Garden Tour – Madrid Garden Highlights

Caixa Forum, Madrid centre & Retiro Park

You’d have to be fairly crazy to visit Madrid in August, let alone hire a bike so you could blast round the gardens and famous 370 acre Retiro park all in day…

Yet, that’s exactly what I found myself doing last week!

Why on earth? Don’t go there, long story, but the short version is I’m two months behind schedule with my garden tour of Spain, so I’m in parts I didn’t expect to be in this time of year. Amazingly, the weather gods were feeling exceptionally kind the day I was there, and the temps never got over 26° C whilst I was scaring tourists and locals on my bike.

Aranjuez Palace Garden - my photographs don't do it justice!

Aranjuez Palace Garden, filled with Cosmos flowers – my photographs don’t do it justice!

Before we get to the best gardens I saw in Madrid itself, I’d like to start about forty minutes south of Spain’s capital in a place called Aranjuez. They call this the Versailles of Spain and I could see why. There’s a beautiful Palace and gardens immediately as you drive in through the narrow cobbled streets.

The garden is free to walk around and I found it strangely entrancing. I say strangely because after weeks and weeks of visiting Spanish gardens, I am all formal gardened out. Or, at least, I thought I was. What I loved about the planting in the this garden is the freedom behind all those formal hedges.

Basically, I’d discovered Cosmos flowers, or rather how great they look planted en masse. I’d never really taken a lot of notice of them before. Seeing them planted almost like wild flowers in with all the formality of the gardens beyond was quite magical.

Madrid City Centre Gardens

My first stop in Madrid was to visit the Botanic garden as I needed more plant photos to add to my plant database spreadsheet I use for the Plant Design Formula.

In all honesty, I don’t tend to hold up much hope, as far as design goes, when visiting botanic gardens as the focus is primarily on plants, not design. I was very pleasantly surprised with this one though.


Once again, a very formal layout, but at least the design elements had been thought about and the planting done in attractive combinations, rather than just rows of plants.


Cycling around Retiro park was a lot of fun as it’s attractively laid out. It’s on an enormous scale and beautifully landscaped, but there wasn’t much in it that’s really suitable for most gardens. The rose garden was worth a look, though I suspect it looks at its best about a month before I saw it!


My final stop, before collapsing in a small pile with a iced drink, was the Sabatini Gardens. Great, if you are a big fan of clipped hedges. Not a lot else to see if you’re not.

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About Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 20 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!


  1. Gail Klein says:

    Rachel, have you thought of the Barcelona Botanic Garden? As I understand it was/is slow to fill up iwth plants, due to budgetary constraints; However it’s layout features a zig zag. stunning Corten looking bordered path. I never got there 8-9 yrs ago (no one seemed to know where it was) but it’s on a reclaimed site near the Olympic Stadium to the south of the city.

    • Hi Gail, I hadn’t thought of Barcelona Botanic garden, so thanks for the suggestion. I’m trying to remember if I visited it a few years back when I was there, but I don’t think so, I was too absorbed with all of Guadi’s work at the time!

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