Thursday, April 30, 2009

Portugal and its Gardens - Madeira

I start the Portugal entry with the spectacular “Floating Garden of the Atlantic” - Madeira, a fascinating and very interesting microcosm, with moderate temperatures and a lot of precipitation. Surprise surprise - it is lush and green.

Monte Palace Tropical Garden in Funchal - is a beautiful palatial house modelled on german castles of the Rhine, once privately owned, then a hotel and now part of the Berado Foundation set up in 1987 for the community of Madeira “...exotic plants native to various countries (Cycads and Protea from South Africa, azaleas from Belgium, heather from Scotland, among others) and indigenous plants from the Madeira forest namely, "Laurissilva", such as ferns, cedars, laurels, Canary Laurels,. ..” Again the theme of the oriental is picked up not surprising given Portugal's past history. Berado the founder had this garden created to show the harmony of nature and Buddhism and full of the symbolism which expresses thie culture particularly of Japan. As one would therefore expect the element of water features with koi fish. Big spectaculars - the Dragon Tree. And well known – The Pride of Madeira – something that is going in my garden soon.

Here can be found a major specialism e in growing orchids as well albeit under cover.

Many of the indigenous plants of the island have been threatened to the point of extinction and the garden is very much in the business of preserving those species especially the Laurissilva. Since 1999 it has has been a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site.

Agriculture in Madeira

Over the centuries the people of Madeira have had to create thousands of polos or terraces in order to cultivate their vegetables commercially – bananas particularly a small variety, avocados, passion fruit, guava and other sub tropical fruits. At the highest levels the gardeners use vines that will circle trees for support. Necessity being the mother of invention...

Madeira has also held much meaning for drinkers of fine wines. Not particularly in favour at present I suppose this is as much to do with the length of time it takes to make a very good fortified Madeiran wine. Two things in particular make Madeira different: firstly, brandy is added to the wine and secondly it is heated. This process is known as estufagem, probably an accidental biproduct of casks travelling in the tropics and apparently being improved by it.

Winston Churchill was served with a Madeiran wine which was 158 years old and perfect when he visited the island in 1950. The world had been a very different place when that bottle had been laid down.

I remember that at military dinners the ladies were always offered Madeira whilst the gentlemen got their hands on the port. "Have some Madeira m'dear.." Personally I was always irritated as hell.

The Du Cane family is one of my finds who appear to have written, researched and painted about the Islands of Spain and Portugal. Florence wrote about a number of countries' gardens especially Madeira (1909) and the Canaries (1911). Ella, her sister was a painter/illustrator of Florence's quite famous books of the early 20th century. Apparently these young ladies travelled unchaperoned all over the world, writing and drawing extensively about gardens.

There is also a famous Frederick du Cane Godman who was writing earlier about the Natural History of the Azores who I havent quite been able to work out the connection but I am sure there must be one.

Garden Tip: One of the garden hints I picked up in trawling the internet pages about Portugal and its gardens was a way that Madeiran gardeners use bamboo to help propagate roses. They create tripods with the bamboo for pots; then the rose branch chosen can be air layered until such time as the new plant is able to be separated from the mother plant. Fascinating.

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