The Gardeners' Chronicle, July 27th, 1929
The gardens of Monserrate are very beautiful, extensive and interesting. They are situated in the folds of the Serra of Cintra, on a very steep slope facing, generally, north-west, and are thus sheltered somewhat from the fierce heat of middday, and able to retain a large amount of humidity which is particularly suitable to the requirements of the big collection of Tree Ferns and many other plants that thrive luxuriantly in hot, moist conditions. In a deep ravine, the water dashes downwards in cascades from a high waterfall at the top to the ornamental lakes which lie far below at the foot of a large lawn that is crowned by the large and very decorative Palacio. (Figs. 40 and 44)
The sides of the ravine are steep, with here and there a large rock standing out boldly and covered in Ferns. The great, glossy fronds of Woodwardia radicans hang over the rocky edge, and are gently swayed by dashing, silvery spray from the rushing water beneath. Overhead tower the stately Tree Ferns -- Cyathea, Alsophila, Dicksonia and others. Large groups of Pteris, Davallia, Asplenium, Blechnum, and many other Ferns fill the spaces between the towering trunks, completely covering the rich vegetable soil in which they revel : all are sheltered and shaded by large Cork Oaks and the beautiful Arbutus Unedo. Here, too, many species and varieties of Begonia thrive. Giant plants of B. arborescens, with long, pointed metallic-hued leaves, and thick, ribbed stems, bear large trusses of delicate white hued flowers in the early spring ; while, on the rock-work beneath, B. manicata forms large, soft cushions of dark green leaves surmounted by dainty pink flower heads. B. Rex, in many fine varieties, grows well in any available nook, while tuberous Begonias flaunt themselves in a few borders.
Higher up, on the sunnier side of the ravine, huge Camellias thrive and flower in great profusion ; and here and there among the Ferns rise large plants of Fuchsia corymbiflora, and F. arborescens, with bright pink panicles of flowers, which visitors often mistake for English Lilac. Here, too, are some grand examples of Luculia gratissima, whose large trusses of soft pink flowers fill the whole ravine with their delicate perfume in late autumn. In the crevices of the rocks is found the rare Ivy-leaved Fern (Asplenium Hemionitis) which grows quite freely among the mosses and Lycopodium.
Along the sides of a path which crosses the ravine, whence a fine view of it can be obtained, are irregular rock borders in which, besides many ferns, Primulas of various species and varieties, Cyclamens, Cypripediums and other old favourites, make a good show, shaded by enormous Plane Trees (Platanus orientalis), of which one is a great curiosity, having a Cork Oak growing from the same root : the explanation is that the Oak was used originally as a stake to support the young Plane tree, and they grew together, the plane gradually enfolding the Oak within its roots.
A little way along the path are the ruins of an old Chapel, within which are beds of rare Palms, Ferns, and Begonias, with climbing Roses and Wistaria clambering over the bare old rafters of the open roof. The front of the Chapel is covered with ivy and Ficus repens -- and shaded by a huge Ficus rubiginosa. A small pergola supports Tacsonia mollisima and Passiflora actinea, While two small pillars nearby are covered with Kennedya (Hardenbergia) Comptoniana, Honeysuckles and Thunbergia alata.
To the right of the Chapel terrace is a dark glen, sheltered on one side by a very big, old Cupressus lusitanica, with particularly fine drooping foliage, and farther back, by large groups of Bambusa gigantea, and groups of Camellias. In the foreground are two fine specimens of Cyathea medullaris, large Alsophila Moorei, Dicksonia antartica and D. squarrosa and a good plant of Cyathea dealbata, associated with Luculia and Fuchsia corymbiflora.
Just below this terrace are fine groups of Exochorda grandiflora and Staphylea colchica ; Feijoa Sellowiana, which bears delicious fruits every year, Trithrinax brasilensis, Raphiolepsis japonica, a low thick bush about 10 ft. through, which is almost covered with thick white flowers in spring : and Tibouchina semidecandra (Lasiandra), with bright purple flowers. Close by a Cryptomeria japonica towers 70 ft high, but is clothed with branches to the ground ; near it stands an equally fine Abies nobilis var. glauca.
