With the summer gone, the sun ever lower in the sky, the days shortening, and our British gardens becoming ever more damp, from rain and from dew, ever more cold and forlorn, I was very fortunate to escape to Andalucia last week. Blue skies and 34 degrees centigrade really did feel like an escape.
Oranges ripening on the trees – the joys of a hot climate!
Here, drought is something we really won’t need to think about until the spring at least, but in Spain, autumn is looking very different. There were plenty of dead leaves, but all from lack of water. Wildfires were raging in Galicia and northern Portugal, with the death toll into double figures, and the views from the train window on the way up from Malaga to Cordoba were of parched landscapes. The olive trees seemed to be doing OK (no sign of the dreaded Xyllela virus that is thought to be such a threat) but perhaps they are irrigated. There are certainly a lot of them – it’s something of a monoculture.
In Cordoba, where we spent our first three nights, the gardens of the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos were looking lush – a result of copious and very organised irrigation. I’ve long wanted to visit the Alhambra, but by all accounts it gets very busy, even out of season, and I didn’t fancy the crush. And Granada is more difficult to get to by public transport. From the pictures I’ve seen of Alhambra, I’d guess that the Cordoba Alcazar is similar, if a little less grand in scale. Only a royal complex could have afforded to be so profligate with the scarce resource of water in the pursuit of what is first and foremost an ornamental, rather than a productive garden. There are ponds and water features throughout the gardens, and I was intrigued to see that many of the beds are irrigated by being intermittently flooded with the water from the ponds. Water flows through the gardens in miniature canals, and a series of tiny gates can be lifted to divert the water into each bed. The plants are raised up on mounds so that the water can flow around, rather than over them. It’s an interesting method of irrigation, and from the condition of the plants, it looks to be very effective.
Gardens of the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, seen from the tower.
The Alcazar (fortress) itself is very old, dating back to the first half of the fourteenth century. From the tower there are great views of the gardens, and of the city beyond. In the chapel, where unspeakable things happened during the inquisition, there is now an impressive collection of roman mosaics on display (excavated from a site elsewhere).
Nerium oleander (Oleander) – I think!
Elsewhere in Cordoba, the botanical gardens were a bit of a disappointment – so much so that I didn’t even take any photos! The cafe and shop were closed, and you had to buy tickets from a machine, with no-one on duty to take your money or answer questions. At the time we went, there were just a handful of other visitors. It did make for a pleasant stroll round, but there wasn’t much to see – a lot of the beds were quite bare. Maybe it’s partly the time of year, or it could be that they’ve fallen on hard times. They did have some beds planted out with Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) in different forms and colours, and looking quite similar to Dahlias in many respects. In the UK you don’t tend to see many Tithonias, and there are only a few cultivars available (‘Torch’ is the only one I’ve seen). Here, they grow as annuals, but I suspect they stay in all year round in Andalucia.
The botanic gardens had some fine looking specimens of Magnolia grandiflora, and as an added bonus, when I got home and unpacked, I discovered that a few seeds from these had fallen into my trouser pocket. I can’t think how that might have happened, but it would be rude not to try and grow them. Magnolia grandiflora will grow, and flower, in the UK, particularly if you give it a sheltered position. I don’t now how difficult it is to get the seeds to germinate, but I’ll give it a go.
Yours truly, in the gardens of the Alcazar – not looking at all like a tourist.
Words and pictures copyright Graham Wright 2017