|View of Funchal harbour from my hotel balcony|
|The south coast of the island is a series of viaducts and tunnels perched above the sea|
Madeira is not only rugged and exceedingly beautiful, it is also a giant greenhouse where tropical plants from all over the world grow in lush profusion. I want my garden to look like Madeira but this is beyond the realms of possibility. What is just about possible however is for the various areas under glass at Chateau L to look like Madeira, at least as far as succulents, cacti, cycads and palms are concerned. The huge numbers of profusely flowering vines is something that I simply cannot recreate, bougainvilleas for instance simply will not grow for me, and various other vines like passiflora and thunbergia also struggle. The biggest issue is the lack of humidity which is just not compatible with a domestic
|This is a Staghorn Fern. IN true geek fashion I call this a Platycerium.|
So for about 36 hours I wandered happily up and down the slopes of Funchal, visiting botanical gardens, parks, nurseries and roadside displays – in Madeira I would pretty much die for just the central reservation of the Via Rapida, which is stuffed full of Agaves, Aloes and Strelitzias amongst other things. Plants that I take the utmost care of and devote hours to cultivate are essentially invasive weeds on Madeira. Seeds that I was delighted to source and carefully germinate in the UK lie discarded on the ground.
The island is blessed with what is my view a perfect climate. It is never truly hot and it is never bitingly cold - frosts are all but unknown. There is regular rain, but rarely too much, and in any event the steepness of the land results in excellent drainage and run-off. Indeed this latter is very carefully managed, with relief channels and deep gutters a feature of every town and street. I’ve never visited in heavy rain, but I can imagine that the island must become a mass of small waterfalls and torrents. In early January it was very much short sleeves territory but with a noticeable drop-off in temperature in the evening. I packed light – very light – arriving at lunchtime on Friday with what was basically an empty suitcase and various bits and pieces with which to protect and cushion plants on the return journey. My first stop off was the Mercado dos Lavradores, where I happily picked my way around the various stalls – sourcing a heliconia here, a plumeria there, a few canna bulbs to add a bit more of a tropical feel to the garden, and few other oddments. I then checked into my hotel and went for a swim before driving the short distance to Ponta do Sol to meet a fellow cycad grower. This is always very dangerous, viewing the plants of somebody who has the proper conditions to grow these plants, and this was no exception – putting my meagre selection of potted plants to shame. I spent a happy afternoon conversing in pidgin English, Spanish and Portugese, discussing species, growth, soils, watering, sunlight and all manner of things that would bore most normal people rigid. I am not normal however, and in my eyes there was no better way to spend a few hours, pottering around plants I know and love, talking to someone who shares that interest in a highly nerdy way. Brilliant. We shared a beer and a commitment to keep in touch and exchange plants later in the year, and then I returned to Funchal and a great dinner in one of my favourite restaurants. Usually eating alone is one of the things I hate most about solo travel, but at the Vaca Negra in the Lido district I felt right at home.
|Proteas - another type of plant I cannot grow!|
|Aloe plicatilis, the Fan Aloe|
|A large Encephalartos species|
Finally I went to visit the Funchal Botanical Garden. Whilst in my eyes the whole island qualifies as a botanical garden, this is a structured and scientific collection, and so I left my scissors behind – one does not freely take cuttings somewhere like this. Instead I took my camera and notebook, and wrote down names of interesting looking plants in the hope of being able to source seeds or small plants when back in the UK, and took photos of how the exhibits had been structured. Which plants grow together, which plants look great in a display of ten, which look best just as a single specimen. Part of the wonder of gardening is creating a certain look that is all your own, but gardeners are typically always inspired by the vision of other gardeners and I am no different. I already found one of the plants I wanted in Essex, an Aeonium that grows like a flattened plate, and will be heading off there for a spot of coastal birding this weekend followed by a plant pick-up. It’s hard having this many interests, but ultimately very rewarding.
|Agave attentuata, or the Foxtail Agave. In this case with a panther in it.|