Wednesday 9 March 2016

Gardens for gardeners to visit in Funchal, Madeira

Two secret gardens, a bumpy ride and fabulous orchids

You can sense the island’s fertility when you read the leaves of the palms
Madeira is a wonderful place for gardens and gardeners to go and marvel at healthy native and exotic plants. The vegetation soaks up the sunshine and water. It is a wonderful green island full of exciting trees, plants and flowers.The naturalised vegetation is a wonderful mix of native species and introduced plants. All over the island cultivated plants merge into the wild. Colourful street trees and parkland-planting grace public places

In January the African tulip trees were in flower all over town

And these yellow trees were everywhere
We have just returned home from Madeira and I intend an intermittent series of posts about this holiday destination which might serve to provide some guidance for visiting gardeners.
There are plenty of guides on the net which outline gardens  for tourists to go to. There are very few that properly inform tourists who are also keen gardeners or plants-people. I intend to layout my Madeira posts to help folk on holiday to find the right places!

My two gardens today qualify as 'secret' because despite being sorrounded by public places they were void of any other visitors. Both gardens are lovely but perhaps not worth a long detour to get there. If you are in the vacinity they are well worth your while.

The Magic Garden
Turn immediately right on entering the café. It appears to go nowhere
The garden resides between the Magic Cliffs Hotel and and the Magic Café, a ten minutes coastal walk west of the Lido. Most likely you will be drinking one of the sixty kinds of tea served in the café. There is a little unmarked  open side-door that appears to go nowhere but opens like a tardis into a lovely garden. Just like magic!
The garden once expensively landscaped is now barely maintained. Fabulous plants have outgrown their position and are quite magnificent in their unkempt luxuriance.  At the top of the garden is a small museum that commemorates traditional Maderian 'garden houses’.
As you walk up the road you can see that maintenance is minimal
The un-pruned dead stalks of the century plant look like birch trees 

This traditional fencing is remarkably robust
To local residents behind a high wire fence it looks like a prison; to us it held the treasure of Fort Knox 
You might describe this as ‘character’ or merely ‘weedy’
Interesting weeds
The Municipal Garden
You might have taken the spectacular trip to the top of the cable car ride from Funchal centre. Probably to visit the famous Mont Garden or perhaps the very fine historic church or even to slide back down on the fabled traditional road sledge ride - a local cottage industry.
If you walk down the road below the sledge take off point there are several right turns which (I think) turn into this very fine garden. We had been quite lost when coming in the other direction when we emerged from the garden at an entrance about a hundred yards down from the sledge starting point. Our position was confirmed when a sledge slithered by.
Both secret gardens are free!

After admiring the church, walk alongside the Monte garden to the municipal garden beyond
Not sure of the garden’s location we aimlessly wandered down at the back of the church Nossa Senhoro do Monte. A nice walk but not the quickest way
We found the park lower down on the hillside

Although much of the garden is sloping, albeit gently, there is a level walk on the terrace

Agapanthus under the plane tree

We discovered our whereabouts when we emerged from the garden to find the ski road
Mistaken identity
Another secret to our friends who have been to Funchal fifteen times was that there are magnificent mountains at the top of the island! Although sixty euros per person is somewhat expensive, the day out in a 4x4 was well worth the money and the price included the best meal of our holiday in a smart hotel next to the golf course!

The 4x4 followed a levada for several miles and we walked the last two kilometres to a high viewpoint

Espedata is a traditional meal when pieces of steak rubbed in garlic are cooked over burning coals on skewers from a bay tree

Our driver unaware that he was carrying gardeners insisted on several occasions stopping to show us specimens of the local vegetation. His piece de resistance  was to show us a plant hybrid. Brenda knowing my interest in hybrids eagerly anticipated my reaction.
He scrabbled around in a dense cluster of germinating tree seedlings at the side of the road. In triumph he came back clutching what he confidently showed us was a hybrid between a ‘mimosa’ and a eucalyptus. This was quite plausible as eucalyptus and acacias were growing close together.
Alas he was wrong. Had his claim been true I would have been more excited than he could ever imagine! Botanist Mike later informed me that the strange ‘leaves’ at the base of the stem were actually cladodes which are modified stem tissue.

The hybrid that wasn't
When we chatted later Brenda was amazed  that neither Mike or myself had not disillusioned our lovely driver.
We had no wish to spoil his story and probably had we done so he would not have believed us! If he ever drives you up a mountain please don’t tell him.
Orchid gardens 

One of Patrick’s orchids
We previously visited Madeira three years ago. My two posts of most interest to garden visitors to the island are about Patrick and his orchid garden. We had to revisit Boa Vista again if only to hear Patrick’s knowledgable and enthusiastic stories. You don’t often meet a garden owner who is both an Oxford graduate and a Kew diplomate.
The garden is wonderfully atmospheric and delicious refreshments on the lawn that overlooks Funchal is un-commercialised with coffee, tea and genuinely homemade cakes.
The other famous orchid garden - where the greenhouses are gorgeously festooned with epiphytes is Jardim Orquidea. After your essential visit to the botanic garden you will probably be too tired to take the half hour walk to this little Eden. You might take a taxi!

An exquisite jungle at Jardim Orquidea
In its own right the Jardim Orquida is well worth a separate visit where the pristine layout and its provenance and expertise of the owners is renowned.
It might be worth arranging with your taxi driver a price for a round trip from the town centre. Tell him you will need at least an hour at the garden. If you know about orchids you will want to stay all day.

Useful links
Monte Tropical Gardens and Funchal Botanic Gardens. Bloggers Mark and Gaz have recently published fantastic pictures on their blog Alternative Eden. The only trouble is if you see them you will have seen it all! But you still need to go.

These are my own two posts about Patrick and his orchid garden at Boa Vista


  1. I love the tulip tree. Maybe if you had disillusioned the driver he would have left you up the mountain.

    1. Another discovery we made was the massive football stadium - a club that plays in the Portugal league and where Ronaldo played in his youth!
      In fact we had often walked past his statue in town!
      Sorry I am wandering, the hybrid was about quarter of a mile from there - we might have looked round on the long walk back!

  2. Thank you Roger. One feels like going to see Madeira after reading your post. The tree with yellow flowers was also blooming in Florence.

    1. If you are tempted, look up the Eden Mar hotel where we stayed.
      i never got a real close look at the yellow flowers as the trees we saw were in private gardens and any way the flowers were high up. I had doubts about the name but botanist Mike is certain it is tipuana and when I 'blew up' my picture the fuzzy focused flowers looked the same as those on the net.

  3. I have often heard of Madeira as a Mecca for gardeners and if I ever win the Lottery I would buy a house there. Failing that, I love seeing photos and hearing stories from people who have visited. My aunt and uncle went to Madeira many years ago and I remember them talking about the orchid garden being spectacular.

    1. 'A Mecca for gardeners'. Wish I had thought of that line HELENE.

    2. Feel free to borrow the line Roger :-)

  4. Few trees have a solid establishing framework and could hurt the underground deplete water framework and the premise of the house. Trees ought to be planted at an impeccable separation from the home. For whatever length of time that household greenery enclosures are concerned, they should be arranged well.

    1. Nothing is simple in gardening Michael. Try and keep your comments relevant to a particular post, there are 300 to choose from!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...