Amongst the many and varied gardens of Spain, the prominent style is the much loved and elegant Moorish or Islamic design.
Gardens to see and visit in Spain include the famous Moorish gardens of Granada and Seville; the exquisite courtyard gardens of Cordoba; the famous mosaics of Parc Guell in Barcelona; historic monastic, Renaissance and baroque period gardens; subtropical gardens of the Costa Brava; the gardens of famous artists such as Gaudí, Silva, Rodríguez-Acosta and Bastida; and the Prado's large greenwall in Madrid.
Local guide in this country:
Garden Travel Guide to Spain
written by Louise McDaid, garden writer, editor, designer – LSM Design
Spain – getting there and getting around
Spain has four international airports – Madrid in the centre of the country, Barcelona in the north east, Malaga in the south for closest access to the Andalusian cities of Granada, Córdoba and Seville, and also the Costa del Sol, as well as Palma de Majorca on the Balearic island of Majorca.
Within Spain there are high speed trains linking Madrid to Malaga, Valencia and Barcelona. Local rail services offer many picturesque journeys, particularly through the countryside of Andalusia.
Driving in Spain (outside Madrid) is easy on the many well-maintained autopistas (toll roads) and autovias (freeways). Many of these newer, fast roads run almost parallel to local roads which can offer a slower, but more pleasant travelling alternative.
Spain has three main climate zones. The dominant climate for most of the peninsula is Mediterranean with warm to hot summers and mild, wet winters. The raised plateau that covers much of central Spain will regularly have summer days over 35 degrees C. Annual rainfall is around 400-500mm with Madrid averaging 425mm a year, with October to December the wettest months.
In the south-east is a semi-arid zone which includes Alicante, Murcia and Almeria. Summers are very hot, with many days over 40 degrees C. Some parts of the south-east have only 120-150mm of rain a year.
The Basque country on the northern coast of Spain from the Pyrennes to the Asturias, centred around Bilbao, is much wetter and cooler than the rest of peninsula and is often called ‘Green Spain’ as the countryside looks very different. Many towns record 1000mm of rain a year which is spread evenly throughout the year. Summer days are mostly in the high 20 degrees and winter days around 13-15 degrees.
Spain topography and vegetation
The Spanish peninsula is dominated by a central elevated plateau (Meseta Central) with an elevation of 670m-760m which is ringed by higher mountains. In the north, the Pyrenees mountains separate Spain from France. In the south-west is the Andalusian Plain and in the south-east is the mountains of the Sistema Penibético which includes the ski resorts of the Sierra Nevada and the highest peak on peninsula Spain, Mulhacén at 3,479m.
Many of Spain’s rivers are short rivers that run only a short distance from the mountains to the coast nearby. There three much longer important rivers, the 1000km long Tagus which rises in central Spain and flows west to the coast near Lisbon in Portugal, the Duero (Douro) to its north which also flows west throgh Portugal to the sea, and the Ebro which runs south-east from northern Basque country to the Mediterranean Sea.
Peninsula Spain has three main natural vegetation types. In the cooler, wetter north, deciduous forest with oak, chestnut, beech and poplar. In the drier south, the Mediterranean forests have conifers such as juniper and pine as well as more drought hardy evergreen trees like cork oak (Quercus suber) and holly oak (Quercus ilex). Where trees have been cleared for pasture and land has become degraded, maquis shrublands develop.
Plants that gardeners will be familiar with that are found naturally in Spain include the well-known Spanish lavender and Spanish bluebell, yew (Taxus) Galium, Allium, Arenaria, Cistus, Narcissus, Gentiana, Stipa, many species of iris and broom (Spartium and Cytisus), Silene and Thymus.
Plants grown for commercial use in Spain include almonds, olives, figs, cherries, wine grapes, citrus, cork and tomatoes.
Almeria in southern Spain has developed into an extraordinary white landscape from the thousands of greenhouse igloos that cover over 43,000 hectares (160 square miles). Inside the greenhouses, tomatoes and zucchinis (courgettes), mostly tended by immigrant labour, are grown hydroponically for export all over Europe. Unfortunately the huge demand for these fresh vegetables is causing wide-scale environmental degradation around Almeria with erosion from the excavation of hillsides for new terraces, and also disposal of unused pesticide.
A significant plant through much of southern Spain is the Seville or bitter orange, a small tree with fragrant flowers and fruit, but a very bitter taste. Over 14,000 of these trees line the streets of Seville.
