Touring the Palm Gardens of Spain

(page 2)

A hot Spanish afternoon is not the best time for garden-visiting, but our schedule was tight and we had another garden to find that day. The “Jardi Botanic Tropical Pinya de Rosa” is within walking distance of Marimurtra, and is similarly positioned on a sloping coastal site with magnificent views. This garden also gives a high priority to research and to the acquisition and study both of wild-collected species and those already in cultivation. It specialises in cacti and succulents, of which it has world-class collections. Some areas are given over to systematic plantings of many different genera, but there are also large displays of mixed plantings where some splendid palms vie with huge agaves and cacti for one’s attention. There is a complete and frustrating absence of labels in this part of the garden, and we found no-one who could speak any English. Unfortunately, they had also run out of information leaflets in English! We could find no plan of the garden and it was almost at the end of our visit that we accidentally came upon the systematic beds of cacti, agaves and yuccas. Here are set out large numbers of plants of the same species with as many different origins as possible so that comparisons can be made between them. Here, labelling was much better and it was fascinating to compare their growing plants with our own and with those previously only seen in photographs in reference books. At the exit there were plants for sale at extremely reasonable prices and we were able to begin our plant collecting with three fine agaves.

Next day we recommenced our drive southwards, bypassing Barcelona. As we passed Castellon, north of Valencia. we saw clumps of Chamaerops humilis growing wild on the hillsides, and a sign to the “desert of the palms”. We were heading for the small town of Altea, south of Valencia, because one of our guidebooks had mentioned a “cactus and sub-tropical garden” near the town.

“Cactuslandia” is a highly idiosyncratic privately-owned garden on an almost vertical cliff site. It is a comparatively small garden of steep narrow terraces which offers not only large numbers of cacti and succulents but tropical fruit trees, palms, exotic birds and other animals. If you can face them, after the rest of the garden, there are large collections of shells, minerals and fossils. The sea views are spectacular, but this is not a garden to visit if you suffer from vertigo! The garden has a small bar, and has plants for sale. It is a fascinating but domestic-sized garden and one in which we felt very much at home.

From Altea it was only a short drive to Elche, south-west of Alicante. Elche is just one huge palm grove, with about half a million date palms. It has its origin in Phoenician times, when the palms were cultivated and irrigated in an orderly way. The cropping and irrigation systems were adopted by the Arabs when they ruled the area, and were subsequently introduced throughout the rest of the Arab world. Since the Middle Ages other crops have been grown between the palms, benefiting from the shade and humidity. The trees are still tended and cropped and large amounts of delicious dates are produced. Date palms dominate the town, the streets, the parks and even the campsite, which was by far the most beautiful we have ever visited. Sadly, it closed down the day we left, for development into a hotel!

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