|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Costa Blanca Branch of the MGS
We began our visit at Carol and Alan Hawes' beautiful garden, where we met first for a cup of coffee, Carol´s famous biscuits and various cakes. Once refreshed, we toured the garden. Now about ten years old, the one-hectare plot started life as an orange orchard with about two hundred and forty trees. For three years Carol and Alan lived in a camper van on the property and started designing the garden long before the house was built. They have divided the garden into sections which either reflect the various continents of the world or are dedicated to a particular plant. We started with ‘America’, where we admired the cacti and succulents in a stunning desert bed.
A little further along we came to a delightful circular flowerbed surrounded, among other things, by a large number of mature Melia azedarach, all grown from seed. We progressed to the orangery where forty of the original trees remain. There were very few oranges to be seen, and Alan explained that the poor crop this year was probably caused by the extremely hot weather in May, when the developing fruit was ‘cooked’. Following advice from Sálvador Pastor (head gardener for the town of Valencia), who suggested incorporating liquid fertiliser in the watering system and changing the watering cycle, the trees are now all looking extremely healthy.
Then through the rose garden, where we stopped to smell the Rosa 'Tipsy Imperial Concubine', a hybrid tea rose with incredible scent and a pretty pale-pink with creamy shading, which was re-introduced from China in 1982. The smell of the roses and nearby flowering jasmine was heavenly.
We paused at the compost production centre, where Alan explained how he produced wonderful compost with the aid of his shredder. A huge pile of eucalypt leaves, half-shredded, was waiting to be used on the paths.
Then on to the section called ‘Australia’. Here we found dense collections of eucalypts, cassias, grevilleas and callistemons, right beside the ‘Outback’. This section of the garden is home to about five hundred eucalypt trees of about thirty different species, all grown from seed. The variety of eucalypts is amazing; several were in bloom, with lovely pink, red and yellow flowers.
On many of the eucalypts, the seedpods and the buds were almost as attractive as the flowers. Once a tree grows too big, it is felled for firewood and replaced by a new sapling, which has been growing in the greenhouse.
From the ‘Outback’ we jumped a continent into ‘Africa’, where we were assailed by a riot of colour, yellow gazanias, deep blue plumbago, brilliant pink Podranea, orange Tecoma capensis, some plants not strictly where they belong, but over the years, as we all know, if a new plant needs a home….
By now, it was two o'clock and time for some more refreshments, and to collect the seeds, cuttings and plants which Carol generously allowed us to take before heading off towards Moisés Grau´s garden. Before starting our tour of this garden, our multinational group, Dutch, French, Swiss, German and British, sat down in the shade for our picnic lunch.
Then Moisés gave us a tour of his Roman-inspired garden. A splendid lawn is surrounded by a pillared walk. At the base of each pillar, Moisés has planted a jasmine, a different type for each pillar. He has a wonderful collection, white and yellow, of course, but also one with a red flower.
Behind the Roman walk, there is a large number of citrus trees, some, such as Buddha’s hand, a variegated lemon, and even a sweet lemon, Citrus medica (syn. Citrus limetta), quite exotic.
All too quickly it was time to move on, but first a quick visit to Moisés’ parents’ garden next door. In contrast to his own garden, which was started about five years ago, this garden is very old and well established. Huge pine trees give wonderful shade, and for decoration there were succulents in pots.
Then we piled into our cars and followed Anna Gevers to her house to visit her garden. This garden has a definite ‘Wow’ factor as one enters. The Bismarckia nobilis truly lives up to its name. The ‘lawn’ is, on closer inspection, Mesembryanthemum cordifolium (syn. Aptenia cordifolia). Anna has seventy species of plants in her garden, and to aid us in our identification of them all, she gave us each a printed list. But it was not just the variety of plants, it was also the artistic way in which the garden has been created which so impressed us. In all our peregrinations we were accompanied by Anna´s cat, who seemed to welcome the influx of visitors.
