La Finca De La Conception

Next time you're on one of the 'Costas' in Spain, do try to visit this old and very atmospheric garden, justly famous.
Javier Segura Canizares, C/Muralla del Mar 15, Cartagena, Spain
Chamaerops No. 18, published online 23-07-2002

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Malaga is to be found in southern Spain on the Mediterranean coast and enjoys one of Europe's most benign climates - perfect for the outdoor cultivation of subtropical plants. The average annual temperature is 17§C and the minimum is never below zero, and in some places never below 5§C. Unfortunately the average rainfall is really low, about 500mm, which means it is necessary to provide irrigation and humidity during the hot summer months.

The garden 'La Finca de la Concepcion' is situated near the reservoir 'El Agujero' and separated from Malaga itself by the motorway bypass. Access is by means of the Madrid road (N-331) which in turn separates the garden from the Hacienda de San Jose, a sanatorium, to which it has been joined since it was built, over a hundred and fifty years ago.

It was in very different surroundings that Amalia Heredia Livermore received it as a wedding gift from her father, the owner of an important shipping company, when she married Jorge Loring Oyarz bal, an educated and politically very influential man whose great interests included gardening and archaeology. Thus was this impressive garden developed as a labour of love by this couple, with exotic plants brought from all over the world (China, the Philippines, South America etc.) in D. Manuel Augustin Heredia's ships, and at the same time it was a setting for the important social as well as the political gatherings of late 19th century Spain.

In 1911 the Heredia and Loring families' business declined so much that the Finca de la Conception was sold at public auction. It was acquired by the Basque couple Echevarria-Echevarrieta, who not only restored it but extended it with plants similarly brought from the four corners of the then Spanish colonies. Unfortunately, after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) the property became more and more neglected as the fortunes of the owners declined. In 1990 the Malaga City Council bought it and it was in 1994 after much work that it was finally opened to the public.

Many things will surprise you when walking around this garden. The large stature of many of the plants, the layout, and the style, which is totally different from all the other historical Spanish gardens. It is not designed round any formal layout, rather the natural slopes and topography are respected to create a more natural effect. Natural differences in level are made the most of in order to create spaces with their own identity. There is no rigidity. Water flows from numerous cascades and is distributed throughout the garden by means of irrigation channels and streams, filling it with freshness and the sound of running water. A large arbour covered with wisteria and bougainvilleas, the greenhouse, the house itself, everything is exuberant.

The plentiful palms appear unexpectedly, surprising us with all their beauty. Here we find the largest specimens in existence in all Spain of some of the species, such as Roystonea regia, Livistona saribus, Archontophoenix, Chamaedorea, Livistona decipiens, L. australis, Sabal palmetto, Jubaea chilensis, Syagrus romanzoffiana as well as other species of great size. Also to be found are large examples of Cycas circinalis bamboos, Ficus, Araucarias, and many more.

What of the future for La Finca de la Conception? The Malaga City Council has recently committed itself to turning it into the best outdoor tropical botanic garden in Europe. We shall see. Personally, and knowing the present state of the great majority of the public gardens of Andalusia, I would be content if everything possible were done to maintain and conserve not only the wonderful plants, but also the spirit of this magical and beautiful garden.

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