Generally speaking, when a lot of people think of Tenerife they don’t necessarily think of it as a Garden of Eden, more a dry rock where you’re guaranteed a good suntan.
And yet for centuries its abundance of flora drew the world’s leading naturalists like excited moths to a flame. They journeyed to the almost perfect climate of the island’s northern coastline to make lists, scribble notes and paint pictures of a sub-tropical natural paradise.
There are exuberant gardens all across Tenerife; some well known, others forgotten about over the passage of time. One of the best and most accessible is the Botanical Gardens in Puerto de la Cruz, or El Jardín Botánico y de Aclimatación de La Orotava to award it its full title.
The gardens used to be part of La Orotava, when Puerto was the port of La Orotava, but now it belongs to Puerto de la Cruz and is located close to the border with the noble hill town, in the La Paz area.
About the Botanical Gardens
The history of Tenerife’s Botanical Gardens is fascinating, harking back to a time when the world was still shiny and new and explorers were returning from the Americas with species beyond the wildest dreams of most Europeans. Imagine if life on another planet was discovered and spacemen returned from their inter galactic travels bearing who knows what – it must have been exactly like that.
Spain’s King Carlos III wanted a piece of this new, exotic plant action for the gardens at his Royal Palace in Madrid. He was wily enough to know that to simply uproot them from the Americas and the Far East and plant them in Madrid was tantamount to a death sentence. A halfway house was required; a place with a kind climate where an army of tropical plants could adjust before completing their journey to the Spanish mainland. The north of Tenerife was perfect.
The Gardens of Acclimatisation were created in 1788. Under the management of Alonso de Nava y Grimón the plants thrived. Unfortunately for King Carlos, whilst they loved Tenerife’s climate, they weren’t so keen on Madrid’s winter. The King’s plan failed and the exotic plants were left to bloom happily in the sunshine halfway between La Orotava and its port.
The Botanical Gardens Today
The Botanical Gardens has had its ups and downs over the centuries; the downs due to neglect and the occasional storm. Since 1983 it has been managed by the Canary Island’s Government, the Instituto Canario de Investigaciones Agrarias to be precise, and is now one of the lush and leafy jewels in Tenerife’s crown.
20,000 square metres of garden is home to a million and a half sub-tropical species. It doesn’t look particularly big from the outside. However, the gardens have a bit of a Doctor Who Tardis thing going on. Wandering off in different directions one time, we were unable to find each other for over an hour. Paths criss cross and circle, leading through leafy groves and past ponds where terrapins sunbathe next to huge lily pads and a rainbow army of dragonflies dart to and fro, frustrating those of us trying to catch them on camera.
There are tree trunks with spikes that look custom made for satisfying a grizzly’s back itch, drunken trees, leaves that inspired Action Man’s combat gear, trees with fruit that look like sausages (no idea what they taste like), bottle-shaped trees and trees whose roots sprawl over the ground like giant elephants’ feet.
Then there’s the king of the gardens – ficus macrophylla. The Moreton Bay fig tree; a magnificent beast of a tree that makes Treebeard from Lord of the Rings seem anorexic. You might laugh at stories this tree devours anyone fool enough to wander into the gardens after dark. But after seeing this giant, it’ll be a nervous laugh.
As fans of leafy rainforests in the Far East, we love the wildness of the Botanical Gardens. It’s not for fans of immaculate gardens with neat rows of flowers.
Stepping from the neat streets of La Paz into this jungle paradise is to escape into another dimension. Take a book, take your time, absorb the calming influence of a world that has been transported from across the oceans.
The Botanical Gardens isn’t any old garden. This is a luscious piece of living history; a reminder of a time when travel could mean not knowing where you might end up. These plants whisper tales of adventure and exploration. Park yourself on a bench in the dappled sunlight, close your eyes and listen to them.
The Botanical Gardens are open from 9am to 7pm in summer, 9am to 6pm in winter. Entrance is €4.50.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+