Mid May brought another wonderful excursion with the Costa Blanca branch of the Mediterranean Garden Society. This time our day consisted of visits to three quite different gardens situated in the Xaló valley. The day started with an early morning visit to the home of one of the members, a Spanish professional gardener who has studied and worked in various different parts of the world including Japan. Toni has particular passion for and expertise with cacti and bonsai. His home is a traditional cottage perched on a quite steep wooded hillside blessed with spectacular views over the vineyards and towns of the Xaló valley. In this unpromising site he has created a magical garden formed of terraces wrapped around his austere yet elegant home filled with books, art and his guitar. The centrepiece of the garden is a collection of cacti possibly unrivalled in our region. Toni guided us around the different levels and spaces in the garden explaining the challenges of growing at 45 degrees! He made us very welcome with home made cakes and drinks including a traditional cake made from produce grown in his garden. Toni’s warm Spanish hospitality and courtesy set our group up for the day and he joined us on the second leg of our adventure which took us down into the valley below to a quite different garden and atmosphere.

Our second garden of the day was at the home of a German couple in Alcalalí who over the last decade and a half have created a remarkable garden around their home in a converted farmstead characteristic of this part of our province. Their house was formerly a building for the processing of raisins, it even includes a building that was formerly a chapel for the workers. What is now their garden was originally where the grapes were grown. The contrast with Toni’s quite water scarce hillside garden could not have been greater. The owners of this piece of paradise have chosen to create an exuberant almost tropical space. Dense plantings of exotic flowering plants crowd the paths that wind through the garden. One is confronted by different specimens at every turn. Instead of the exhilarating backdrop of Toni’s spectacular view their garden encloses the visitor in a secret fragrant world where one pushes through foliage and is surrounded by colour, scent and dappled light. The work involved in making and maintaining such a garden is immense and the couple explained that they work at least 4 hours every day in the garden.

The final garden of the day was also the location of our wonderful lunch; the Finca la Cuta restaurant in Lliber. This quite large garden consists of a series of beautiful spaces famous for lavender bushes which are distilled on site to make scent and other products. The formal parts of the gardens follow the classic Spanish form of beds and pools surrounded by paths and shady trees. The restaurant provided a mouth watering vegetarian lunch served on large tables set under pergolas on a patio overlooking the formal garden.

The day had one final special treat. After lunch our group was given a short talk by one of America’s leading landscape architects Thomas Woltz. Thomas’s practice is currently one of the foremost landscape design firms in the world and specialises in public projects including important and prestigious sites at Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home), Hudson Yards and the Flight 93 (9/11 hijacking) National Memorial

Thomas gave a fascinating talk explaining how his firm’s approach is to firstly work to understand as much as possible about the sites that they are working on. Analysis of soils, local climate and flora and fauna are accompanied by historical research to establish the history of human occupancy and usage of the sites. His firm employs historians alongside research scientists and surveyors to build a complete profile of sites which will inform and guide the subsequent design of any landscaping works. His practice also has a commitment to regenerative design enabling degraded landscape to heal itself. The ambition and commitment of Thomas and his colleagues is probably unrivalled in their field. Interestingly, his visit to Spain was to participate in a project to study the ancient Islamic water courses that still bring water from The Alpujarras mountains to the city of Granada. In a private chat after lunch he explained his wish to see a much wider understanding of the places we inhabit; their natures and history; sentiments we obviously heartily endorse!

It was a privilege to meet these passionate gardeners and to experience the beautiful worlds they have created. Learning about Thomas Woltz’s remarkable work was the crowning glory of a marvellous day spent exploring and learning about gardening and landscape. Our newly appointed councillors in Santa Pola would do well to study the land and landscape they have temporary custodianship of and our own little community in Gran Alacant can definitely benefit from learning from people blessed with a real commitment to enhancing the environment that we all inhabit.

We strongly recommend anyone interested in or appreciative of gardening and landscape to consider joining the MGS and to join us on future adventures!

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