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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1 comment:

  1. A very interesting article. Botanical tourism does not enjoy much popularity and the interested is limited to visit botanical museums, this tourism offers a new perspective for your travels, so thanks for sharing it.