Spain Garden Style
Spain’s garden style has its roots in the Islamic ‘paradise garden’ ‘of Moorish times, named for the empire which stretched from northern Africa through Andalusia in southern Spain and Portugal from the 8th to the 15th centuries. The Moors valued gardens, and created sophisticated and beautiful paradise gardens in the Persian style, predominantly private enclosed courtyards divided into quadrants, each with a water rill emptying into a central pool or basin. These were symbolic of the four rivers of paradise – water, milk, wine and honey – as described in the Qur’an.
Many of Spain’s most famous historical gardens such as the Alcazar in Seville (late 14th century) and the Generalife beside the Alhambra in Granada were begun by Moorish rulers, although they have since been embellished with Renaissance and later gothic additions. Gardens of wealthy Moors tended to be small and intimate, with elaborate irrigation and water features, and decoration from painted tiles (azulejos), often in blue, green and white. Popular plants included myrtles, citrus, bay, cypress and palms.
Although the Moors were finally defeated and driven out by Ferdinand and Isabella in the late 15th century, their garden style remained a strong influence for many years, gradually developing into a hybrid style called mudéjar used in larger estate gardens.
Like the rest of Europe, the Italian Renaissance garden spread throughout Spain during the 16th century, with a notable example built by Charles V at Aranjuez in Madrid. From the late 17th century, French garden design exerted a stronger influence as the Bourbon kings, descended from France’s Louis XIV, took the throne. Grand allées of limes and hornbeams as well as parterres and elaborate formal water gardens appeared.
By the late 18th century, the romantic English landscape park was all the rage, with temples, grottos, sculpture and staircases.
The 20th century began a renewal of a distinctively modern Spanish style with the development of Parque Güell in Barcelona. Gaudí’s hillside park is dominated by colourful tiles, reviving the decorative style of Moorish times, with tiles walls, seats and buildings and towers, creating an exciting and original community area.
Newer cutting edge design projects in Madrid and Barcelona include Patrick Blanc greenwalls, interpretations of natural landscapes like the dehesa landscape style of the park and greenroof of Caja Badajoz bank in Badajoz by Cristina Jorge Camacho, and the exciting Plaza Indautxu by Balzola in Bilbao.
Gardens to see and visit in Spain
– including Andalusia, Malaga, Madrid, Barcelona, Aragon, the Balearic Islands (Majorca and Minorca), the Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castille and Leon, Extremadura, Galicia and Valencia.
Spain offers an extensive and varied selection of beautiful gardens with multi-layered design structures, both historic and contemporary.
Gardens to visit in Andalusia
Gardens to see and visit in Córdoba
Mezquita de Córdoba – The Great Mosque, also now known as the Cathedral of Cordoba after the addition of a Gothic cathedral, is regarded as one of the most accomplished examples of Moorish architecture. It encompasses the Patio of Orange Trees planted with 98 Seville orange trees (not original) in a rectangle grid of irrigation channels.
Agricultura Gardens – a park known locally as the Garden of the Ducks from the many ducks on the pond, its original name is a nod to the allotments that covered the area until 1866. A wide variety of trees including a ginkgo surviving from the Mesozoic era.
Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Castle of the Christian Kings) – a medieval castle with gardens Moorish in design with ponds, fountains and aromatic plants.
Juan Carlos Gardens – a modern popular park in front of the university Rectory, with ordered flower beds, play areas, delightful pond and bridge. Summer poetry festivals.
Palacio de Viana Garden – a Renaissance palace, declared a National Monument and Artistic Garden, with 12 courtyards and a formal garden (see Festival of Patios in Cordoba, below)
Paseo de Cordoba – recently-created public space in the centre of Cordoba, incorporating children’s play areas, bike lanes, extensive gardens, benches and large fountains in a modern design.
The River Balcony – architect designed garden by the Guadalquivir River, with contemporary benches and other furniture contrasting with the traditional image of old Cordoba with quite an effect.
Gardens to see and visit in Granada
Alhambra (Red Castle) – a medieval castle with the most revered Moorish garden. Described as “Europe’s love letter to Moorish culture”, it is considered to be the prime example of garden design from that period. The Alhambra and Generalife are visited as part of the same UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Generalife – a palace built as a rural retreat for Muslim royalty with gardens, featuring the widely photographed Moorish style Court of the Water Channel with long pond, fountains and flower beds. Entry to the Generalife garden is combined with the Alhambra.
Carmen de los Martires (Carmen of the Martyrs) – a romantic and artistic blend of garden styles at a 19th century country house nearby, but a world apart from, the Alhambra and the Generalife
Carmen de Rodriguez-Acosta – early 20th century country house and gardens designed by painter José María Rodríguez-Acosta which is now a museum.
Gardens to see and visit in Seville
Casa de Pilatos – palace built during the 15th and 16th centuries, located in the historic part of the city centre, with gardens of blended design styles most resembling Italian renaissance.
