Thursday 14 July 2022

Street Plants of Barcelona and Park Güell - Spain - Summer 2022

Coming at it from a floraphile's perspective, one of the most striking things about Barcelona is the diversity of street trees and under-plantings within the city, especially so in the newer developed areas. During this post, we'll take a look at some of the street plants in the marvelous city of Barcelona and one of the most unusual parks you're likely to visit, Gaudi's, Park Güell.

Avenue plantings are common across the city streets with La Rambla (more of a very long plaza than an actual street) (left photo) probably being the most famous, planted with Platanus orientalis. In fact, La Rambla was one of the first areas of the city with a record of being planted with trees. In 1702 and 1703, 280 poplars were planted, which were cut down shortly after and replaced with alternating poplars and elms which were eventually replaced by the Planes. 

Magnolia grandiflora - Southern Magnolia is used frequently and sometimes interplanted with Prunus cerisifera  'Nigra' - Purple Plum. These evergreen trees originally from the southeastern United States look right at home in the city and are utilized by bikers to keep their bikes out of the high summer sun.

While digging around for some info on Barcelona's street trees I found this image that shows that wide roads with multiple rows of trees have been a feature of the city since the earliest designs.

Cross-section of fifty-metre-wide streets. Historical Archive of Barcelona

Although many of the streets are not quite this wide, spaces have been allocated for plants more often than not and this makes the majority of the city very pleasant to stroll around, even during the heat of summer.  I usually feel like a rat in a maze in cities that are predominantly laid out on a grid but the green spaces within the roads and the many small parks and leafy plazas work really well. Here you can see an example of the polyculture plantings in beds.,  beside the road. Ficus carica cv. - Fig under Stone Pine in the image of the right and Yucca under Prunus cerisifera  'Nigra' - Purple Plum on the left. A non-fruiting Morus alba - White Mulberry features heavily around the plazas and parks too.

Hackberry - Celtis occidentalis is a very popular street tree in Barcelona. Here you can see them lining the streets of Casa Milà. The fruits of these plants are edible and have a very sweet tasting black/dark brown shell when fully ripe but are mostly composed of a large round seed  

Sant Martí

The district of Sant Martí has some of the best street plantings I've seen in a city. A lot of the planting is probably no more than 10 years old as the area has developed from old industrial to modern residential.    

The planting schemes in Provençals del Poblenou include a diversity of herbaceous perennials arranged in sunken beds and graded to capture rainwater runoff from the surrounding area. The result is both functional and beautiful     

My favorite example is the pavement planting around an Industrial section of the neighborhood.  A succession of flowering herbaceous perennials many of which look great even after flowering during the senescence phase. The herbs are planted between thorn-less Gleditsia triacanthos Honey Locust trees 8 m apart.   

I did not have time to identify all of the plants but at a glance, they appear to be native Mediterranean herbaceous perennials and selected for wildlife-attracting properties.   

It really is amazing how transformative plants can be. Most people would probably not even notice the plant diversity but almost certainly they will feel the comfort of this planting scheme that softens the concrete grids and rectangular high rise blocks  

I spent a considerable amount of the time in the narrow streets of Gràcia, where I was staying. Even within these narrow streets, you can find trees planted, mostly Prunus cerisifera  'Nigra' - Purple Plum, Ligustrum lucidum, and Citrus spp.  Along with the majority of balcony plants and street planters,  it's quite charming.    

Many streets have planters, most planted with Ruscus aculeatus - Butcher's-broom or Asparagus spp. but a few of them are populated with polycultures.  

There is an excellent list of trees suitable for growing in Barcelona, from Street Tree Management in Barcelona (pg 49). Although the list is specifically for guiding street tree selection it will probably be useful for all growers in and around the coastal areas of Cataluña.  The table lists the Latin nomenclature, the common name in Catalan, Spanish, and English, the size of the tree, its preferred placement (street, open area, or park), the permanence of the leaves (evergreen or deciduous), and its suitability in Barcelona as a street tree planted in tree pits. The tree form and cultivars are also provided. 

Park Guell 

I cannot think of a place on earth where one person's art is so prolifically on display, all the time, everywhere as Barcelona, the artist being Antonio Gaudi of course. Even as you fly into the city La Sagrada Familia stands proudly, clearly visible.  Above Gracia, on the mountainside, you can find a park designed by Gaudi and where he eventually lived. Nowadays it's teeming with tourists but vast enough to escape the city and enjoy the plants and view from the high ground. 

There are a wide variety of plant species in the gardens, including olive trees, oaks, pine trees, carob trees, brooms, magnolias, wisteria, and aromatic plants, such as rosemary and lavender. The park's woodland is predominantly dense areas of Aleppo pines, sometimes mixed with stone pines.

Agapanthus and Pistacia lentiscus are used for ground cover under the Olives and Pines. The Pistacia lentiscus, when coppiced and kept trimmed,  does a great job at ground cover especially so on dry slopes, and probably produces a good deal of biomass too.   

Woven into the garden are various buildings and structures that give the place a theme park vibe. Musicians set up around the structures, some solo, some in bands. There was a fantastic flamenco band playing in the shade under the arches during my visit.   

Gaudí's pioneered hallmark mosaic design technique, called Trencar is evident throughout the garden. Trencar, equivalent to “to break” in Catalan, creates mosaic forms and shapes by putting together broken ceramic tiles, plates, and cups. It was first used by Gaudí, for decorating Park Güell. 

In 1906, Gaudi moved into the house in Park Güell with his elderly father and niece. The house on the mountainside has a great view of the city, overlooking La Sagrada Familia, another of Gaudi's masterpieces, started in19 March 1882, and is due to be completed in 2026.  

