Ten Minutes From Christopher Columbus

A quick tour of one of spains lesser known gardens, well worth a visit if you find yourself in Bar-thelona.
by Martyn Graham, Sutton, Surrey, U.K.
Chamaerops No.34 Spring 1999, published online 15-04-2000

If you get the opportunity to visit Barcelona, consider taking a right at the bottom of 'The Ramblas' and visit Barcelona's exotic garden at the Montjuic hill. It's only a ten minute walk from the Christopher Columbus column and starts on the right hand side along the coast road to Tarragona.

The garden's primary plantings are palms. There are, however, quite a few varieties of Agave, Cactus, Yucca, etc. There is no sign at the bottom entrance to the gardens. It starts off as a rough, wide path and winds its way up the hill. The garden is planted on a hillside and has a magnificent view of the sea and Barcelona. The paths meander from side to side up the hillside and eventually reach the top where there is a cafe. On a hot summer day this is a good spot to relax, take refreshments and view the gardens.

The top of the gardens can be reached by a road which works itself up the hillside. Although there is not a great variety of palms in the garden, how they are used is interesting. Along the upper road there is a line of Washingtonias which at sunset exemplify the architectural quality of palms. As expected there are a lot of Chamaerops humilis palms planted. Many are mature specimens, some with trunks twelve feet high. Previously I had only seen such tall specimens at Kew Gardens in London. There is considerable variation in the bushiness and shape of the Chamaerops.

One of my favourite palms is Brahea armata, the hesper palm from Mexico and California. The quality of blue in this palm makes one understand why they are so popular with palm enthusiasts. There are at least half a dozen magnificent specimens. Many were heavily laden down with seed when I was there in early December. The seeds were not quite ripe yet though. What I particularly liked was the planting association with cacti. It is a shame that in England there are no plants that give quite the same effect. I guess that phormiums will have to do. My second favourite palm is Butia capitata. There are a number of mature specimens whose arching fronds as ever typify the exotic. They were also heavily seeded and perfectly ripe, so much so that I was tempted to eat one.

One path is lined with six foot high Livistona chinensis palms. I couldn't see any fully mature specimens in the garden though. There are, of course, many mature Phoenix canariensis palms. They have the space in this garden to grow to their full potential. Other Phoenix palms to be seen are Phoenix dactylifera and Phoenix roebelenii. It is interesting to see Sabal palms forming trunks several metres high. I don't think I will live long enough to grow such fine specimens in my local climate. The ripe seeds of these palms looked like blackcurrants.

The general layout of the garden is informal. As I visited the garden on a Sunday, there was no-one to talk to about the planting philosophy behind the garden. It was late in the afternoon when I took the photos and the light seemed to emphasise the shape of the palms. Generally, I thought that the plant mixes worked well. However it would have been interesting if they had planted a few conifers such as the Macedonian pine, and large leaved plants such as bananas and cannas. They would have contrasted well with the spikiness of most of the plantings.

Although the hillside is already naturally very stony a further number of large and interesting stones had been brought in to add to the general design of the garden. Along the paths there are a number of benches where one can sit and enjoy the garden. I hope that members who stay in the city get the opportunity to visit this garden for an hour or two; I am sure they will leave with a few ideas for their own gardens.

Whilst travelling around Barcelona you will see plenty of palms but I can only remember seeing three species being used: Washingtonia, Chamaerops humilis and Phoenix canariensis. Thus, a trip to this garden makes a refreshing change.

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