As we are now being promised temperatures in the late 30s for the forthcoming week, even with the sort-of-mid-season lull that always comes at some point now, I am imagining the worst in terms of crisped plants over the next 10 days. The ground that was once so very wet all Spring is now in its more typical baked-biscuit guise now, which nothing short of persistent, firm but gentle rain for several days that doesn’t bounce off the surface will fix.
So, not a lot to report on the home front. I will be up earlier and earlier keeping the pot-watering going, and ensuring that my new seedlings and baby plants stay out of the bright sun, and maybe a more normal service will be resumed later next month- only tomorrow, my goodness.
So, remaining indoors allows me to think about the gardens already visited- and introduce you to them.
In early June, I visited the Palacio de las Duenas, in the historical centre of Seville. Hidden off an insignificant small street behind high walls and a huge gate, las Duenas is a magnificent surprise. Covered with multi-coloured bougainvillea, it seems almost fake at first. A shock of colour and impudence, left the tastebuds reeling slightly. But I would invite you to embrace the colour, and push past any sense of taste challenge. It boldly is a palace that goes for it, bling and all, and by the end of your visit, I guarantee you will be thinking of doing the same yourself at home. This is an important historical palace dating back to the late 15th century by the Dukes of Alba- arguably the best-connected and one of the most wealthy royal families in Europe. Yet, it has all the intimate bits and bobs, and some tat, that all our homes contain, mainly because the stuff we have has immense emotional importance, rather than just artistic significance.
The Duchess of Alba who died in 2014, Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, took a fair old beating from much of Europe’s press for her unfortunate facial surgery, and her marriage in 2011 to a man 25 years her junior. But she had already been married and widowed twice, produced a good sheaf of children, and whilst at all times an individualist, she had absolutely done her duty by her title and inheritances. She arranged her affairs before her last marriage, her husband was left out of the will, and her children were appeased. She did her job and also lived her own life. I may have started off tittering, but I soon stopped and thought at the end of the visit that she would have been great fun, in a good way, at a party.
So to the gardens…
At the heart of the palace lies the calm, cool and restful Patio del Limonero. Surprisingly domestic in scale and un-grand, it has abundant greenery, citrus trees, bougainvillea, flashes of rose and flowering clivia, and at key points, beautiful urns decorated with the Las Duenas name and crest. It feels like a much-loved space, carefully tended, yet simple in design and plant choice for such a grand building.
Once home to 100 patios, the Palace occupies a smaller footprint now. The main Patio is perhaps the more formal garden space of the remaining Palace complex.
Slender white marble Mudejar columns edge the Patio, creating an architectural forest of shade from which to view the garden, and the central fountain has been filled with planting, giving lushness to the whole space.
The Olive Oil Courtyard is a small, intimate space, but given great splendour by the four palm trees which frame the central Mudejar fountain. You feel that this was once a storage area, but which has been lovingly re-purposed without a trace of ostentatiousness.
Pots, urns, statuesque succulents and tough groundcover, round the corner of the visit in the Santa Justa garden, which runs parallel to the main courtyard entrance
What is impressive throughout is the sense of human care and contact with each space and the placing and tending of plants and pots. Cayetana may be dead, but her Palace is very much alive. Inside the Palace, there are countless touching mementoes, photographs, drawing and paintings that she made and liked, costumes and trinkets, and so many family photographs…she really loved the place and so did I. Bougainvillea and all…