I’ve been on my holidays, which is why I haven’t posted for a while. We didn’t spend all our time at the Valencia Botanic Garden, though I feel I could easily have done so – with, of course, evening sorties for tapas, which were wonderful in the city. So here are a few recollections of a very enjoyable morning in a place I quickly came to like very much.
Plan of Jardi Botanic, Valencia
It’s a very small garden – just a city block – only a little way outside the old city walls and an easy walk from the centre, and this adds to its charm. It calls itself ‘The oasis in the city’ and it is exactly that, a place dedicated to nature, growth and greenery in a packed and bustling urban environment – you look up from a bed of cacti and over some palm trees
Cacti, the ‘firework’ palm, and flats
you see the blocks of flats which encircle the garden. It’s also very accessible for the valencianos: admission only 2€, and retired people can get a year’s pass for 16€, which may explain why it seemed very popular with grandparents and youngsters. To encourage a wide range of visitors it hosts some unexpected events – I loved the idea of the series of concerts there this year with different jazz groups each paired with a sustainable energy theme (2012 is the UN Year of Sustainable Energy For All: more here if like me you’ve missed it). On 20th October it will be ‘biomass’, and musicians Miquel Casany and Arturo Serra – no video but you can sample the music here). More about this and all else at the Garden on their interesting website here (mostly in English).
Anyway, on to the plants. The main entrance is through the research building, opened in 2000, which must have been built around the huge hackberry tree, over 70 years old, which dominates the central round courtyard. The hackberry was traditionally used in the Valencian area to make rural tools, so one is immediately reminded of a sustainable resource in a vanishing way of life.
In the garden wide gravel walks separate formal beds which are each devoted to a botanical theme and well labelled. The highlights for me were the buildings in the centre of the garden: the four small greenhouses each on a single subject, the tropical greenhouse, and the shade house. One small greenhouse was devoted to carnivorous plants,
among them pitcher plants and Darwin’s favourite, Drosera (sundew) – ‘ I care more just now for Drosera than the origin of any species in the world’ he says in Ruth Padel’s poem The extra eye.* Other subjects are ferns, orchids and bromeliads.
Below: Drosera capensis (S. Africa)
Above: Nepenthes hookeriam (after Darwin’s great friend Joseph Hooker)
The tropical greenhouse was built originally in 1861 and was the first of its kind in Spain. Basque industrialists created the great iron framework and Galician
Entrance to the tropical greenhouse framing CL
craftsmen installed the 465 square metres of glass. It may have seemed huge then, but now I had the feeling I get when I’m poking around in a second-hand shop: the pleasure of discovering things I hadn’t seen before, such as a coffee plant, during a gentle shuffle along and back.
Coffea arabica in the greenhouse
The architecturally impressive shade house contains plants that are used to a forest canopy rather than the strong blast of Valencia’s summer sun.
The shade house facade
In the rest of the garden I was thrilled to see a huge Ginkgo biloba, maybe the world’s oldest broadleaf tree species, a great variety of Euphorbias (a genus in a family that’s beginning to fascinate me), and in a lovely rock garden devoted to endemic plants a wide range of toadflaxes and antirrhinums. I was reminded of the Botanic Garden of Wales, which has a walled garden (dedicated to Alfred Russell Wallace) whose planted beds, shaped in a pattern like the DNA double helix, show variation within species and genera.
Linaria repens L. cavanillesii -a very local species
On a small table on the way out is a selection of plants in pots for the gardener who has almost everything: you can buy a tiny baobab tree, or some sugar cane. Writing about our visit now, I’m still thinking, ‘lucky Valencians’.
* Ruth Padel, Darwin – A Life in Poems, Vintage, 2010
I couldn’t find a video of Miquel Casany and Arturo Serra, but to give you a glimpse of what we might be missing on 20th October, here’s Serra on vibes playing in Nerja, in Andalucia, last year – be patient with some wonky camerawork at the start for a lovely solo, very much in the reflective mood of the Botanic Garden .