On the far bank of a small stream stands what must surely be the finest specimen of Sciadopitys verticillata in Europe ; it is about 50 ft. high, with perfect horizontal branches reaching down to the ground and perfectly symmetrical at the top. The lowest branches are about 15 ft. long, and the girth of the trunk, at man's height, is about 4 ft. The needles are in perfect whorls and measure about 6 in. long. This tree bears cones every year but I was never able to get seeds to germinate.
Perhaps the greatest glory of Monserrate is its collection of Coniferous trees - fine in regard to their great size rather than the extent of varieties. The most noticeable are certainly the Araucarias. The two examples of Araucaria bidwillii, one of which is 80 ft. high (Fig. 42), 30 ft. in girth at the base, and a perfect specimen. It bears cones about the size of a half-bushel basket every year, and a large percentage of the seeds are fertile, but take two years to germinate. Standing on the big lawn is a giant A. excelsa, about 90 ft. high, with its lower branches covering the ground about 30 ft. around the trunk. It also bears fertile seeds every year. There is a small A. Cunninghamii, still a young plant, and a very fine A. Cookii in another garden belonging to Monserrate. There are three fine Kauri Pines (Agathis australis), only one of which bears cones, which do not however, contain fertile seeds. Cryptomeria are well represented by several noble trees. C. japonica var. Lobbii stands in a good position at the top of the lawn and is very conspicuous. I have taken some good plants from this tree as the lower branches have rooted and established themselves. There is also a grand C. j. var. elegans in the Rose garden. On the lawn, too, are fine examples of Cedrus Deodara and C. atlantica var. galuca, whose cones give numbers of fertile seeds. Abies Nordmanniana and A. Webbiana are also on the lawn, and are very beautiful trees. In a deep dell, through which flows a small stream, Pinus Montezumae is a striking object, with its dense heads of long, soft, pendulous needles ; while P. Ayacahuite, with its large, loose cones, and P. patula make a fine group. A group of Pinus insignis, on a slight rise of ground, is a magnificent sight ; the trees are each about 150 ft. high, and the largest has a girth of 40 ft. Pinus canariensis is of a finer texture, and stands near a giant Eucalyptus viminalis. Sequoia gigantea does not seem to like the salt breezes from the near Atlantic and is only represented by a small plant ; but the Redwood, S. sempervirens, does well, as does its neighbour, Thuya gigantea (plicata).
Pinus maritima grows wild on the serra, and is commonly used for rough timber. Turpentine is also obtained from it. Pinus pinea is also plentiful and forms fine belts of timber trees in suitable locations. Taxodium distichum is beautiful in the autumn with its golden-bronze foliage, and also in the spring, with the tender green of its young leaves. There is also a good specimen of T. d. var. mucronatum, overlooking a small ornamental lake. Cupressus of various species and varieties are abundant, the most common being C. macrocarpa, in many varieties ; and there are large specimens of C. lusitanica, especially in an avenue near the entrance gate. Near there, too, is a large Pinus longifolia, which is almost deciduous in habit, the needles drying up in the autumn, but falling only when the new growth appears in the spring. It is a very striking tree, with light coloured bark, and long, pendulous needles.
On the same lawn as this is a pergola of Cork Oak branches, covered with Wistaria multijuga, both the blue and white varieties, many of the racemes of flowers being nearly a yard long. Some fine examples of Cedrus libanotica border the lawn close by, and in a corner near the carriage drive is a patriarchal Cork Oak, whose long, thick branches are almost covered by the dainty Hare's-foot Fern (Davallia canariensis).
