden. The collections were arranged into various areas: a garden of plants of cultural and religious importance, plants with medicinal value, spice plants, agricultural and industrial plants, food crop plants, and those with magical associations. There were also large areas given over to specific genera, including a worldwide collection of salvias, one of rose species and hybrids, and an extensive range of narcissi. The latter are particularly important in the centre’s collaborative research programme. They are working with partners investigating the medicinal value of substances derived from narcissus bulbs, which are used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Seeing the extensive areas under development and hearing the director’s ambitious plans for further developments, it is clear that, given the success of his enthusiastic efforts to create interest and generate funding, the centre deserves to grow and thrive and become a valuable local resource. There is increasing interest these days in the subjects of biodiversity and the value of plants to man, so the role of this centre as a storehouse of knowledge and a facility for the dissemination of it to society is particularly important.
After the tour, a small number of the group took a short walk up the mountain into the fringes of the Parc Natural and saw a wide range of the wild flowers of the area. The display was at its springtime peak, helped by a small amount of rain in the previous weeks. The rest of the group and the professor retired to a nearby restaurant and discussed the visit over lunch.
The branch is hoping to visit the centre again in early March next year, when the collection of Mediterranean narcissi will be at their best.
Text and photographs by Alan Hawes
When I attended my first AGM – Mallorca in 2011 - I recognised what makes the MGS so special for me: it is not just a local gardening group somewhere in the Mediterranean Basin, but an organization that brings together people with the similar interests from many different countries with a mediterranean climate. So motivated, I invited Sally Beale to hop over to the mainland with some of her branch members to visit our gardens. I wanted the Costa Blanca branch members to experience that international spirit. Three weeks before their visit, we were spoilt with a generous portion of spring rain, up to 200 litres per square metre in the north of our coastline and around 50 litres in the south. All the gardens were at their best for our visitors. We had such a marvellous and enriching time together that I would like to encourage every branch to invite other branches for garden tours.
On the first day we travelled to the south, leaving the hills and mountains of the north behind us for a completely different, flatter, drier landscape with sand dunes and marshland, the plains (Vega baja) of the Segura river.
Next we visited Carol and Alan Hawes’ garden in the agricultural area of Crevillente, a small town near Elche. They have grown about 500 trees from seed: eucalypts, melias, parkinsonias, jacarandas, among others. The size of the trees makes it difficult to believe that this unusual, complex garden was established as recently as in 2005. Many of the plants are arranged in various sections according to their origin: Australia, Africa, and the Americas. Some species of Eucalyptus (the pink E. torquata and the yellow E. woodwardii) were still blooming along with grevilleas and callistemons in the Australian garden. In the African section, the gazanias glowed yellow, brown, orange and pink beside the path, and exuberant Plumbago capensis showed the first blossoms here and there between bushes of Polygala and Tecoma. The American area was bright with eschscholzias around the cacti and agaves, and gaillardias and coreopsis amongst the prairie grasses. One characteristic of their rose garden is the rich underplanting, with plants such as Convolvulus sabatius and Geranium species, but also annuals, including poppies, phacelias and nigella. We enjoyed freshly-pressed orange juice from their own deliciously sweet fruit, coffee, home-made sweets and savoury cakes in the shade of the Thunbergia grandiflora that grows over their pergola.
Then we went to the neighbouring town of Catral, which was founded by the Romans, to visit Ana Rodriguez’ garden. Only six years old, it is divided into various zones and colour areas. Palm trees and olive trees shade the gravel path to the house, a Callistemon citrinus and a tall Melia azedarach lead to the pool area. Further away from the house are the most drought-resistant plants, succulents and cacti, agaves and aloes. By the steps to the kitchen is a rose bed underplanted with herbs.
The Vega baja of the river Segura had a rich agricultural economy even in Roman and Moorish times, thanks to a sophisticated irrigation system, which is in use to this day and provides ample water for her garden. With the help of some dear friends, Ana spoilt us with an opulent lunch with many delicacies.
Our next stop was at Moises Grau’s Garden, El jardín de la carrasca (the garden of the holm oak, Quercus ilex). This garden is an addition to an old rural farm, which has been renovated and is now used for agrotourism. The garden was established on an additional plot of 5000 square metres two years ago. It was divided into seven zones, each enclosed by a covered lane for strolling in shade, a typical element of ancient Roman gardens. Two of these zones have been reserved exclusively for citrus trees, mainly various types of oranges. Another zone has been planted with other fruit trees, most of them deciduous and autochthonous: quince, fig, pomegranate, plum, and apricot. A fourth section is reserved for the kitchen garden, which provides vegetables for winter and summer. The area closest to the house has been divided into three zones, with palm trees in one of them, and rare species of citrus trees, (bergamot, citron, and 'Buddha’s Hand') in the others. In the centre of these various zones is a very large square (75 x 75 metres) planted with lawn. It is framed by a pergola made with blue pillars standing on blocks of stone with a metal canopy above. It will be shaded by many jasmine species, which have already been planted: Jasminum grandiflorum, J. fruticans, J. azoricum, J. simplicifolium, J. sambac, J. sambac ‘Grand Duke of Tuscany'’ among others. This zone near the house will be for strolling and relaxing, with its large central space resembling the Forum Romanum.
