The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Spanish horticulture and gardens

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517. Horticulture has made but little progress in Spain; and, though of the, highest antiquity in that country, is now practised there with very little attention to art. The earliest of the few Spanish authors who have written on gardens is Don Gabriel Alonso de Herrera (Libro de Agricultura, &c., folio, Toledo, 1546), whose book on rural economy appeared early in the sixteenth century. It contains a treatise on gardens (De las Huertas), in which he distinguishes only two sorts; one for 'delight and provision for the house,' and the other for supplying the public market. Private gardens, he says, need not be extensive; those for selling vegetables and fruits should be near a town or village, and well supplied with water. He gives directions for cultivating the vine, fig, olive, apple, pear, and the common culinary plants. Of these, the soil and climate are peculiarly favourable to the alliaceous and cucurbitaceous tribes, some sorts of which, as the onion and winter-melon, form articles of foreign commerce. 'At Madrid,' Captain Cook observes, 'everything is exotic. The strawberries are brought from Aranjuez, thirty miles distant; the apricots from Toledo, fifty miles; peaches are carried on mules from Aragon, and butter from Asturias. Every part of Spain is put in requisition, not for luxuries, which cannot be said to exist, but to supply the necessaries of life to a spot in the middle of a desert, and which would soon revert to its original state of forest, but for the adventitious aid perpetually forced upon it.' The fruits of Spain are more numerous than those of any other European country. Besides all those of Italy, native or acclimated, Spain possesses the date, tamarind, and various fruits of the West Indies. The varieties of the grape, fig, melon, and orange, are numerous, and many of them, excellent. The pine-apple is little cultivated in Spain; but is grown in some parts of the southern provinces in the open air. (Jacob.) Cochineal culture, Captain Cook observes, 'promises one day to be of great value to the coast of Malaga. The facility of producing cochineal there has been proved most satisfactorily, and the quality is excellent. Some I saw at Cadiz,' he continues, 'was considered equal to the host from America. The difficulty at present is the price, as they say it cannot be brought to pay the expense. That must, however, diminish with practice. Another complaint is the tithe, which on a production of such intrinsic value, is a serious and probably insurmountable evil, and will operate to retard the progress of the cultivation, unless some means be taken to prevent it. The coast of Malaga Seems particularly suited to it. There are abundance of warm and sheltered spots now unproductive, that merely require the addition of common walls to break the wind, which is prejudicial to the insects. The Opuntia cochinillifera grows naturally, and they cannot urge the argument, brought against the increase of the mulberry tree, that water is wanted.' Culinary herbs and roots are not much attended to in Spain. Onions and garlic are in universal use; and the sweet potato (Convolvulus Batatas) is cultivated in various places. The British residents import their potatoes from their native country. Forcing is unknown in Spain, but in the royal gardens considerable exertions have been made to procure the luxuries common in the courts in the North of Europe, and pine-apples were grown at Madrid, in the garden of La Granja, at least in the year 1808. In the gardens of Aranjuez, a great quantity of vegetables and fruits of all kinds, and of esteemed qualities, are reared for the royal household; not only by the natural and ordinary means, but also by artificial expedients, not much known in Spain, though common in Britain. No expense has been spared to procure such things in abundance, as well from the provinces as from foreign countries, for the purpose of replacing such as have degenerated or been lost. Thus these gardens, considered in this light, are an excellent school of practical gardening, and they contain nearly all the various kinds of culinary vegetables grown in Great Britain with the addition of water-melons, and numerous kinds of gourds. But, of all the vegetables reared at Aranjuez, none exceeds the asparagus for size and high flavour. The common fruits in the royal gardens are principally strawberries, pears, apples, peaches, apricots, plums, medlars, azaroles, mulberries, quinces, figs, and gooseberries. Tomatoes are cultivated to a very great extent all over Spain, as they are almost as indispensable as garlic in Spanish cookery. Oranges are grown as wall fruit in Valencia.