The Gardens of the Alhambra and Generalife, Granada, Spain – Part one The Nasrid Palaces

We have wanted to visit Granada for a very long time and last week, finally flew out from London City Airport for a short break. Taking a bus from the airport and then a second short mini bus ride which dropped us at our hotel in the Albaycin area all made for an easy journey. We dumped our bags and wandered up to the square to catch our first view before the day’s forecast rain.


Alhambra viewed from Mirador St. Nicholas in the Albaycin area

The literal translation of Alhambra is “the red one”, constructed from clay, the buildings glow in the sunset, even on a cloudy evening. Only the Generalife, the Sultans summer palace, a short walk from the Nasrid Palaces is white. Behind, the Sierra Nevada mountains were still partly snow capped – the melt provides Granada’s water.

The Generalife the summer palace - a short walk from the Nasrid Palaces

The Generalife – Sultans Summer palace -white building on left – a short walk from the Nasrid Palaces on right – view from Sacromonte

There are records showing occupied buildings in the Alhambra area from 880, although it was not until the 12th and 13th centuries that gardens were built there for the Nasrid rulers, an Arab dynasty. In 1492 Granada fell to Ferdinand and Isabella and the last Muslim territory in Spain was surrendered to the Christians. In 1526 Charles V of Spain occupied the area and built his palace. A period of neglect followed and it was not until the 19th century when Washington Irvin, the American novelist and other romantic travellers rediscovered the Alhambra that the restoration began.


The Court of the Myrtles

The temperatures were soaring into the mid 30s as we queued for the first of our two visits to Nasrid Palaces, which include The Court of the Myrtles and The Court of the Lions. 300 people are allowed to visit per hour but with patience, there are brief moments of almost no-one there. The central pool is 34 metres long and 7. 10 meters wide. The pool divides the patio and receives its water from two fountains (one at each end of the pool).

The Nasrid Palaces comprise of three independent areas – the Mexuar, which corresponds to the semipublic part of the palace for justice administration and State affairs; the Comares Palace which was the official residence of the king; and the Palace of the Lions which was the private area of the palace. The Comares Palace surrounds The Court of the Myrtles which was built for Yusuf I (1333-54) and the Palace of the Lions surrounds the Court of the Lions built for his son Muhammad V. Most of what is seen today has been reconstructed.

Beautifully clipped Myrtle Hedges

Beautifully clipped Myrtle Hedges

The Myrtle Hedges are beautifully clipped, the only signs ask visitors not to touch plants! But it was virtually irresistible to press a myrtle leaf between my fingers to release the fragrance. Our second visit at nighttime, the following evening shows the Stucco arches reflected in the water and the fountains at either end of the pool.

Court of Myrtles at Nightime

Court of Myrtles at Night time

The Myrtles were planted in the 19th century and were not included as a hedge in the original garden design. Throughout time there have been other names for this court, its current name is due to the Myrtles. It was also called the Patio of the Pond or the Reservoir because of its central pool. Leading from the Court of the Mrytles we walked through the Comares or throne room to the Court of the Lions.

Comares Room

Arch detail in the Harem – above the entrance to the Sala de dos Hermanas – Hall of the Two Sisters

Surrounding the Court is the Palace of the Lions and is probably the most famous part of the Alhambra. This patio was built for Mohammed V. The style is of a Christian cloister rather than the typical Muslim Andalusian style of the Court of the Myrtles.

Palace of the Lions

Palace of the Lions

It is so called because of the twelve lions that throw jets of water and which are part of the fountain in the middle of the patio.

12 Lions

12 Lions

Our visit during the day time was busy but the following evening we managed by chance to be first in the queue and for a exhilarating brief minute or so we were alone in the Court of Lions.

The Court of the Lions at night time

The Court of the Lions at night time

The gallery is supported by 124 white marble columns with fine shafts, which are intricately decorated.


One of two Pavillions – Palace of the Lions, simply planted with four Orange trees

The evening visit to the Nasrid Palaces includes only these two gardens but during the day the route leads on though the Court of Lindaraja and finally into the Palace of the Partal and the restored Partal gardens.

Balcony overlooking the Court of Lindaraja

Balcony overlooking the Court of Lindaraja

I have so much to share with you, I thought its best to divide this trip up into 2 posts and later will post one on the Partal Gardens and the Generalife, although the places open for public visiting are divided into four areas. Alcazaba, seen on the far right in the first photo, essentially a fortress. The Nasrid Palaces on the left in my first photo. (The later added Charles 5th Palace can be seen sitting behind the Nasrid Palaces). The Partal gardens, essentially the area linking everything up and Generalife.