The last place visited on this first day was the Moorish Garden, half-hidden in the agricultural zone of Crevillente. This garden is more than 30 years old and has become progressively larger over the years. It is an intriguing example of a Moorish paradise garden, with its lush green, shaded garden rooms with many seating places, its intimate corners and the murmur of water everywhere. Privet and cypress hedges separate the various spaces, innumerable pots of Clivia miniata and Aspidistra elatior line the paths. Hedera canariensis, with its jungly growth, forms a nice contrast to the neatly trimmed hedges. Tall palm trees, Ficus benjamina (synonym S. nitida)and Schinus molle shade the garden.
On the second and third day we visited gardens in the north of the Costa Blanca. The first was Christine Lomer’s and Nick Brown’s Iris Garden in the hamlet of Marnes, above Benissa at an altitude of 500 metres. As our coach climbed the narrow road that winds up the mountain, past Cistus clusii, some Cistus albidus and the low Helichrysum pendulum (syn. H. rupestre), pastmany Pistacia lentiscus shrubs and Chamaerops humilis - the dwarf fan palm, the only palm which has not (yet) been affected by the red palm weevil - our visitors began to wonder where we were going. Christine has created a large garden on ancient Moorish agricultural land, which attracts several thousand visitors each year in April and May, when the garden is open to the public. At the beginning she focused on Iris x germanica, salvias and cistus hybrids,as there is no water source on her property. Since then she has experimented endlessly and added thousands of plants (especially from California and South Africa), with a strong focus on rare ones, hundreds of bulbous plants, and ever more magnificent roses, many from David Austin. Christine has a special talent for combining plants to make her garden a feast of colour in spring.
Our next stop was at Susanne Semjevski’s Finca La Cuta and her Lavender Garden near Lliber. Like Christine Lomer, Susanne has treated the ancient agricultural land with its dry stone walls, its terraces and gnarled olive trees with great respect and built a garden, embedded in the hills, which is in total harmony with its surroundings and radiates tranquillity and harmony. Mediterranean clover and Clematis flammula thrive beside roses and irises, rose-coloured thistles beside salvias and Perovskia. While enjoying the delicious lunch that Susanne had prepared for us, a nightingale on a nearby tree enhanced our meal with its extraordinary song.
The day ended with a visit to Edith and Bill Haeuser's much smaller garden. When planning it, they thought of the hot, dry Mediterranean summer months. Their garden should provide a sense of freshness and calm, and so the focus was placed on shades of green and silvery-green, so typical of many mediterranean plants. Colour was used sparingly, limited to white, blue and some pale pink and mauve. This restriction makes one much more aware of foliage and texture. Aromatic plants, such as rosemary, thyme, lavenders (Lavandula angustifolia on the north and east side, L. dentata and L. dentata hybrids on the south side), Salvia officinalis and Ocimum basilicum ‘Purpureum’ all attract bees. One corner at the top of the garden was left in its original wild state with typical maquis plants, which also attract many birds and insects: Rhamnus alaternus, Quercus coccifera, Pistacia lentiscus, Rosmarinus officinalis, Thymus vulgaris, Helichrysum pendulum, Globularia alypum, Cistus clusii, C. salviifolius, Micromeria inodora, Centaurium quadrifolium, Ruta angustifolia, among others.
We opened the last day of the tour with a visit to Francisco’s garden, which is located at the edge of Jávea and at the foot of the impressive Montgò mountain, which at 753 metres above sea level is the highest mountain on the western Mediterranean coast. Francisco can look back on a lifetime of gardening, experimenting with seeds and cuttings. With great enthusiasm he introduced the visitors to his plants and trees. On the upper level of the garden there are still some of the old olive trees from his father’s former agricultural land, which provide dappled shade for a seating area and for plants, such as magnificent sicas. His hedges are a delightful mixture of Jasminum officinalis and J. mesnyi, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, Pittosporum tobira. Hibiscus syriacus is under-planted with Ruta graveolens and Coronilla glauca, forming a screen along the border with his nearest neighbour’s land. His orchard and vegetable garden is on the lower level, where he grows many types of fruit, such as persimmon, cherimoya, and feijoa, but also grapefruit, orange, lemon and plum so that he can proudly pick fruit from his garden all the year round. Some of his fruit trees are under-planted with annual flowers and onions, the cherimoya with Coronilla glauca. Between the tomatoes, dahlias are thriving, and there are two Salvia leucantha by the peppers. He has grafted all of his plum trees on almond trees to make them more resistant to pests and drought.
