I’m always surprised when people say there is nothing to do or see in Gibraltar – apart from going to the top of the Rock and seeing the apes.
I’ve lived in some nice places (Sydney being the most spectacular I guess) but nowhere have I had so much diversity within literally five minutes walk.
The shops are five minutes away – I can buy a Dualit toaster, an AppleMac, a Dyson vacuum cleaner, designer clothes, whatever I really want. Admittedly the supermarket is probably 15 minutes away.
On the way to Main Street and the shops, I walk past the Governor’s House and King’s Chapel. If I go round the back streets I can visit the museum. Theatrical productions, concerts and exhibitions are held at the hall across the main road from my street.
The marina is five minutes walk away, out of the city walls and down the street.
And if I want to go a little further, perhaps ten minutes away, I can start the climb out of town to the Upper Rock and the Nature Reserve.
But nearer to home, and within the five minute category are Gibraltar’s botanical gardens – The Alameda Gardens.
Once a month (except for August) there is a free tour of the gardens, so I finally got organised enough to go along to it. It was excellent. We were taken round by the curator, Brian Lamb. He usually does the paid-for tours, but the guy who usually does the Saturday freebie was busy sorting out a hedge-trimmer.
Brian was absolutely fascinating, his amount of knowledge was unbelievable, and his breadth of experience travelling abroad on botanical research was very impressive. I don’t know how many times he takes people round and churns out the same stories, but he didn’t sound boring or bored. There is quite an art to churning out the same information and managing to sound interesting.
The gardens were founded by the Lieutenant Governor of Gibraltar, General George Don (later Sir George Don) in 1816 so that “the Inhabitants might enjoy the air protected from the extreme heat of the sun…” He funded them – amongst other sources – from spare money collected from the rates for a sewers project, and a number of lotteries.
During the period when the border was closed under General Franco, the gardens fell into a state of disrepair, and the current team has been gradually restoring since them since the early 1990s.
There is a good website which sums up the aims of the gardens and lists all the plants grown there. We’re basically in a subtropical/semitropical region, so naturally a lot of the plants that perish in the UK survive happily outside here.
While there are plants local to Gibraltar – it has the only surviving Silene tomentosa (Gibraltar Campion) in the wild – the gardens contain plants from similar Mediterranean climates throughout the world, eg Australia and South Africa.
Gibraltar is a limestone mountain so its soil is alkaline, unlike the nearby Spanish mountains which are sandstone, and therefore the soil on other side of the frontier is more acidic. The geology here is similar to that found in North Africa, so there are also plants from there, particularly Morocco.
There is an impressive range of succulents, well suited to the climate, as they don’t require expensive watering in the dry hot summers. Olive trees, native to the Mediterranean climate are also dotted around the gardens.
Dragon trees abound, the oldest one in the gardens is around 300 years although there is an older one in the gardens of the Governor’s House.
And amidst all the plants and lush sub-tropical greenery there are statues and cannons, commemorating Gibraltar’s role in historical battles.
One of the best things about the tour is that we got to go in the places that are not open to the public. The Open Air Theatre holds events regularly throughout summer and can seat 450 people. The Italian Gardens in the The Dell were designed by a Genoese gardener in the nineteenth century. The Dell can be hired for weddings and when we went round there was a huge sunshade, table and chairs in place – but no wedding. We finished the tour by visiting a propogation area.
It was a good group, say around fifteen people, and we took around two hours. Normally it’s a half an hour to an hour’s wander round for one person – but obviously not visiting the areas that are closed to the public – or getting the benefit of Brian’s expertise and experience.
The next (and final) tour this year is on Saturday 15 December at 3pm.