The cactus garden will be an inspiration to us all, though whether many of us would be brave enough to introduce all those spines into our gardens is another question. Some looked especially dangerous. As daylight faded, we said a reluctant farewell to Anna and each other, and clutching more cuttings and seeds, made our various ways home. It had been a fascinating day and we were all most grateful to Alan, Carol, and Anna for allowing us to visit their gardens.
Text by Annie Busch
Due to the fact that there was very little demand for staying overnight at Moisés’ casa rural, the programme was changed at short notice. Unfortunately there was in the end not enough time to visit all four large gardens, so the branch head and four other members chose to visit the iconic Moorish-Andalusian garden in Crevillente after the Roman garden.Text by Edith Haeuser
The village of Penáguila, near Alcoy, is one of many very old villages in the province of Alicante, and many of its historic buildings are well preserved. It stands on a promontory on the western slope of the Sierra de Aitana, below the Peña de Águila ('Eagle's Rock'), from which it takes its name. It is proud to be the home of the famous Jardín de Santos, which is one kilometre away along the original path created between the garden and the village.
When we visited the garden, one member of our group, who had researched the history of the garden, gave us an introductory talk at the entrance before we split up to explore. The entrance to the garden is in Andalusian style and features finely-worked iron gates and specially-designed floor tiles and plant containers. The original house now contains an interesting museum, illustrating the history of the garden and the concepts behind its design.
The garden was created during the 1840s by a young, highly-educated member of a wealthy, landowning family, Joachín Rico i Soler. He had travelled widely through Spain, visiting many important gardens with his friend, the artist Antonio Cabrera. The many paintings which they brought back from their journeys provided the inspiration for the design of the garden. The result is a harmonious mixture of Arabic, neoclassical and romantic elements condensed into a garden of less than 3000 square metres.
The gem at the centre of the garden is the large rectangular pool, which reflects the clear blue of the sky. It is important not only for its beauty but also for its essential function in the ingenious irrigation system designed by the owner. Water coming from the nearby mountains is stored here before it is channelled to the various parts of the garden.
On a level slightly higher than the pool is a long cypress-shaded pergola, in the centre of which is an oval sitting area with an original statue representing spring. The pergola is lined with potted plants, including many begonias (of which the original owner had a notable collection), and leads to a conservatory. This originally served as a nursery for the many flowering plants which the owner raised to furnish the garden in the summer. It now houses an orchid display and other tender plants. On the terrace above the pergola, there are polyantha roses beneath a huge Sorbus domestica and ancient banksia roses, which also shade the pergola.
To one side of the pool one descends along narrow paths hedged with pittosporum and finds oneself in a small, dark wood. There are many evergreen trees, including large specimens of box, pines, cypresses and firs. These provide deep shade as one walks to the grotto, temptingly cool inside, but accessed across a drawbridge which can be raised only from the outside.
On returning from the wood to the level of the pool, there is a set of elegant parterres, neatly edged with low hedges of euonymus. They contain a variety of flowering shrubs and bulbs as well as impressive topiary specimens and an unusually tall Phoenix canariensis. In the centre of the area is a small wrought-iron aviary, sheltered by tall hedges of cypress and myrtle. On the side of the pool opposite the wood, the path descends again to the level below the house, where a labyrinth of cypress and box surrounds a tall cedar of Lebanon.
This small historic garden seems very intimate, never overpowering the visitor, offering many quiet corners and shady walks within its walls so that the occasional view to the bright world beyond its boundaries is almost a shock. It has suffered damage from time, weather and vandals, but has now been well restored and is open free of charge at weekends. It has excellent facilities for visitors, including a picnic area where we enjoyed a relaxed lunch after viewing the garden. Afterwards, we strolled along the cypress-shaded path to the village and admired its historic centre, a pleasing way to end the visit.
Text by Carol Hawes
Our visit to this garden was very enjoyable, and at the same time instructive. Pedro has made a virtue of necessity by concentrating on the use of drought-tolerant plants in a garden with very low rainfall and a meagre supply of irrigation water. The garden, surrounding a small casita, is in an area to the north of the city of Alicante, one of the driest parts of the region, with an average annual rainfall of around 300mm. There has been significantly less in the past two years, with no rain last year and only 90 mm in this one, giving the surrounding countryside a desert-like appearance.
