Thursday, February 18, 2016

Early Witch-hazels


It is that time again this year when I am driven from my desk to go out and see the incredible witch-hazels in bloom. From far away they look like forsythia, glowing yellow in the sun, but they are much more delicate up close. We found this variety, Hamamelis × intermedia 'Pallida',  to smell strongly of fruit loops!

The most striking thing is they bloomed almost exactly one month later last year.  Here is the post I made last year when I first stared working here at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens from March.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra

The Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra in Grenada Spain are one of the only Moorish gardens left today. A UNESCO World Heritage Site destination that is well worth planning a trip, we spent an entire day taking in the country castles of the Alhambra and then walked across the ravine to the summer palace gardens of the Generalife.

Built by the Nasrid Emirates of the early 1300's, this castle complex (that was added to for over 600 years) was originally a court retreat for these kings from northern Africa and Spain that came to enjoy hunting in the Sierra Madres mountains and relaxing at night in the exquisite palace. Many people have written about the Alhambra, much of it romanticized, exaggerated, or blatantly misinformed, adding to its mystique. When you go there you can see why, as it is impossibly romantic and captures the imagination of everyone who goes there. Oh to live on top of a small mountain, with deep ravines all around for protection, with its own spring (a must criteria for medieval castles and gardens) and good hunting grounds only a short distance away!

 Just a short walk from this royal complex, with all its guards and their housing and offical functions, was the garden of the Generalife.

 Built in the earliest days of the Alhambra, the Generalife was humble country estate and garden, a place to get away from the social and civic duties required at the Alhambra. It reminded me a little of Marie Antoinette's pleasure gardens at the Petite Trianon.

The walk to the Generalife highlights the dominating feature of the gardens which are the incredible cypress hedges that are clipped very strictly. This art of a manicured hedge was fascinating to see it up close. As with all very old hedges, there is reconstruction happening all the time.

Above, notice a picture of the staff working on the hedge in the courtyard. Many hedges had training wires that held the growing branches within a framework. In this picture you can see the new growth before it is trimmed. To keep hedges like this trimmed so neatly, you need a large staff.  Take a minute to think about what it would have taken in the 1300's without our modern tools! Many are 25 feet tall!

This striking feature of the Moorish garden speaks of the luxury and staff (slaves and servants) that were part of the everyday life of the Nasrid kings of Alhambra. Like gardens today, the pleasure strolling gardens had many flowers like roses, lavender and ornamental fruit trees such a lemons and limes. I especially love the river rocks used from the Darro and Genil rivers below that were used in making these patterns walks!

Farther down the ravine were the extensive vegetable gardens that supplied the people who lived in this remote country villa. Since it was mid November, the gardens were not at full production. Once there would have been a bridge connecting the Generalife to the Alhambra.

Inside the walls is the Court of the Water Channel which is the main feature inside the estate. The buildings are modest and the water intimate. A pleasure estate with breathtaking views over the valley, this incredible monument to a past time and a glimpse into medieval life should be on your list to visit!