Monday, December 24, 2012

Gardens of Spain Part 1 - The Alhambra of Granada

Merry Christmas to all!

In honor of the holiday, I thought this might be a nice occasion for a festive tour through the gardens of Spain.

I had the privilege of visiting Spain earlier this autumn, specifically the cities of Barcelona, Sevilla, Cordoba, Madrid and Toledo.

While I was there, I took a number of garden-related photos. Let's start in Granada, where we spent a whole day at the remarkable Alhambra, a complex of palaces, villa, fortress and gardens built by the moors primarily from the 11th to 13th Centuries C.E. calls the Alhambra gardens "the best and most-famous late-medieval castle gardens in Europe." I have to admit - and this may be sacrilegious to late-medieval castle garden fans, but the Alhambra gardens did not actually appeal to me very much.

In fact, to be honest, I found the famous Spanish gardens I visited to be a bit of a letdown in general. Too much in the way of endless hedges, not nearly enough in the way of color, flowers or horticultural diversity. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps Spanish gardening tastes are simply not in sync with my own.

That said, you can't traipse around Spain for a couple of weeks without finding some photogenic garden sights. Here are a few of my favorites from the Alhambra.

The interior of the Generalife palace within the Alhambra complex. I liked the way that the arch with its intricate carvings framed this garden view.

Can anyone help with a plant ID here? The flowers (but not the leaves) look a little like Fatsia japonica. If this plant is hardy in zone 6/7, I'd be interested in adding such a pollinator-friendly plant to my garden.

In October, when we visited, the Alhambra was highlighting Celosia (also known as Cockscomb) as its Plant of the Month. Fun fact -- according to Wikipedia, Celosia is actually related to amaranth. Wikipedia further claims that at least some varieties of Celosia may have medicinal or edible uses. I've been hesitate to grow celosia since I've heard the plant is somewhat temperamental (sensitive to root stress), but these claims make me want to take another look at a plant which clearly has some lovely ornamental appeal. If you've grown (or tried to eat) celosia, please share your experiences in the Comments section below.

A courtyard garden with a pleasingly geometric water fountain. From what I have read, water is typically an important feature in Moorish gardens. Here you can see the ubiquitous low hedges seen in many Spanish gardens. Can't say they appeal to my aesthetic sensibilities (because they don't).

It was really hard to get a photo with no people in it, as the Alhambra was mobbed with visitors. I like the massive purple vine (wisteria?) growing on the wall, as well as the blue flowers (sage?) growing alongside the wall. I can see how some people would like the long channel of water with the twee little arched fountains spritzing water along it, but again, it's not my cup of tea. You can also see here how many of the low hedges alongside the channel/fountain are in sad shape. This seems to be to a peril of relying on hedges for garden structure. If the hedge starts to decline, the impact on the garden aesthetics can be catastrophic, whereas the decline of a single plant (or even multiple plants) in a mixed shrub and perennial border can be managed far more gracefully and subtly.

I'd never seen this before and have to say that I thought it was very clever for the designers to have carved a water channel alongside this stairway. In the hot climate of southern Spain, it makes climbing the stairs a more cool and refreshing experience. Not sure it would work so well in a colder climate where I might be worried about water splashing and freezing to create a slip hazard, but I suppose the waterworks could always be turned off in a colder season? I have to imagine that small animals (birds, lizards, etc.) would enjoy drinking and bathing in such a shallow stream of water.

Here's a slightly different idea with a rushing stream actually carved into the handrail of the stairway. What an interesting concept!

Again, water (and those danged hedges) play a major role in this garden, along with fountains and geometric shapes. Perhaps it's the linear geometry and right angles that I find so off-putting in the Moorish gardens? Perhaps that's what caught my in this photo where the sunlight draws curving ripples in the water that soften the hard lines of the garden framework and encourage the viewer to linger in order to listen to splashing of the water and be mesmerized by the sparkling and shimmering evanescent patterns.

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  1. I have always wanted to visit Spain and will note all the gardens you show in your posts to map out a tour I know I will love!! Love the last photo...Merry Christmas!

    1. Thank you, Donna. I hope you enjoy visiting the gardens of Spain someday :)


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