Truth be told, I’ve not seen nearly as many gardens on my tour round Spain, so far, as I would have hoped. Part of it is due to setting out over 2 months later than I’d originally planned! So touring round at this time of year, with the intense heat, is far from ideal, but I am loving the trip so far, nonetheless.

Planting outside of the Alhambra Palace Gardens – Granada, Spain

I’m currently in central Spain having driven up from the south. To escape the 40°+ heat I’ve resorted to camping in tree shaded valleys, in campsites next to rivers. It’s been great to keep me cool, but there hasn’t been many gardens to see in the middle of the wilderness!

Granada was a good place for gardens though. I didn’t go into the Alhambra this time as I have been before, but I did take a look at Carmen de los Mártires garden, which is just a few hundred yards away from the Alhambra and it’s free to look around (and has decent loos right by the main gate -an important bit of info for any traveller!).

Carmen de los Mártires Garden, Granada, Spain

The main thing you notice about Spanish gardens are firstly, there is no grass, and secondly, there’s an awful lot of box hedging. They use water and water features a lot as well, and this helps cool down the atmosphere, which is a welcome relief in the summer months.

Exotic plants from all over the world thrive in these hot conditions. The plants are watered by inbuilt irrigation systems, so they’re not completely self-sustaining though.

How to create a garden without a lawn

In UK gardens, I often advise people to have three-quarters empty space to one-quarter planting. This ratio is approximate, and it can be altered, but it’s a good starting point to have the right amount of space to planting. However, out here, in some gardens that ratio is almost reversed because they don’t have large lawn spaces.

Carmen de los Mártires Jardin, Granada, Spain
Carmen de los Mártires Jardin, Granada, Spain

Because it’s rare to see a lawn in a traditional Spanish garden, what they do instead, if the gardens are of any size, is to have wide paths between the formal planting. The box hedges almost act as lawns visually, as they use them in almost mazelike patterns throughout the gardens, so there’s still a large proportion of ‘green’ to look at.

Layering the planting to create interest

Another common theme is to have layering in the garden. You have the box hedges and flowering plants like Agapanthus, on the lower levels, underneath really tall palms and trees. This layered planting functions on several levels. Visually, it creates a lot of interest because you’re not viewing the garden on just one level. On a practical level, the trees help cast shade and bring welcome relief and escape from the incredibly hot sun.

I may well have to postpone the rest of my garden visits until the autumn, when it’s cooled down a bit. For all those back in the UK who are complaining about 30°s, you don’t know what hot is until you’ve tried driving through central Spain in a bright red oven on wheels, in the middle of the summer!

For those of you who like to do vicarious sight-seeing, here are some of my highlights from the trip so far…

Rooftops of Granada and a colourfully planted side street
Amazing street art of Granada
The amazing town of Segura de la Sierra between Jaén and Albacete
The beautiful hilltop town of Segura de la Sierra between Jaén and Albacete (kinda!)

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Rachel Mathews
Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 30 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!

    2 replies to "Garden tour update"

    • Marlene Hielema

      If you’re going to be in Paris at all on your tour, check out Jardin des Plantes. It’s an educational garden, so you might enjoy it. And if you’re staying in the countryside and are in southern France, and happen upon the town of Gourdon, there is a tiny garden called the Zig Zag which is built within the ruins of some old houses in the centre “hill” of the town. Just look for the tallest steeple and head up and keep your eyes peeled for Rue Zig Zag. The garden is clearly marked. It is maintained by volunteers, many who are seniors, who no longer live in their own homes. Lots of ex-pat Brits there too. You’ll fit right in.

      • Rachel Mathews

        Thanks Marlene, I do intend to get to Paris at some point, though doubt it will be on this trip, but who knows! Thank you so much for your suggestions, much appreciated!

        The south of France is definitely on my to do list sooner rather than later, so I will indeed check out your suggestion 🙂

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