By the side of a large lawn a goodly collection of Magnolias include M. macrophylla, 50 ft. high ; M. Campbelli ; M. conspicua, M. Soulangiana, M. discolor and several hybrids and varieties. Magnolia grandiflora forms a short avenue of magnificent trees 70 ft. high and fully foliaged to the ground. This avenue affords a superb vista from a Wistaria-covered pergola above a large, old water-tank, on to the lakes far below, and, beyond, up again to the rugged skyline of the distant rocky serra. There is also the quaint little Magnolia (Michelia) fuscata, with tiny, brownish-purple, and a perfume like ripe Bananas.
Australian plants are represented by large specimens of Grevillea robusta, trees of 70 ft. or more high ; Metrosiderus tomentosa, in huge masses of silver-grey foliage, 50 ft. high and as much through, covered in May with masses of deep red flowers, like bundles of silk threads, and with tangles of adventitious roots almost from the topmost branches ; and M. robusta, with small Myrtle-like leaves, represented by very large bushes, when in flower in the spring are very beautiful.
There are, too, some very large Eucalyptus -- one is stated to be the first of its kind planted in Portugal -- and two particularly fine specimens of E. Globulus with boles of 50 ft. in girth near the ground, and rising 60 ft. to the lowest branches, with straight and perfect trunks. Their full height is 135 ft.
Banksia integrifolia, Eugenia australis, E. jambos, Theophrasta imperialis, a very fine plant ; Stenocarpus Cunninghamii, with curious red and yellow flowers borne in the winter ; Inga (Calliandra) pulcherrima, and many other beautiful and interesting trees are to be seen, while the Mimosa thrives everywhere, where it can be left alone ! Gardenias grow freely out of doors and flower in the summer. Bignonia grandiflora grows luxuriantly on a terrace wall by the
The lawns are one of the glories of Monserrate (Fig. 43), as they are the only permanent lawns in the country, and have existed since they were sown sixty or more yaers ago. They cover about twenty acres and make a fine setting for some of the trees already noted, in addition to large groups of Leptospermum and other Australian plants (Fig. 46), and blue, pink and white Hydrangeas.
The lakes are very charming, as in and around them are collections of various plants. The papyrus grows freely, as does the smaller Cyperus alternifolius. Nymphaeas cover the water except for a few lanes kept clear by the swans (fig. 41), while clumps of Nelumbiums stand up boldly and the Aponogeton pushes its dark green leaves and pure white flowers out from the shady sides. Around the edges are groups of Hedychium coronarium, Escallonias, Gunneras, Richardia africana, Iris laevigata etc. Hedychium Gardnerianum grows practically wild, flowering freely everywhere along the water courses and near the waterfalls.
Yuccas, Agaves and Furcraeas are represented by many good specimens on the lawns and mixed with other plants. Agave Salmiana and A. Frauzosini are particularly fine. Doryanthes palmeri grows well in large groups ; and D. excelsa makes a striking plant when it is in flower. "like a bowl of flowers," as described by a visitor who wanted to know its name. Cycads are represented by fine plants of Dioon edule, Encephalartos Lehmannii, E. villosum, E. horridus, Cycas revoluta, C. circinalis, Macrozamia spiralis and many other species. On the lawn, standing alone, is a magnificent plant of Macrozamia Macleayi, with a trunk 3 ft. high, 2 ft. thick, and with three large branches, each bearing broad, pinnate, glossy, dark-green leaves 6 ft. to 8 ft. long.
Dracaena Draco grows well in a very hot part of the garden, where is, also, a fine group of Yucca Desmetiana (Fig. 47), one plant of which flowered for the first time last year. Tacsonia manicata forms great wreaths of bright scarlet flowers among the branches of some old Cork Oaks, and among the topmost branches of some very tall Cupressus lusitanica. A large plant of Aloe supralaevis is almost hidden by a huge bush of Aloe arborescens, which is a glory when hundreds of flower spikes appear on it every spring : while towering above this is a group of Strelitzia Augusta and Jacaranda ovalifolia.