Having followed Pedro in convoy from our meeting point through a maze of very minor roads, we arrived at the garden, and we were impressed by the mature appearance of the planting in the entrance drive. Many of the evergreen plants that do very well in this region have been planted by family members in the past 15 to 20 years to provide privacy for this weekend house. We all gathered in front of the house and Pedro gave a short introduction to the garden, its history and his plans for its future development.
Moving from this area, up some shallow steps, there is an area which was redeveloped last year by Pedro, with a collection of fruit trees including olives, mulberries, carobs, and quince. Other plants include myrtle, Limoniastrum, iris, Retama, Myrteola phylicoides (syn. Myrtus microphylla), Spanish broom, roses, agapanthus, oleanders, arbutus, vinca, Viburnum tinus, Echium candicans, and the attractive, rarely-seen Scabiosa cretica (syn. S. cretica ssp. minoana). There are also plans for more plantings of aromatic plants in the open area at the centre of this terrace.
The change of level up to the next terrace is edged with a new natural stone wall (just completed by Pedro), which incorporates a small fountain in the form of a spring (fuente). This terrace is planted as a small wood or arboleda, containing Pedro's collection of some of the native and endemic
This arboleda shelters many plants which can be found growing wild in parts of this region, including Rosa centifolia, Teucrium capitatum, sedums, aeoniums, and many other plants known only to the most knowledgeable of those present. Several members of the group with similar gardening constraints, or an enthusiasm for plants native to this region, found this area fascinating and instructive as to what can be achieved with minimal water resources. There was a discussion amongst the professional gardeners in the group, who agreed on the importance of plantings such as this in dry zones as a means to increase the organic content and structure of the soil through root action and leaf fall. They also stressed its value as an example to owners of other properties in this region.
The quiet, green shade in this arboleda was a welcome respite from the increasing heat of the day. Later, we all retired to the shady terrace of the house, where we enjoyed an informal lunch provided by Ana Sanchez, augmented by contributions from the visitors.
Although much smaller than many of the gardens that the branch has visited in the past, this garden is full of interest, and a testament to the dedication and attention to detail of its owners. The visit also provided an ideal opportunity for many of the new members and friends who attended to get to know key members of the Branch and experience the type of meeting that we organise.
Text by Alan Hawes
On May 15th, fifteen members and guests of the Mediterranean Garden Society made three visits: to the Iris Garden, the Lavender Garden and the Plantas Jalón Nursery, which specialises in drought-tolerant and autochthonous plants.
The Iris Garden has been created over the past 20 years by Christine Lomer and Nick Brown. It is situated in the hamlet of Marnes, above Benissa, at an altitude of 500 metres, and has 20,000 square metres of cultivated land, to which the Sierra Bernia forms a dramatic backdrop. The day before our visit saw unseasonable temperatures of 40 degrees, a record for May. This, with the wind, had adversely affected some of the plants, especially the roses.
Originally the garden concentrated on the many species of iris, especially the cultivars of bearded iris, of which it now has the largest collection in Spain. With the development of the garden, thousands of bulbs have been planted, including narcissus, tulips, snowdrops and cyclamen, which herald the arrival of spring. A notable achievement for Christine was when Josie Elias won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Photographer of the Year 2012 award for her picture "Beneath the Olive Tree", depicting the tulips and other bulbs in full flower in spring.
Christine went on to develop a love affair with roses, and there are now 300 modern and old varieties on display. On this day most noticeable were the roses 'Crepuscule', a noisette rose with endless fragrant apricot-yellow flowers, and 'Golden Celebration', a David Austin yellow, scented bush rose, which together surround the bog garden planted with Louisiana irises. Other memorable roses were 'Paul's Himalayan Musk', a beautiful blush pink R. moschata rambler, 'Lady Gray' rambling over an arbour with its cascading pinkish-white blooms, 'Constance Spry', a pink fragrant climber, and 'Francis E. Lester', a white rambling rose with a strong fragrance.