One of two Pavillions – Court of the Lions

Booking tickets to visit is a complicated business. Our hotel gave us the heads up that tickets are released 6 weeks in advance and sell out very quickly, so for a June 1st visit they were released on April 20th. There are lots of options including guided tours on the Alhambra official website and bookings were through ticket master.

NB To read Part two The Gardens of the Alhambra and Generalife, Granada, Spain – Part two Partal and Generalife

Chelsea Flower Show 2015 – A Crowded Affair

We visited Chelsea this year on a jam packed sunny Thursday. The earlier wind and rain of the first three days gave way to sunshine and by the time we arrived at 11a.m its fair to say the place was heaving. We made our way through some jolly trade stands, buying a few rusted plant supports en-route to the 8 Artisan Gardens. Finding little room just to stand and take any garden in or even walk from a to b we did a u-turn, had a cup of tea and listened to the band. Fortified we headed to the bottom of main avenue, to view some of the 15 large show gardens.

Dan Pearson's Chatsworth Garden

Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth Garden and the footpath through

Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth Garden was built on the Triangle, slightly away from other gardens and overlooked by the lofty media platform where Monty Don and Joe Swift delivered the nightly show. Pearson designed his brilliant, brilliant garden for folk to walk all the way around, there were no ropes except for a metre wide strip at the path entrance and exit, which traversed his garden, originally it was planned for all visitors to walk through the garden and view from the inside, health and safety put a stop to that and just a few selected guests were allowed on. There was even a bench for visitors to sit on. How inclusive!


Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth Garden and the inviting seat

From the triangle we headed up main avenue first stopping at Sean Murray’s garden, the winner of ‘The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge’ TV programme. To highlight the RHS campaign to green our tarmaced and concreted over front gardens, Sean’s prize for winning the TV show was the opportunity to design the ‘Greening Grey Britain’ Chelsea garden.

Sean Murray signing autographs on his garden

Sean Murray signing autographs on his garden “Greening Grey Britain”

Of the 15 main gardens, we loved Prince Harry’s Hope In Vulnerability garden and it was voted the People’s Choice show garden. The garden was designed to raise awareness for Sentebale’s mission to tackle the stigma of HIV in adolescents, helping to provide access to care and education and providing psychosocial support. This was a garden that looked as if people lived there.

Hope In Vulnerability Sentebale Garden

Peoples Choice winning garden – Hope In Vulnerability Sentebale Garden

The planting style this year was wild even on the more formal gardens. I prefer wild at home but Chris Beardshaw’s style of planting on his ‘Healthy Cities Garden’ was truly beautiful. A wonderful selection of texture, form and colours.

Chris Beardshaw's 'Healthy Cities Garden'

Chris Beardshaw’s ‘Healthy Cities Garden’

After the show the Garden is being entirely relocated to Poplar in East London as a part of a community project. The Healthy Cities programme focuses on giving children a healthy start through a variety of initiatives.

And the garden loved most by Monty Don.

A Perfumer's Garden for  L'Occitane

A Perfumer’s Garden for

The Perfumer’s Garden was a short step away from the 9 Fresh gardens, rapidly becoming my favourite part of the show. Unlike the Artisan category, which is squeezed into an oppressive tunnel. (My suggestion if anyone with any clout reads this, is at the very least a one way system for the Artisan category or put all the swanky greenhouse trade stands down there). The Fresh Gardens like the Chatsworth garden can all be walked around. Our favourite the World Vision Garden.

World Vision Garden

World Vision Garden

This is another garden designed to raise awareness. World Vision is the worlds largest international children’s charity and the garden was inspired by Cambodian rice fields. The dark reflective water representing the fear of hunger that vulnerable children in Cambodia live with. Hope was symbolised by delicate violets. World Vision are asking folk to be involved and on Friday July 10th wear something floral as a fundraiser.

The People’s Choice Fresh garden winner was awarded to the beautifully planted ‘The Breakthrough Breast Cancer Garden’

People Choice Fresh garden the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Garden

People Choice Fresh garden
the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Garden

We dipped in and out of the the Floral Marquee now named the Great Pavilion, its a whopping 12,000m, which according to the Telegraph is the same size as two football pitches and enough room to park 500 London buses. There are around 100 exhibits and the smell is wonderful. We had watched the interview on TV before coming with the young couple in their 20’s Laura Crowe and Jack Willgoss at their first Chelsea and exhibiting perennial Violas. Having met when they were training in Horticulture at RHS Wisley they are now fulfilling their dream and run Wildegoose Nursery They won a silver-gilt, not bad for their first time!