Palms are very numerous, and mention of only a few of the best must suffice : Cocos flexuosa. C. Romanzoffianum, Washingtonia robusta, the tallest palm in the garden, about seventy feet high ; Kentia Belmoreana, K. Forsteriana, with trunks 25 ft. high ; Phoenix canariensis, P. dactylifera, P. reclinata, with seven well-furnished trunks from one root ; Brahea Roezlii, Areca Baueri, A. sapida, Jubaea spectabilis, Seaforthia elegans, Sabal Blackburniana, and Sabal umbraculifera.
The many species and varieties of plants in the garden are almost bewildering, from the huge Quercus Phellos (Willow Oak), the fine and rather rare Q. lusitanica, and the tall Q. Ilex, to the small, low-growing Q. coccifera, whose galls are used for tanning Morocco leather. This grows plentifully here, as does the tall Q. Ballota, which bears the "sweet" or edible acorn. Large groups of Rhododendrons and Azaleas, and camellias of many species and varieties, form masses of colour in every available corner, and even overflow on to the lawns ; and there is a deep dell completely filled with Rhododendrons, which rising up the steep mountainside, join and mix with the grey, old Cork Trees.
In the old stable yard is a fine collection of various plants, including Erythrina caffra, E. Crista-galli, Callistemon rigidum, Citrus trifoliata, Nolina curvifolia, Chamaedorea elatior, etc. The front of the old stable itself is covered with Bougainvillea glabra (with a stem about eighteen inches thick at the base), which appears to be a solid wall of purplish-pink flowers in late summer. The other walls are covered with Plumbago capensis and Holboellia latifolia ; and a small pergola close by is covered with Hexacentris coccinea, that has long racemes of reddish-brown flowers at Christmas time.
Together, with all this wealth of beauty and interest within, there are many fine views and cahrming vistas to be obtained from the garden and terraces on to the country below and around. To the westward lies the braod, low valley of Collares, stetching to the sea four miles away, between hillsides covered with vineyards which spread out on either side so far as the eye can see. Beyond, to the horizon, spreads the Atlantic. To the north and east, magnificent views stretch over vineyards and hills and valleys, to Mafra, and to the mountains beyond, to the hills of the famous lines of Torres Vedras, which Wellington fortified against the French armies in 1805, to protect Lisbon and the last remnant of Portugal for the Portuguese. Above the garden, to the south and east, rise the serras, where the water is captured and led into two large, picturesque lakes which supply the gardens with the large amount of water required during the long drought in the heat of the summer, and of which the overflow forms the waterfall and cascades in the ravine below. The serras are heavily wooded, but their chief charm lies in the richness of their natural flora.
The upper serras are formed of huge "tors" of granite boulders loosely piled up, on and between which many beautiful wild flowers grow ; and all down the steep mountain side, to the famous "Rock of Lisbon" (Cabo di Roca), eight miles away, is filled with glorious colours and wonderful scent ; while on the rocks around the lighthouse -- the most westerly in Europe -- there is a perfect carpet of flowers of many colours and many kinds that from a little distance appears like a beautiful mosaic of the richest colouring in the clear air and golden sunshine of Portugal, with the steep, dark brown cliffs above and the sparkling blue of the Atalantic far below.
Cintra is very picturesque, and is noted for the beauty of the surroundings. There are many gardens, some very old, shady and mysterious, others of great beauty and full of interest ; fine timber forests spread along the steep, craggy mountain-sides. Cintra has been praised for many centuries ; Byron described its beauty in "Childe Harold" at least some portions of which were written at Monserrate, when it was little better than a ruin. The place was bought from the Portuguese owners about seventy years ago by the late Sir Francis Cook, grandfather of the present owner, who rebuilt the Palacio on the old foundations, and decorated it lavishly in the Moorish style, and laid out and planted the famous gardens, with the help of noted botanists, travellers and English gardeners from Kew. It is a great achievement, and vies with the only one other garden of the same kind that I know -- La Mortola.
The gardens are visited by thousands of tourists every year, and often tourists from among passengers on steamers calling at Lisbon for a few hours take the opportunity to go out by motor-car, or to Cintra by train, and thence by car, to pay it a visit. W. O.