Jardines de las Reales Alcazares (Fortress of the Kings Garden) – the largest late-medieval garden in Europe built on Moorish remains. Changes made in the 16th century are of Renaissance style, but original garden areas remain.
Jardines de Murillo – a peaceful hidden garden near the Alcazar with a central round fountain, shade trees, scented plants and monument to Christopher Columbus.
Jardin Americano – a botanical garden built for the 1992 Expo, with species from all over the Americas, was refurbished and reopened in 2010. Divided into different areas, it features a riverside walk and lake.
Jardines del Guadalquivir – built for the 1992 Expo, this tricky to find park by the river has a forgotten about feel that will appeal to anyone interested in exploring a quieter garden of Seville with waterlilly ponds, sculptures and viewing platforms amongst flowering plants and trees.
La Cartuja Garden – this 14th century monastry turned modern day museum is a complex of honey-coloured buildings with patios and a walled garden planted with fruiting trees.
Parque de Maria Luisa – a park designed and built for the Ibero-American Exposition which opened in 1929, with the Plaza de Espania as its centrepiece. The park has hundreds of exotic trees lining avenues and many surviving pavilions.
Gardens to see and visit in Malaga
Jardin de Pedro Luis Alonso (Pedro Luis Alonso Gardens) – formal in style designed in 1945 by Guerrero Strachan with clipped hedges, pools and shade trees.
Malaga Botanical Gardens – a private garden since 1889 until it was bought by the Malaga Town Hall and opened as a Botanic Garden in 1994
Paseo del Parque – this late 19th century harbourside park is built on reclaimed land with tropical flowering trees and shrubs, fountains and sculpture shaded by palm and plane trees.
Gardens to see and visit in Catalonia
Gardens to see and visit in Barcelona
Barcelona Botanical Gardens, Montjuic – newly designed garden opened in 1999 with plants grouped according to five Mediterranean regions.
Barcelona Cathedral Cloister – the cathedral, in the Gothic district, is also known as La Seu with a cloister dating from 14th century with 13 geese, fountain and plants.
Carrer de Jane Adams – the Garden of Human Rights comprises renewed gardens at the old Phillips factory site, with the old buildings converted to art centre, library and shopping spaces.
Jardins de Petra Kelly – a small memorial garden with interesting details oddly positioned in the middle of the working Municipal Plant Nursery.
Jardins del Mirador de Alcalde – ‘The Mayor’s Prospect’ sits above the city near Montjuic Castle. Superb landscape design, in particular the paving and fountains – the gardens were reinstated to their former glory in 2009.
Monestir de Pedralbes – a beautiful 14th century monastery with a large restored cloister garden.
Parque Guell – most famous example of art nouveau landscape architecture, conceived by Count Guell and designed by Gaudi. Opened as a park in 1922.
Parc de l’Espanya Industrial, Sants Montjuic – a popular park near the railway station celebrating Barcelona’s industrial history with grass, water, and fountains.
Parc del Laberinto – the late 18th century Park of the Labyrinth is on a hill overlooking the city with a maze at its centre, restored in late 20th century.
Plazas of Barcelona – has some of the best postmodern urban squares in Europe. Parc de Collserola, Parc de la Creueta del Coll, Parc de Joan Miro, Parc de L’Estacia del Nord, Parc del Poblenou, Parc de Nova Icaria, Parc de L’Espanya Industrial.
Sant Pau Recinte Modernista – an art deco complex with World Heritage status designed by Lluis Domenich I Montaner. Pavilions, set among gardens, showcasing sculptures, stained glass and mosaics.
Gardens to see and visit beyond Barcelona and north
Cap Roig Botanic Gardens, Girona, Costa Brava – a romantic series of terraced gardens leading from a castle down to the sea.
Marimurtra Botanic Gardens, Girona, Costa Brava – beautiful gardens on a steep coastal site with sea views, lake, and mediterranean and sub-tropical plant displays.
Santa Clotilde Gardens, Girona, Costa Brava – set on rocky seaside hills, made in the 1920s, Arts and Crafts style making excellent use of evergreens and statuary flanking stairways.
Jardines de Artigas, la Pobla de Lillet – a park designed by modernist architect Antonio Gaudí, built in 1905- 1906, with many arches and Catholic symbols and restored in 1992.
Parc Sama, Vinyols – a house with Mediterranean garden in the romantic style of the 19th century with a lake, grotto, fountain and woods.
Atlantic Park, Santander – a new urban park designed by Batlle I Roig Arquitectes on the site of a former public dump. Ecosystem marshland boardwalks, amphitheatre, botanical gardens and ‘atlantic’ zone where plants will be allowed to colonise.
