Every year I try to get away to the mountains of Andalusia between January and March, and have done so for the past ten years. I get a bit of winter sun, although there wasn't much of that this year, but more importantly I go to see the flora of this area.
The Mediterranean garden at Kew was designed as a result of my trips to Andalusia and when it flowers in our spring, I get a second spring!
I have a real passion for Narcissus and there are so many that flower in the early part of the year. I stay in a local friendly hotel, Hotel Dehesilla, situated in the mountains, close to many great walking locations. They are used to used to wet, slightly eccentric people looking at plants and birds!
Narcissus baeticus The sweet-scented Narcissus jonquilla
These are just two of the many that flower at this time of year. Most are yellow, but there is also the small white-flowered paper white, Narcissus papyraceus, and the white hoop petticoat flowers of Narcissus cantabricus, as well as Narcissus tazettta, with its white 'petals' and orange cup.
Other early flowering bulbs include Muscari neglectum, the small blackish-blue grape hyacinth with its white edge, and Ornithogalum reverchonii, a rare Andalucian endemic.
Grape hyacinth (Muscari neglectum) Ornithogalum reverchonii
Southern Spain has been very wet this year, but still warm. This has meant that the spring season is ahead of where it should be. The Frittilaria below would not normally flower until April, but I found plants already in seed at the beginning of March.
Two other really attractive spring flowers are the Spanish periwinkle Vinca difformis and the Andalucian storksbill, Erodium recorderi which produces carpets of flowers in their thousands.
Fritillaria lusitanica Periwinkle (Vinca difformis)
Andalusian storksbill (Erodium recorderi)
This is also a great time and place for orchids. They start to flower in February and with over thirty species, will continue right through the year, peaking around May.
The giant orchid (Barlia robertiana) The sombre orchid (Ophrys fusca)
I always try to visit local Botanic gardens when I'm abroad and on this trip I visited a new garden for me, the Jardin Botanico de Cactus y otras Suculentas.
Once a private collection, now open to the public, this botanic garden is close to the Natural Park, the Sierra de las Nievesand has over 2,500 species from around the world.
The Botanic Garden of Malaga is another wonderful garden to visit. Again, once a private residence from 1855 it changed hands in 1911 and was purchased by the city in 1990 and opened to the public in 1994. It has some of the best trees I have seen in any botanic garden. If you ever have a few hours to spare before a flight, it is only 10 minutes from the airport by car, with free parking.
The Botanic Garden of Cactus and other succulent plants Malaga Botanic Garden
A trip to the mountains in this area would not be complete without mentioning the fauna. Vultures and eagles are a common daily sight whilst out walking. Tarifa, the most southerly point in Europe in the province of Cadiz, is on the main migration route of birds and butterflies from Africa. With the wind in the right direction, thousands cross daily during spring, heading for various destinations in Europe.
Wild Spanish Ibex Spanish Festoon
If you are really lucky you may spot some of the Spanish ibex (wild mountain goats) or if you are extremely lucky the rare mountain Lynx.
I have been fortunate to find their tracks, but look forward to seeing one in the flesh!
- Tony Hall -
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