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Library : Books : Flowers & Gardens of Madeira Last Updated: Jun 28, 2008 - 12:29:23 AM

Chapter 2: Portuguese Gardens
By Florence Du Cane
May 1, 2007 - 11:08:14 PM

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I consider that Azalea indica is the plant which is most valued by the Portuguese.    In the cared-for garden it is given a most conspicuous place, either planted in the open ground in partial shade, or more frequently kept in pots, and tended with the greatest care.  In February and March through many an open doorway a glimpse may be caught of a group of gay-coloured azaleas, even in little humble gardens which at other seasons of the year are flowerless. The whole horticultural energy of the owner of the little strip of garden has been centred in the loving care bestowed on his few treasured azaleas. A tiny plant, not more than a few inches in height, will be far more valued than its overgrown neighbour, if it should happen to be some new variety, possibly only bearing a few blossoms, but perfect in form, of immense size, single or semi-double, of a brilliant rose-red, clear pink, salmon colour, or pure white. The culture of azaleas does not seem to be peculiar to the natives of Madeira, as from Oporto come numerous sturdy little trees of all the most highly prized varieties. The effect of well-grown specimens in pots, arranged along the stone ledge of the garden corridor, or grouped round the stone or, more correctly speaking, plaster seat, which generally finds a place in all these gardens, is very pleasing, and well repays the care bestowed on the plants all through the heat of the summer months.

A corner of the garden must be devoted to fern-growing, without which no garden in Madeira is complete. In the gardens of the rich a little green≠house, or stufa is considered necessary for their successful cultivation, but in many a shady, damp corner of a humble cottage garden have I seen splendid specimens of the commoner ferns grown without  that  most disfiguring element.     Perfect shelter from wind and sun is, of course, necessary, and sometimes, where no other shelter is available, the dense shade of a spreading Madeira cedar-tree is made use of, and from its branches will hang fern-clad pots.   Or a little arbour is formed of that most  useful of shade-giving creepers, the native Allegra campo, or Happy Country.    The plant is also sometimes called Alexandrian laurel, though for what reason it is hard to know, as it has no connection with the Laurel family, but is Ruscus racemorus. The plant throws up fresh shoots every winter, which in their early stages appear like giant asparagus, and grow and grow until sometimes they reach fifteen or twenty feet in length before the fresh pale green leaves develop.    By the spring the young leaves have unfurled, and provide a canopy of delicate green through the summer. The growth of the previous year can either be cut away, or if retained, in late spring, little greenish-white flowers will appear on the underneath of the leaves.    The plant is a native of Portugal, but may be found in a wild state in Madeira.    It is also known under the name of Dance racemosus.    One of the Poly-podiums, called by the Portuguese Feto do metre, or Fern by the yard, seems to be first favourite, and splendid specimens are to be seen, each frond measuring one to two yards in length., or golden ferns, are also much prized, and the Asparagus sprengerii has during the last few years found many admirers, with its long sprays rivalling in length the Feto do metro. Adiantums and all the commoner ferns are given a place, according to the taste of their owners.


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