Wildegoose Nursery Perennial Violas

Wildegoose Nursery Perennial Violas

We then made our way back to the Artisan gardens for the third time, the second time the one garden causing the major traffic jam was still surrounded by people. But at 7.45p.m just before the show was closing I finally managed to see the Japanese Garden.

Kazuyuki Ishihara Japanese Garden

Kazuyuki Ishihara Japanese Garden

This year Kazuyuki Ishihara was awarded his 7th Chelsea Gold Medal. Piped to the post for People’s choice Artisan garden was the Breast Cancer Haven Garden, my photograph does not do it justice. So I am showing you another garden in The Artisan category instead.

A Trugmakers Garden

A Trugmakers Garden

Of course we would go again, I love the razzmatazz of the show gardens and especially enjoy seeing the wonderful plants inside the Great Pavillion, but the crowds are something else. In 2004 Chelsea was extended from 4 days to 5, maybe just one extra day to spread the crowds out would be good.

Enveloped at Wisley

This weeks photo challenge is Envelope. I hadn’t planned to take part and then under the shade of a Laburnocytisus ‘Adamii’ at Wisley today, I watched several species of Bumblebee dip in and out of the Laburnam racemes, enveloped by the mostly yellow flowers. As this Laburnam is a horticultural curiosity, there are pink flowers too.

Laburnhamcytisus 'Adamii'

Laburnocytisus ‘Adamii’

Laburnocytisus ‘Adamii’ is a graft-hybrid between Laburnham and Purple Broom. The tree at Wisley caught my eye as from a distance I thought a clematis was running through it and then up close could see the pink flowers were a part of the tree too.


Enveloped by Laburnam racemes Bumblebee heavily laden with pollen

There was much to see at Wisley in the sunshine today, hopefully the rain due at Chelsea this coming week will be kinder than forecast.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Reward – Visiting the Garden of Ninfa

Its easy to fall in love with this wonderful romantic garden but the reward of finally visiting and experiencing breath taking joy is something I will never forget.

Roses in the Garden of Ninfa

Roses in the Garden of Ninfa

For this weeks challenge, I thought of the long walks, cycle rides, hills and the odd mountain we had climbed to stretch our bodies and be rewarded by spectacular views but chose visiting the Garden of Ninfa in Italy and finally seeing the crumbling walls covered in Roses as my response to this challenge.

My piece on the Gardens of Ninfa was written shortly after I began blogging and since that time have met many people I would not have met before, who have given me great advice, been extremely kind and who have opened my eyes with some wonderful blogs on so many beautiful plants and places across the world.

Please visit the photo challenge page to see how other folk have responded to the Reward challenge.

Bennington Lordship Garden and Snowdrops

Last Friday, I visited Bennington Lordship in Hertfordshire. My original plan had been the RHS London Plant and Potato Fair, but on the day could not face the journey and the inevitable crush. The forecast for heavy rain had changed to dry and although a weak and watery sun barely broke through the low clouds all day, searching for snowdrops proved to be the best decision.


Bennington Lordship Snowdrops do not mind the rain

Bennington is a picturesque small village in Hertfordshire 30 miles outside of London. Bennington Lordship the name given to the manor house, Lordship a reference to the village origins in Saxon times. The estate is a seven acre garden, which opens occasionally and during Snowdrop time they are open daily from 12 – 4 until March 1st. Entry £5.00. Guided walks Monday and Wednesday for £1.00. A tea shop serving soup and hot drinks and a good pub in the village.

Garden path

Garden path to the Folly

I do not really understand the fuss about Snowdrops and much prefer Crocus as an early spring flower. Except that on a cloudy day they look like colourful Candle Snuff. As I write, there is a Galanthus plicatus ‘Golden Fleece’ snowdrop for sale on ebay due to finish at 23 Feb, 2015 21:09:26 GMT, currently the bid stands at £1,330 for one bulb. Its described as the first fully pterugiform yellow snowdrop which took Joe Sharman 10 years to create. It is lovely but wow that is a lot of money, I would rather a whole drift of Galanthus nivalis. 

