The Moors and the Mediterranean : The Gardens of Spain and Portugal

By Olwen Woodier
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Going back at least one thousand years, Spanish gardens are among the oldest and most splendidly grand. These methods may not translate easily into our own backyard landscapes, but the gardens are magnificently beautiful, from the Andalusian gardens of the Moors to the palace gardens created by kings and princes with roots in France and Austria. Taking advantage of the Mediterranean climate, many of the private gardens emulate the traditional themes while incorporating modern designs and growing unusual plants.

Casa de Pilatos, Seville
This famous place dates from 1483 and has been owned by the Medinaceli family since 1625. Superbly restored, there are three main patios to this grand house, including the large plaza, which passes into the courtyard. Here, orange trees are espaliered in traditional medieval style. The main patio of the house leads to the Jardin Grande and the Jardin Chico where classical sculpture of immense size keeps company with falling cascades of crimson bougainvillea, a profusion of different varieties of jasmine and lavender Chinese wisteria. The flowerbeds are interspersed with varieties of canna, roses, and Kaffir lilies.
Reales Alcazares, Seville
This is the Mudejar Palace, built by Moorish craftsmen for King Pedro. The Alcazares incorporates the legendary Muslim gardens of the 12th century and from the Renaissance of the 17th century and later. The gardens, enhanced with fountains and the sound of water, are accessible by pathways edged with myrtle, bushes of Pittosporum tobira, and large trees including palm and immense specimens of Magnolia grandiflora. The gardens also support a profusion of roses, mock orange, bay, peaches, almonds, and oranges.

Here, as in Spain, the bulk of the gardens reflect the Mediterranean and Moorish influences in designs and plant choices. You will find those, however, have their roots in English design; many contain some of the oldest specimens in Europe.

Quinta de Monserrate, Sintra
This house, near Lisbon, was built in 1851 by James Knowles for Sir Francis Cook. The gardens were designed soon thereafter by William Stockade and William Nevill of Kew, England. The subtropical trees growing here are unrivaled anywhere in Europe. The moist climate is also ideal for tree ferns, eucalyptus, and the 25 species of palm.

Monteiro-Mor, Lisbon
Situated on 11 acres, Monteiro-Mor is Lisbon's finest garden. Three acres are devoted to a botanical garden where many plants are more than 100 years old. One of the best examples is an Araucaria, which is the first to have been transported to Europe from Australia.

Casa do Conde de Campo Belo, Oporto
This is a private garden with a large collection of Camellia Japonica. Imported from Japan in the 16th century, they are the oldest specimens in Europe.

Olwen Woodier, an advanced master gardener living in Virginia, has written several books on the subject and numerous magazine and newspaper articles, including chapters for the Time-Life series on gardening. She combined her love of plants with a passion for cooking in her award-winning Apple Cookbook and teaches adults in both endeavors.

Published: 21 Feb 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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