Touring the Palm Gardens of Spain

Both sequel and prequel to the EPS Summer Meeting in Spain last year. Alan & Carol began before and finished after our trip, and saw some of Spain's other wonderful gardens, too.
Alan & Carol Hawes, 1 Napier Road, Hamworthy, Poole, BH15 4LX, UK
Chamaerops No.29 Winter 1997

Our first ever trip to Spain this year was the result of someone’s inspired decision to hold the EPS annual get-together in Almunecar, on the Costa Tropical. On television, we had followed a programme called “Gardens Without Borders” around Spain and Portugal, and longed to visit some of the gardens on the east coast of Spain which had been featured. We spend most of our holidays in our motorcaravan, and we find it the ideal vehicle for following our own itinerary, to our own timetable -and in great comfort! Fast it is not, but it holds a lot of plants, and we hoped to take home some sizeable palms, as the very best kind of souvenir. A lot of planning was necessary to ensure that we would have time to call in at all the most important gardens and get to Almunecar in time for the EPS meeting.

Having crossed to Cherbourg from our home in Poole in the south of England, we drove down the west coast of France, then over to the Mediterranean and across the Spanish border. The first gardens on our list were both in Blanes on the Costa Brava, where even the sea front boasts a fine display of tall washingtonias, livistonas and phoenix. Steep cliffs, encrusted with self-sown agaves, rise behind the tall apartment blocks at the north end of the town and on the top of these cliffs lies the “Jardi Botanic Marimurtra”. The gardens are administered by a foundation set up by their creator in 1954 and are an intentional centre for botanical research and the conservation of indigenous flora. They are open daily throughout the year, and are very popular with tourists.

Plants are generally grouped geographically, but the overall design of the garden is interesting, and all the different areas are attractively laid out. Only relatively small parts of the whole garden are visible at any one time and one progresses from desert landscapes through a tropical pergola before reaching the temperate section. Further on down the sloping site there are areas devoted to Australian and African plants (but they are not as good as those on Tresco, in the Scilly Isles!). There are many palms, with fine groups of Brahea armata, Syagrus romanzoffiana, butia, phoenix, jubaea and washingtonia (with thick skirts of old leaves). Numerous less common palms (usually unlabelled) were to be seen amongst the mixed plantings. We particularly enjoyed the many species of agaves and cycads, both in the arid areas and generally throughout the garden. The cliff-top site really seemed to suit them and they were generally well labelled. Unfortunately the general public are not allowed free access to the desert areas as the paths are narrow (and the plants very unfriendly) so we were reduced to gazing through the telephoto lens of our camera to see interesting plants in more detail. The best known part of the garden is the long flight of steps leading down to a classical pavilion, which has a spectacular view out to sea. There are no refreshment facilities in the garden, and picnics are not allowed, so after two or three hot and exhausting hours we were forced to emerge for a rest.

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