Bennington Lordship

Snowdrops covering the banks of the moat at Bennington Lordship

There are over 200 varieties of Snowdrop in the garden and I was very fortunate whilst there to find the Head Gardener Richard Webb, I confessed I did not get the passion folk have for snowdrops and had visited his garden to try and understand more. Richard was very knowledgable and generous with his time, I left with a kindling interest and I had fallen for Blewberry Tart, a double that opens head up, a little like a crocus!

Walled garden border of named varieties

Walled garden border of over 200 named varieties including Diggory

The charming gardens include herbaceous borders, a walled Kitchen Garden, an Orchard and huge pond. Richard recommended a late May/June visit in particular to see the herbaceous borders. I have included Benington Lordships’s link to their snowdrop page and recommend a visit, even if like me you don’t quite get what its all about!

Cragside – Home to Seven Million Trees and Shrubs

We visited Cragside during a happy trip to Northumberland last year, its a jewel in the National Trust crown and the former Victorian home of Lord and Lady Armstrong. He was a focused and driven industrialist, civil engineer and inventor, she was a talented botanist and socialite. Armstrong amassed his huge fortune through hydraulic inventions and as an arms manufacturer. At 53, he decided to build a country home in Northumberland and appointed the architect Richard Norman Shaw to design the house, he had the land cleared and using dynamite created a crag on which to build.



Armstrong was also said to be a landscape genius and following the purchase of the barren Northumberland land destined to become Cragside, he designed, constructed and together with Lady Armstrong directed the planting of 7 million trees and shrubs in under 40 years. Initially employing 150 gardeners to assist them which tailed to 70 maintenance gardeners when the planting was completed.

Tumbling down from the house, with a view of Debdon Burn is the largest man made rock garden in Europe, 3.5 acres in size. We scrambled down through the rocks towards the Burn. We were told had we visited in May or June the display of Rhododendrons and Azaleas on the Rock Garden is fantastic. The views along the Burn made up for it.

In the grounds, water plays a vital part

Debdon Burn

Cragside stretches over 1,000 acres and has 40 miles of footpaths winding through woodland planted with native and exotic conifers – Noble Firs, Douglas Firs, Wellingtonias, Monkey Puzzle, Spanish Fir, Greek Fir and many more broadleaf trees. There are four artificial lakes, which were used in Armstrong’s time to generate hydro-electricity. The house was the first in the world to be lit by this method, using incandescent lamps first invented by the Sunderland born inventor Joseph Swan and by coincidence at the same time that Eddison was working on his invention too. (Later in 1883 the Eddison & Swan United Electric Light Company was formed in Newcastle).

In 2014 Hydroelectricity was brought back to Cragside with the introduction of an Archimedes screw, the green energy project continues the work of Lord Armstrong. This modern hydro system will produce enough energy to light all 350 light bulbs in the house and will produce 12kw of electricity a year, providing Cragside with around 10 per cent of its electricity.

Nelly Moss South Lake at Cragside

Man made Nelly Moss South Lake at Cragside

Our visit coincided with the Lux exhibition, seven contemporary art installations looking a little out of place and met with mixed reactions but a really exciting dimension within this historic house. This exhibit was designed by Imogen Cloet, the 54 bulbs refer to the original domestic installation of Joseph Swan’s incandescent light bulbs at Cragside that were also lit by Hydropower.

Illumine by Imogen Cloet part of the Lux exhibition

Illumine by Imogen Cloet part of the Lux exhibition

Cragside also has a formal garden, reached through an optimistically signed gate. We walked across the famous Iron bridge, through the Autumn Colour walk, green of course when we visited in July and into the Formal Garden, the Temperate Fernery and Orchard Glass House.

Temperate Fernery

Temperate Fernery

Cragside was recently featured on the television programme Glorious gardens presented by Christine Walkenden, the very short clip saved here shows the formal garden off beautifully with an overhead shot of the whole area, including their traditional carpet bedding display which takes 6 weeks for the gardeners to complete. A lovely blog written by Holly, a National trust trainee gardener covering the last year at Cragside, is a wonderful behind the scenes insight, if you would like to discover more.

Optomistic sign

Polite notice and optimistic sign

Closing the gate, we headed off in the car across the rugged Northumbrian countryside to the Keilder Observatory to watch stars in the UK’s largest area of least light pollution. Nightime drizzle and low cloud put paid to that plan and not a star was seen but we shall try again on our next visit to Northumbria.