Throughout the garden there are many native plants and others especially suited to the terrain, including Olea europaea (olive), Ceratonia siliqua (carob), Cupressus sempervirens, salvias and aromatic plants. Other areas of the garden have been developed, such as the Secret Garden and the Labyrinth, with hard landscaping and seating areas enabling one to enjoy both the garden and the views.
When we reluctantly left the Iris Garden, we paid a visit to the nursery Plantas Jalón, where many of us enjoyed the chance to investigate the wide variety of plants for sale, some of them very rarely seen.
Once purchases had been completed, we all made our way to the Lavender Garden, where we knew that a delicious lunch awaited us. Finca la Cuta, now known as 'The Lavender Gardens', occupies 24,000 square metres of hillside near Lliber in the Jalón valley. It has been owned by Susanne Semjevski since 1983 and has been continually evolving. Some of the original plants were retained, but much work was needed to improve the terraces and add many new drought- tolerant plants. Structure and shade are provided by Ceratonia siliqua, Olea europaea (some of which Susanne has spent many years pruning to shape including 'cloud pruning'), Cupressus sempervirens and Morus (mulberry trees), underplanted with Viburnum tinus, lavenders, salvias, thymes and other aromatic plants. Acanthus grows in abundance in the shaded areas of the garden. There are many seating areas in quiet corners from which the views can be enjoyed, and arbours planted with clematis, roses and wisteria.
As the garden developed, the cost of irrigating it increased, and in order to maintain it to a high standard, Susanne decided to open it to the public in 1996. It continues to be open to the public on Sundays, but for a membership of 30€ a year one may access it any day. The income from this, and from private bookings and events, allows the garden to keep evolving. Susanne also distils and sells lavender oil.
We enjoyed a beautiful meal here, four interesting courses impeccably presented and accompanied by the delicious local Marnes white wine. It was a useful opportunity for new members to get to know each other and a wonderful way to end the day.
Text by John Male
Ten members of the branch visited this arboretum last November to enjoy its autumn colours. A return visit in mid-April allowed us to appreciate the trees in the full glory of their spring flowering.
The first two areas that we visited (formally planted with rows of Fraxius ornus, Celtis australis and Quercus faginea) are open for public enjoyment. Sálvador, the head gardener of the Montforte Garden in Valencia, told us about the soil on these two terraces, its good depth and fertility and the thorough working that it was given before any planting was begun. Many locally-collected seeds were sown in 1994 and only the most vigorous seedlings selected for planting in 1995. Even so, we could see considerable variation between different trees of the same species, some strongly single-trunked, while others grew more bushily. These areas are not irrigated and the trees experienced difficulties during the dry summer of 2014 (especially those on the higher terrace, where the soil is shallower). In March this year 150 litres per square metre of rain fell and by the time of our visit, the ground under the trees was thickly covered with wild flowers. We noted especially the lush foliage of Scorpiurus muricatus, a legume with pretty yellow pea-flowers, which provides nitrogen to the trees (no chemical fertilisers are used here). We also loved the blue flowers of Cynoglossum creticum, Borago officinalis and Anagallis arvensis subsp. foemina. The delicious scent from the myriad of white blossoms on the Mediterranean ash (Fraxinus ornus) was almost overpowering.
When we reached the private part of the arboretum, we could appreciate again the careful planning behind the planting schemes. A tall screen of 25-year-old Cupressus sempervirens shelters the garden from the prevailing winds and plays host to a huge and beautiful Rosa banksiae f.lutea. While we admired the impressive collection of trees and shrubs, Sálvador described the system of irrigation which ensures that they flourish. A nearby mountain lake supplies water to the local area and the garden uses drip irrigation (extended in 2014 because of the dry summer) from this source.
