The centre of Madrid is a brilliantly-lit, highly-decorated, antique dreamscape. There’s people everywhere but let’s ignore them for the moment. Let’s look up. The buildings are ornate, very grand and to Australian eyes, very old. The sky seems close, I suppose because there are no tall towers, or even trees, blocking out the clouds. When you do look up, it’s to sculptures. It seems every building is topped by some grand beast or muscular god holding a weapon, wrestling with their own mythology. And nearly every building that appears to be a majestic castle, turns out to be a bank or the Department of Agriculture!
Over the centuries there’s not much that untrammelled nature can do in these city streets. Potplants cling to tiny balconies tesselated along the walls of the thinner side streets, the angular stalks of the spider’s web that is Madrid’s traffic structure. Eager trees lean into light that strikes into plazas or sidles into thin one-way alleys. There are, of course, many parks in Madrid, most central and famous being El Retiro, a royal retirement haunt featuring a large pond, a Crystal Palace and a statue of the Fallen Angel at 66.6 feet above sea level. It does seem on first glance that Madrid has successfully tamed and trained nature!
But three different gardens in just one small corner of the city captured my imagination. The first is the formal Royal Botanical Gardens, a kind of zoo for plants.
It’s on the Paseo de Prado and it’s structured into formal parterre on three different levels displaying plants from all around the world.
Tiny hedges box in neatly planted varieties that sometimes, like banksia roses, do their level best to explode out of their cages.
The Botanic Gardens are surprising for the tranquil atmosphere in the centre of a busy highway. Joining the motos and the sirens, marching just a little further down the Calle, past that Department of Agriculture, one comes to another ornate building. Par for the Madrid course, it’s not a castle at all, it’s a railway station.
Inside this amazing hangar is a jungle. Known as the Greenhouse at Atocha Station, there’s a pool of turtles clustered together like insects at the foot of the ferns. Mist sprays over the plants and it’s possible to see some of the palm trees must take a beating in the summer. What a great place to come to the restaurant or one of the bars before heading for a trip on a very fast train!
From a distance this looks like a painting or a carpet. Close up it smells lovely.
Rows of plants buoyantly fly into the sky. A pleasing way to spend an afternoon. And on the way home, why, what’s that building?