Touring the Palm Gardens of Spain

(page 3)

We had come to Elche to visit the famous “curate’s garden” - the “Huerta del Cura”. Originally the garden produced crops of fruit and vegetables in the shade of the palms but this century it has been developed and landscaped by its owners so that now it contains many interesting plants, especially palms, cycads and succulents, in an attractively-designed and colourful setting. Especially famous is the Imperial Palm (a Phoenix dactylifera), which has eight branches growing from a single trunk - it has to be heavily braced to prevent it splitting apart. It was named after the Empress Elizabeth of Austria when she visited it in 1894. There are many other named date palms but, more recently, emphasis has been placed on planting other species of palms in the garden and these are mostly labelled. We saw Phoenix roebelenii and P. reclinata, Caryota mitis, Syagrus romanzoffiana, Brahea armata, Dypsis decaryi, sabals and howeas, plus some impressive cycads. There is a recently-planted cactus and succulent garden and a large formal pool in a cool shady area where one can sit and relax. Plants, drinks, other souvenirs (and dates) are for sale near the exit and the garden is open every day. After our visit we explored the town and found even the municipal park to be beautifully planted and far more interesting than most parks.

We were now within a day or two of Almunecar, about which we knew very little, and we were keen to have some time to explore the town before the beginning of the official meeting. We arrived with a day to spare and were able to settle in at the campsite and visit the Bird Park, which has some splendid palms to set off the exotic residents. Palms have been widely planted throughout the town, so that there are streets shaded by syagrus and traffic islands full of caryota and Dypsis lutescens. The sea front is lined with washingtonias and Phoenix canariensis, all carefully irrigated at night.

We met up with the other EPS members at the evening reception held in the attractive, floodlit garden of the Palacete de la Najarra, where we were welcomed to the town by the mayor. Next day we returned to the Palacete to meet our guides for the tour of Majuelo Park, which is close by. Outside the main entrance to the park are some tall Roystonea regia and Ptychosperma macarthurii, while inside there is a closely planted collection which included not only all the species we had previously seen on the trip but many more. Most had been planted as young specimens and it was interesting to hear from our guide, Emerencia, the history of the collection and the lessons that have been learnt about the survival and growth of such a wide variety of palms in the local climatic conditions. She welcomed the views of the assembled experts of the EPS on the identification of some of the palms - two Pseudophoenix sargentii were correctly identified by the most expert amongst us and a group of butias was separated by comparison of their fruits. It was especially interesting for us to visit the park in the company of so many knowledgeable “aficionados".

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