The Courtyards of Cordoba
There are tradeoffs for a gardener when one decides to live in either the city or the countryside. It is possible to have a garden in either situation, regardless of what one might choose, but most likely the country gardener has it a bit easier with being able to plant directly in the soil. The city gardener on the other hand needs to be a bit more creative with space and the execution of a plan to create an enjoyable green space. With my experience in New York City and London as an urban gardener I relish the challenge that comes with designing an urban garden, but a recent visit to Cordoba helped tip me off on how the Spaniards adorn their spaces with plants while successfully creating that desired sense of calm in a city.
I visited the Courtyards of Viana, a stately home originally owned by a single family, which had many types of courtyards with each serving a different purpose. There were a mix of terraces, gardens and courtyards, with the latter having actual soil beds to plant into, an ideal situation amidst the chaos and noise of the surrounding city environment. The courtyards were considerably cooler than the street and had a quietness to them, feeling further from the activity that lay just on the other side of the walls. The amount of pots and containers used in abundance was surprising because since majority of the year is dry and hot here, I couldn't help but wonder how they stayed on top of watering, and with the act of watering, how were there no signs of watered pots dribbling down the sides of pristine white walls. A combination of Asparagus densiflorus, Monstera deliciosa, Acanthus mollis, Bergenia, Clivia miniata palms, ferns and Plumbago capensis set the mood for the rest of the courtyards.
The grouping of pots of asparagus fern couldn't be more simple or effective, creating a cascade of texture which stood out in contrast to its stark background, which was also the perfect background to highlight some of the more interesting leaf silhouettes, such as the monstera leaf we all love.
Through the use of water and plants an oasis was created, where the scents and sounds of water helped relax its original owners, taking one's mind away from the surrounding dry and arid climate. This courtyard is a good example of a Hispanic-Muslim garden, noted in its design, using high walls to enclose it, creating an intimate atmosphere and putting the focus on the combination of water, flowers and fruit trees.
A serene color palette of teal, white and tan work harmoniously together, with simple plants and mixed with a few chosen architectural details to enhance it further. Plants seen here were pots of miniature Pomegranate trees and Centaurea candidissima with more Plumbago capensis present, which completely covered one wall of this enclosed garden.
A clever way they created depth in a corner planting was to plant two of the same plant, seen here with Bougainvillea spectabilis with its purple flowers and B. glabra variety with its orange flowers, which we really know are just bracts. The simplicity is pulled together by white walls and anchored by the weight of wooden and teal painted doors. The Centaurea candidissima are used in pots throughout, and upon close inspection, one understands why.
Grow from seed in a glasshouse, the Centaurea are then potted up and left to grow, often remaining in the same pot for years, until the base of the plants take on a thick short woody trunk. Due to the weight of the leaves, it begins draping its velvety foliage over the sides of the terracotta pot, creating a beautiful living sculptural addition to the courtyard.
A common sight in Cordoba are the potted plant lined walls and the Courtyard of the Columns was no different. Pot after pot of Geraniums and Ivy-leaf Geraniums added much color to the stark walls with the long shadows in constant change as the sun made its trek through the sky. I wish there was a gardener to speak with to hear more about how maintenance was carried out, but no one was seen while I was there.
Each room and garden was different than the next, teaching me so much along the way of how the Spaniards view their gardens. If I have learned anything about their courtyards, it is that there must be a delicate balance between plants, water, simple colors and architectural details. There is a simplicity that I understand is much nicer in the heat than having the eyes met with a barrage of plantings and color which could easily overwhelm. The Spaniards know how to play it cool when putting these beautiful little paradise's together.. - James