He then led us slowly down the various terraces, naming the trees and shrubs. Near the top we saw fine examples of cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), Pinus canariensis and oaks, including Quercus pubescens and Q. macrocarpa. Among the flowering shrubs were Photinia × fraseri‘Red Robin’, Viburnum opulus and ceanothus (in pink and blue forms). Here too we noticed Berberis thunbergii and Cotinus coggygria, showing Sálvador's predeliction for red foliage. As we descended the slope, the shelter provided by the trees increased until we reached the level where the casita is situated, among attractive trees such as ginkgo, liquidambar, copper beech and Quercus polymorpha (of interest because the new and older leaves differ in shape). Here also were roses, lilacs, philadelphus, irises, gladioli, self-sown Lathyrus odoratus and many attractive wild plants, including wild arum (which unfortunately attracts local wild boars). From this level one can follow paths through massed acanthuses right down to the stream-filled valley.
When we were finally sated with plants, we settled near the casita to enjoy our picnic lunches and the treats provided by our hosts Sálvador and Paco. We much enjoyed hearing more about their arboretum and about the gardens of Valencia. Sálvador told us more of the history of the Jardín de Montforte, known historically by its title in valenciano as L'hort de Romero (Romero's orchard) in honour of its creator, Juan Bautista Romero. He also explained that the Valencia Botanic Garden has such an exceptional collection of plants because it was the first garden in mainland Spain to receive recently-discovered plants from the Americas, after they had been tried in the Botanic Garden 'La Orotava' on Tenerife. We are very lucky to have such a knowledgeable professional gardener among us.
As we sat talking in the tranquil shade of the many mature trees and among beautiful flowering shrubs, nightingales sang. It was a fitting end to a truly memorable visit.
Text by Carol Hawes
On March 28th about twenty members and friends gathered in the garden of Beate and Karl Henz, which occupies 22,000 square metres of the driest part of the La Plana area of the Montgó Nature Reserve. Originally the land was used for agriculture and planted with olives, carobs, almonds and vines, but now most of the plot, as it slopes upward away from the house, is covered with a mature mixture of pines, olives, rhamnus, arbutus, kermes oak, cistus, lentiscus, figs, laurel and some Chamaerops humilis. Where there is space and light, smaller plants thrive, such as the orchid Ophrys lutea and Drimia maritima (formerly Urginea maritima). It has taken ten years' work by the owners and their inspired landscape gardener to create paths, giving access to the furthest parts of the garden, and retaining walls to enclose beds for decorative planting nearer the house. Some tall washingtonia palms and cypress trees give height to the large paved terraces around the house, where decorative succulents are extensively used to minimise the need for irrigation. We all enjoyed exploring the garden and identifying the trees, shrubs and flowering plants shown on the list provided by Beate.
Later, we drove towards the Cabo de San Antonio, to view the area where the vegetation was destroyed by a serious (and deliberate) fire last September. We were pleased to see that the land had been cleared of debris and that many small plants were taking advantage of the lack of tree cover to thrive. Our knowledgable guide, Pedro Moya, pointed out many beautiful plants and identified them for us. Those with cameras found them impossible to resist. Particularly lovely were Minuartia geniculata (syn. Rhodalsine geniculata), Gladiolus illyricus, Galactites tomentosa, Asphodelus fistulosus, Echium creticum and Oxalis pes-caprae, nestling amongst the rocky outcrops.
Lastly, we returned to the area near to the garden visited earlier and walked along the shady road past the picturesque Sanctuario towards 'Los Molinos', a set of restored windmills perched on the edge of the plateau. In the shade we saw some exquisite flowers of Moraea sisyrinchium (syn. Iris sisyrinchium), and out in the sun by the windmills the established vegetation was in full flower, with many bushes of Lavandula dentata, and Malva subovata (syn. Lavatera maritima), amongst which we saw bright clusters of Pallenis maritima (syn. Asteriscus maritimus). The views from this spot, down to the sea and Jávea, were spectacular.
The warm temperatures and some welcome rain had combined this spring to produce a wonderful display of wild flowers and we felt privileged to have been shown so many of them.
Text by Carol Hawes