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9 May 2020

Sofia Barroso’s Picks: The Fairytale Gardens of Spain

Sofia Barroso

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Sofia Barroso’s earlier life resembled that of a botanical fairytale, complete with a castle. In Toledo, the 11th-century Palace of Galiana is owned by her grandmother. Also, as a daughter of Spanish diplomats, Sofia spent early years in London, Madrid, and in Buenos Aires, specifically in the neighborhood of Barrio Parque (park quarter). “The jacaranda bloom is a great childhood memory,” she says. Her botanical knowledge—and art background—was sharpened further by spending time in Toledo, San Sebastian, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Galicia, and Northern Portugal. She finally settling in Madrid and started Around Art, which designs art and garden travel programs.

Before we hit her tips on what to see and who to know in the Spanish garden world, we start with a question about current affairs in Spain, a country hard hit by the pandemic. 

How have you been coping with the shelter in place situation?

I walk my dog Rothko four times a day in the interior community garden of our apartment building and at the park nearby. In all my windows, I have cyclamens blooming. These, together with my reading and work, are making it a little easier.

Sofia Barroso

What will happen to all your trips this year?

Around Art's trips have been cancelled until June.

Since we are all craving the outdoors again, it seems a good place to start: What are your top three favorite public gardens in Spain?

1. The Alhambra (Granada) is a garden of the senses. It is also reminiscent of Spain’s Moorish heritage.
2. The Gardens of the Royal Alcázares (Seville) is a breathtaking fusing of Spanish-Muslim and the Renaissance. It’s a MUST to visit it in Spring.
3. The old meets the new at Jakober Foundation Gardens at Sa Bassa Blanca Museum (Mallorca). There is a closed garden of old roses and a beautiful orchard and vegetable garden. A Spanish Muslim courtyard showcases everything from jacarandas to Mediterranean scented-flowers. The vast sculpture garden between the wild carob and olive trees is a perfect spot for a stroll in nature.

Jakober Foundation Gardens

Gardens at Jakober Foundation, Mallorca

What about gardens in Madrid?

1. The Royal Botanical Gardens was created in the 18th century by King Charles III, who happened to be a great botanist. He bought and adapted plants from South America. In the 1990s, top landscape architect Fernando Caruncho designed a new section. On display are infinite walls of jasmine and a bonsai collection.
2. In the midst of buzzing Madrid, you can always find peace within the charming Spanish-Muslim gardens of the Sorolla Museum. They were landscaped by Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla. He is like our version of the famed American painter John Singer Sargent

Joaquín Sorolla

Sorolla Museum, Madrid

3. Garden historian Mónica recently restored Luengo El Capricho’s folly garden, originally designed by the Duchess of Osuna in the 18th Century. You have it all—a maze, old roses, a lake, the hermit’s cave, a charming pavilion. A highlight is the bee pavilion, where the duchess would have tea while observing her bees work.

Who are your favorite Spanish garden designers? And up and coming Spanish designers?

I adore Fernando Caruncho gardens. They give you a sense of peace and activate your mind. It’s the philosophers garden.

Fernando Caruncho

Mas de les Voltes, Catalonia

Mas de les Voltes in Catalonia. I also highly enjoy Alvaro de la Rosa gardens. An artist as well as a landscape architect, he mixes textures and colors well.
A new batch of younger garden designers are Javier Alvarez de Eulate, Alvaro Sampedro and Fernando Martos.

Garden by Fernando Martos

Garden by Fernando Martos

In your personal garden, what are some of your favorite “rooms”? 

I love patio gardens, especially with the pond as a reflecting mirror.

What’s the one garden tool you can’t live without?

Garden scissors. There is always a place to do some cuttings.

What’s your favorite season?

Fall. Spain has gorgeous temperatures and light, especially in Madrid, where we get a symphony of yellows and browns. We have a last bloom of roses.

When is the last time you hugged a tree? Or what’s a sign of respect that you give to nature’s green beings?

As I child, I used to speak with the beautiful umbrella pines we had in the wood by our lake house. As an adult I converse with our Galiana cypresses which I find very poetic. They are fountains of poems and dreams; they are arrows searching the sky.

Sofia wearing peapod necklace

Sofia wearing Janet’s Peapods necklace