A tour of gardens and parks
They told us that summer arrived in Madrid just as our plane touched down. A long, cool and rainy spring season had had the madrileños yearning for brighter days.
Now that the clouds and rain had dissipated, the approaching the summer solstice encouraged the sun’s rays to bleach out colours and intensify the shadows. As we walked we sought out shade from the trees that line every street.
The familiar Platanus x hispanica (London plane) made an appearance in amongst a diverse variety of street trees. Catalpa bignonioides (Inidan bean tree) with its huge dinner plate sized leaves filtered out the light and Gleditsia traincanthos created shade-dappled areas to pause and take in the sights and sounds of the city. ‘Very different from London where the trees offer shelter from sharp summer showers’ I mused with a smile.
After sampling the ‘Menu del dia’ at a busy restaurant we meandered into the Parque de El Retiro. Formal avenues of trees and fragrant shrubs escorted us away from the bustling streets of Madrid into a calming, cool oasis. Here, the trees dominate the landscape, with secret and secluded spots for picnicking, or simply lying on the grass looking up at the sunlit canopy above.
The irrigation system of channels around the trees with interconnecting rills keep the trees in the park lush during the searing summer months, providing a welcome retreat for the locals.
As we walked, the wooded landscape opened out into an expansive Parterre Francés, a geometric three dimensional tapestry of clipped box hedging and topiary shaped like the floor of a gothic cathedral. As we entered via the apse we were transported into a magical place and immediately confronted by guardians to what appeared to be a formal dance.
Cypress trees clipped into cumulonimbus cloud shapes thunderously advised that if our names weren’t on the list we weren’t joining the dance.
As we stood patiently in line we glimpsed columnar suitors requesting dances from crinoline-clad laurel ladies twirling around the formal ponds under the watchful eye of the gigantic 400 year old bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). Intimidated and in awe, we retreated into the wood leaving the coterie to its elaborate Baroque dance.
The following day we flew like birds with the teleférico across the Casa del Campo, gliding just above the houses and trees. Below we could see the well-managed dehesa punctuated with pine trees, holm oaks, chestnut trees and ash to mention a few, with wildflowers and grasses in abundance.
We alighted and started our walk through the landscape along the sinuous pathways, downhill towards what I hoped wasn’t a mirage of a lake and restaurants. We spotted giant-sized ants, butterflies, rabbits and birds including a hoopoe. I kept the word ‘snake’ to myself as sat down for lunch, knowing that we were going to have to walk back up the hill again.
In a post-lunch soporific state we set about climbing the hill. In the calescent heat of the day and as the fitter members of our party momentarily disappeared out of sight I was reminded of the book ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ by Joan Lyndsay. In a trance-like state they walked on and on and up the hill, seemingly oblivious to requests to slow down and wait. There was an eerie humming sound in the background as if drawing them towards their impending doom.
For us there was no need for disquiet as the cable car station loomed into sight. Up and away again we glided across the landscape back to the comforting familiarity of the city.
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