Our next stop was at Alison Tain’s garden, another beautiful, mature garden. The charming patio garden attached to the house has niches on either side for sitting in the shade and listening to the murmur of a typical Moorish fountain. Plants in pots, such as a Ruellia simplex (syn. R. brittoniana), a beautiful climbing tea rose 'Gloire de Dijon' (launched in 1853 by Jacotot), a lemon tree, succulents and ferns add to the Moorish atmosphere of this patio. In the garden below the house, the plants grow in an exuberant manner: the glowing blue Convolvulus sabatius gracefully falls over stone steps that lead to the lower level, an elegant, white rambling Rosa lucieae var. lucieae (syn. R. wichurana) nearly covers an old carob tree, a Solandra maxima forms an archway over the path, while on the other side a field of Acanthus mollis are in full bloom.
The tour ended at the Albarda Garden of the Enrique Montoliu Foundation. On 50,000 square metres, Enrique has created his version of a paradise garden with a strong influence from Italian Renaissance gardens and the Moorish garden tradition. Close to the house is the formal garden, further away the more natural areas. It also includes a Valencian Moorish garden with four symmetrical squares separated by paths, each square planted with many orange trees and framed with myrtle hedges, with a fountain in the centre. There are pergolas with climbing roses, with wisterias, another one with jasmine. In the palm house the under-planting consists of typical plants seen in the shaded corners around Valencian houses: clivias and cycads. There is a Mediterranean forest with Viburnum tinus, Fraxinus ornus, Quercus ilex, among other trees, where nightingales build their nests every year. Old Persian wisdom says that as long as the nightingales cannot be heard in a garden, it is not a real garden. There is also a small version of the Montgò mountain, which separates Dénia from Jávea, which is famous for its more than 600 plant species. Tasty food and wine were served under the rose pergola, and three enriching days came to an end.Text and all other photographs by Edith Haeuser
We began our tour of the garden in the most colourful area, the Rose Garden, and then proceeded to investigate the different terraces, each of which has a distinct planting scheme to frame its sculptures. (The amusing animal sculptures in iron by Antonio Marì from Jávea were much enjoyed.) There are numerous fine examples of many of the species of trees usually grown in this area – schinus, tipuana, ficus, jacaranda, robinia, chorisia, cercis, melia, mulberry, almonds and olives – together with some well-labelled rarities in the arboretum. We were especially pleased to see the exciting orange flowers of several large Erythrina caffra trees.
The extensive avenues of washingtonia and phoenix palms in the Palm Garden shelter some rarer species of palms as well as a temporary exhibition of small colourful sculptures, which stood out well against their rich green surroundings. The garden in general feels very spacious, tranquil and calming to the senses.
It was interesting to see the new Labyrinth, where this year the irises were replaced by a mixture of early bulbs and a ‘pictorial-meadow’ mixture of annuals such as Linum rubrum, Phacelia tanacetifolia, Eschscholzia californica, with Linaria, Papaver and other genera. The result was a colourful ‘jewel-like’ tapestry whose individual components could be closely viewed along the spiralling paths.
The lower terrace also has a new feature where the ground level changes, at the end of the main path. The ‘Tranquillity Garden’ is named for the new David Austin white roses which surround the small circular pool. To the right, steps in the centre of a low semicircular stone wall pass between newly-planted hedges of Teucrium fruticans.
Great gardens are always developing, as new themes and areas are explored for future interest. A day passed in these two contrasting gardens stimulated much discussion and was certainly a day well spent.
After a walk of twenty minutes, passing through areas of abandoned vine cultivation, we began to see some of the common plants of the area – Teucrium sp., Santolina viridis, Daphne gnidium, various Cistus spp., Silene sp., Asphodelus aestivus, and some bee orchids (Ophrys sp.). On the open flat areas at the top of the hill we started to see clumps of Narcissus assoanus, with heads of tiny bright yellow flowers, which were growing through gaps in the rocky covering of the ground. Further on we found Narcissus dubius, also thriving in the rocky soil. (This small white narcissus is believed to be a hybrid between N. assoanus and N. papyraceus, the latter being the origin of ’paperwhite narcissi’.) At the top of the hill we saw thousands of these narcissi, spread across a large area, creating a wonderful sight. Growing amongst them were isolated plants of muscari, and Fritillaria lusitanica (synonym L. hispanica). We were fortunate in having several members of the group who were able to identify most of the plants that we encountered.
After this feast of beautiful wild flowers, we returned to the house and enjoyed a lunch of tapas, provided by the members, on the terrace, with a spectacular coastal view of Calpe and the Peñón de Ifach rock, dramatically rising 332 metres out of the sea. Christine then invited us all to have a look around her garden, apologising for the lack of flowers, particularly irises, for which it is famous. We found plenty to enjoy, as her garden has a wide range of spring-flowering bulbs and plants. Particularly notable were the hellebores, cyclamen, ipheions, narcissi, Scilla peruviana, and some dramatic lachenalias.
Our first meeting of the year was greatly appreciated by the hardy group that ventured out on what turned out to be one of the glorious winter days that we can experience in this part of Spain.
Text and photographs by Alan Hawes