Plaza Indautxu, Bilbao – modernist public park designed by Gregorio de la Revilla and built by Balzola, opened in 2006. Large central circular area surrounded by trees and dramatic tall ‘leaf-shaped’ structures in white steel.
Gardens to see and visit in Madrid
Madrid Rio Manzanares River Reclamation Project – in 2003-2011 the extensive Madrid Rio project created a greenspace from the centre of Madrid into the countryside. Eight components include Salón de Pinos, Avenida de Portugal, Huerta de la Partida, Jardines del Puente de Segovia, Jardines del Puente de Toledo, Jardines de la Virgen del Puerto and Arganzuela Park.
Campo del Moro – The Field of the Moor originated as a 12th cetury Moorish camp ground, turned into a 19th century public park combining formal with gardenesque elements.
Jardin del Monasterio de El Escorial – monastry, palace, tomb and gardens built by Philip II, with inner courtyards displaying rich and formal style, the feature being the Cloister of the Evangelists. Other gardens surround the monastery.
Jardin del Palacio de Aranjuez – large impressive baroque style garden at the Royal Palace of Arnjuez, with beginnings in the 16th century by Phillip II. Gardens include the Parterre, the Island, the Prince and Isabel II.
Jardín de Sabatini – Sabatini Gardens are neoclassical-style with mazes and sculptures, part of the Royal Palace situated on its north side where the old royal stables used to stand.
La Quinta del Duque de Arco Garden, el Pardo – small palace, farmhhouse and 18th century gardens with four large formal terraces featuring Spanish and Italian elements.
Museo de Sorolla – courtyard garden at the studio of post-impressionist painter Joaquin Sorolla Bastida (1863-1923), with water features, ceramic tiles, and potted plants.
Parque del Buen Retiro – the Park of the Pleasant Retreat is one of Madrid’s largest and most popular parks, a premier attraction featuring a lake, monuments, galleries, sculpture and gardens.
Parque El Capricho – an 18th century park with flower gardens, labyrinth, lake, fountains and interesting structures.
Real Jardin Botanico – Madrid Botanic Gardens on the Manzanares River are more a public garden than a scientific collection, with an entrance charge to maintain standards and level of care.
CaixaForum Madrid, Paseo del Prado, is a museum and cultural centre with a large greenwall created by Patrick Blanc in 2007.
Gardens to see and visit in Aragon
Monasterio de Piedra, Nuevalos, Zaragoza – former Cistercian monastery has a romantic garden and natural park beside the Piedra River with lakes, waterfalls, grottoes and caves.
Gardens to see and visit in the Balearic Islands (Majorca and Minorca)
Botanicactus, Majorca – a botanical garden with thousands of examples divided into wet tropical and semi-arid with cactus, grasses, palms, bamboo and native Majorcan plants.
Cartuja de Valldemossa, Majorca – a former Carthusian monastery famous for becoming the residence of writer George Sands and composer Chopin. Monk cells with their own garden are open to visit.
Jardines de Alfabia, Majorca – a sumptuous romantic complex of house, gardens and orchard dating from the 15th century.
Jardines de S’hort del Rei, Majorca – a cosy garden in central Palma featuring the familiar style of long pond and fountains, palm and citrus trees and original arabic arch feature
Jardines Botanic de Soller, Majorca – the Soller Botanic Garden opened in 1992 as a centre for conservation and study of Mediterranean flora.
Lithica, Minorca – a cavernous disused quarry converted in the 1990’s into an amazing series of gardens with walkways, fountains, native plantings and labyrinthes.
Gardens to see and visit in the Canary Islands
Jardín de Cactus, Lanzarote – a garden created in an old quarry by local artist César Manrique with restored windmill and impressive collection of cacti.
Jardin de Aclimatacion de La Orotava, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife – 18th century botanic garden where plants were originally brought from the Spanish colonies worldwide to acclimatise before being moved to the royal gardens in Madrid.
Jardin de la Marquesa de Arucas, Arucas, Gran Canaria – botanic garden with a variety of plants and collections, including very old Dracaena draco and Ficus elastica.
Gardens to see and visit in Cantabria
Puente de San Miguel – an charming garden in northern Spain with a magnificent tree collection including a Magnolia grandiflora that may be the largest in Europe.
Gardens to see and visit in Castile and Leon
Royal Palace of La Granja, San Ildefonso – early 18th century palace in the hills near Segovia was the royal summer residence. Baroque architecture with extensive formal gardens.