A very important part of any garden is spaces where organic matter can be accumulated, composted, and reapplied back onto the soil as a mulch. Having these deposit areas spaced evenly across a site and, strategically placed to reduce the distance traveling back and forth, will make it much more comfortable to manage the garden. Making areas big enough to comfortably move around with whatever machinery is required and, large enough to store over the maximum quantity of expected biomass,  is a good design. Park Guell has a few of these spacious deposit areas with various piles of organic matter and mulches in different stages of decomposition.

In the next post, I'll introduce some Gardens of Montjuic Mountain - and a permaculture community garden in Porta.

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Friday 1 July 2022

Jardi Botanic of Barcelona (Barcelona Botanical Garden) - Spain - Barcelona - Summer 2022

 If you love Mediterranean plants you'll love Jardi Botanic of Barcelona (Barcelona Botanical Garden) a beautiful 14 hectare site dedicated to Mediterranean plants form all over the world. The garden was  established in 1999 on Montjuic Mountain, one of the largest green spaces within a city in Europe,  and looks over the city, sitting adjacent to the Olympic stadium built for the 1992 Olympic games. 

The garden is composed of various sections of the world's Mediterranean's namely, the Mediterranean basin, North Africa, California, Chile, South Africa and Australia. The Mediterranean climate is characterized by hot, dry summers and mild winters. Rain falls mostly in spring and autumn you can find this climate between 30° and 40° of latitude in the northern and southern hemispheres. 

Only 1.7% of the Earth's land surface enjoys this climate however, Mediterranean flora accounts for approximately 20% of known plants and many endemic species and is some of the most beautiful wild plant compositions on the planet, especially so in mid spring.

I visited the garden in July and I totally recommend being in the garden in the last few hours before it closes (8.00pm) as the light shift brings out deeper color contrasts among the plants and it's a little cooler. If you want to enjoy the invertebrates, peak activity will probably be around 2.00 p.m. 

Through the entrance and on the right is the Australia section, the air filled with the aroma of all kinds of Eucalyptus.

Situated up high on the mountain, you'll get some pretty spectacular views of Barcelona as you wander around.

I did not see much bird life in the garden although there are a fair number of Monk Parakeets - Myiopsitta monachus (I think) that are thought to have escaped from shipping crates at the airport or port some time ago and now naturalized in the area.  

There is a small section of the garden dedicated to wildlife and food crops. As often the case with edible/wildlife displays in the majority of public gardens, it was lame in comparison to the rest of the garden. The usual insect hotel, herb spiral, and some fruit trees 

Pretty sure insect hotels have been proven to be largely ineffective in terms of the variety of guests that take residence. A mosaic of habitat that includes wild native areas, and planting schemes that include a mixture of native and exotic plants with plenty of microhabitat is proven to be effective though and there were a number of areas around the gardens teeming with invertebrate life.

Always a pleasure to meet new plants, especially edibles.  Argania spinosa is a medium-sized, spiny evergreen tree commonly grown in Southwest Morocco for its highly valuable oil. The leaves and fruit are edible but it's the oil from the seeds that are prized, being an excellent source of vitamin E and has a high nutritional value in the human diet. 

The plant was laden with fruit. It caught my attention as a couple was collecting fallen fruits from under the tree. As well as its edibility Argania spinosa shields thin soils from erosion, especially in overgrazed lands. Its deep roots help to bind the soil, facilitate water infiltration and replenish groundwater. It's too sensitive to the cold to grow here in Shipka being more accustomed to USDA hardiness zones 10-12 but a great plant in the right climate. 

One of the joys of growing a garden is that each plant you introduce comes with a story and a memory.  A gift from a friend, a seed collected from a street tree on a rainy day, a plant bought from a Saturday market stall in a small village, a cheeky cutting taken while visiting a Botanic garden. I have plants collected from a landslide (definitely won't forget that one as it occurred on the road we drove past just a few minutes earlier). Love to know the story of this ancient Olive.  

There are some magnificent Stone pine - Pinus pinea in the gardens, giving off a wonderful pine fragrance and providing much-needed shade.

I love the pink and orange-streaked bark 

Being a garden of Mediterranean plants there are plenty of Palms throughout the gardens. Some species of palms do not shed their dead leaves, the result is what looks like a primitive beach hut. 

Leucaena leucocephala,  a small fast-growing mimosoid tree native to southern Mexico. This nitrogen fixing plant is a nutritious forage for domestic livestock when ingested in limited amounts although the plant contains mimosine, a plant amino acid, that can be toxic when ingested at higher concentrations.

Ochna serrulata The appearance of the black berries on red calyx inspired the alternative name "Mickey Mouse Plant". 

The amount of variation in plant form is truly incredible and never ceases to amaze me. Even within similar designs, cacti, for example, the arrangement of protective spines is vast.  Amusing to consider that via sheer awe of its majestic form, Cacti have ended up on the desks and windowsills of our homes and offices all over the planet.

This particular species (Euphorbia sp.) looks like it really does not want to be eaten, although I've recently been informed that it's a significant food source for Black Rhinoceros. 

I noticed an Epiphyte on a Phoenix canariensis, a species of flowering plant in the palm family Arecaceae, native to the Canary Islands. An epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant. In this case, it appeared to be a bramble- Rubus spp. that has seeded in a crevice where the old palm leaves have been cut off. It was making its way back down to the ground where it will likely take root. 

There is an impressive water feature on the way out of the garden showing off some emergent and deep marginal aquatic plants and some great surrounding plantings. It's a really cozy part of the garden 

That's all for this post!

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We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)

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