El Romeral de San Marcos, Segovia – 20th century garden designed by landscape designer and artist Leandro Silva, rich with plants and design influences with great view of the Alcazar.
Gardens to see and visit in Extremadura
San Jeronimo at San Yuste – a 15th century hieronymite monastery with a cloister, a roofed terrace and Emperor Charles V’s pleasure garden.
Gardens to see and visit in Galicia
Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos, Santiago de Compostela – a blend of history, art and tradition, what began as a hospital for pilgrims travelling to Santiago is now the Parador de Santiago hotel with four ornamented cloister gardens.
Monasterio de San Lorenzo de Trasouto, Santiago – a medieval monastery turned palatial residence with gardens outside notable for botanical richness and variety rather than layout, plus unusual internal cloister garden.
Parque Quinones de Leon, Pontevedra – late 19th century style garden on three levels, with a rose garden, the Prince of the Waters fountain, a ‘French garden’, and an English garden.
Pazo de Lourizan Arboretum, Pontevedra – a property with mixed uses through the centuries it now houses a school of forestry, with a farm, a botanical garden and an arboretum.
Pazo de Oca, Oca – manor house with beautiful 18th century gardens featuring two ponds, one with an islet shaped like a boat.
Pazo de Santa Cruz de Rivadulla, Vedra – a 19th century garden with large collection of camellias well suited to the local climate.
Pazo de Soutomaior Garden, Rial – a steep site with granite castle and gardens. Gardenesque planting of ceders, eucalyptus, magnolias, and camellias.
Pazo de Marinan, Bergondo – an artistic and complex 18th century garden featuring the superb “Parterre de boj”, a geometric central garden. Also spectacular trees including walnuts, eucalypts, camellias and shade bananas.
Gardens to see and visit in Navarra
Parque Natural del Senorio de Bertiz, Navarra – a botanical garden and nature reserve, originally a private estate, in the Pyrenees about 50km from Pamplona.
Gardens to see and visit in Valencia
Huerto del Cura Artistic Garden, Elche, Alicante – an orchard with ancient date palms, including the Imperial Palm weighing an estimated 8 tonnes, and other fruiting trees and garden types.
Jardines del Turia, Valencia – Turia Garden extends 9km through the city along a former riverbed and is one of the largest urban parks in Spain.
Jardin de Montforte – declared “Artistic Gardens” in 1941, the Montforte Garden is neoclassical with marble statues, small ponds and fountains, and lush plantings. Enter through a small palace called the “Pabellon de Recreo” in the style of the garden.
Spain Garden Shows, Garden Festivals and Garden Events
Patio Festival, Cordoba
Every May, Cordoba celebrates spring with a Festival of Patios. Running since 1918, the festival developed out of the local creativity with patio gardens which are a feature of Cordoban architecture. The patios are a central courtyard adorned with plants and water features used to cool the surrounding building.
The Festival includes not only private homes opening their doors to the lovely courtyards, but also “monument” patios such as the Viana Palace, known as the Patio Museum, with 12 different patios to see, and various convents and religious buildings with must-see patios (The Encarnación, Santa Isabel de los Ángeles, Las Capuchinas, Santa María, Santa Cruz, Jesus Crucificado, Nuestra Señora de las Nieves, Corpus Cristi and San Pedro Real). If that’s not enough, there are also the patios at the Círculo de la Amistad building and the Cordoba University ‘Facultad de Derecho’ (Law Faculty).
Window Grilles and Balconies Competition, Cordoba
Coinciding with the popular Patio Festival in May, there is also a “Window Grilles and Balconies” competition with participants decorating the traditional window grilles and balconies of their houses with a colourful array of flowering plants.
Spain’s Public and Commercial Places with Interesting Gardens
Bodegas (many of the sherry and wine houses also have lovely gardens visitors can enjoy)
Gonzalez Byass Bodega, Jerez – reknowned sherry house with gardens and sherry tasting by Tio Pepe.
Villa Victorina Gardens, Jerez – originally laid out by Victorina Soto, the wife of the winery’s founder, and contains plants and trees imported by ship from the various countries where Tio Pepe is exported.
Ciegos Street, Jerez – a cobbled pedestrian street with white-washed walls is shaded by a living vine canopy over summer. Is this the prettiest street in the world?
Codorníu Winery, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, near Barcelona – a veritable institution for producing Spain’s celebrated sparkling Cava wine, take a tour that includes the beautiful art nouveau buildings and garden, wine museum and train through the cellars!
In Spain’s capital Madrid, two impressive garden works caught my eye and enhanced my ‘art experience’: the Caixa greenwall and cloud pruning in Retiro Park, with both of these outdoor living works offer their own distinctive appeal and artistry.
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