Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Monserrate 1923


THE PROPERTY (or Quinta) of Monserrate
has belonged to the Cook family since 1856,
having been bought by Sir Francis Cook, the
first Bart. (1817.1901) from the then Portuguese
owner, and subsequently converted by him from
a fruit-bearing estate into the famous botanical
garden of to-day. Sir Francis also rebuilt the
house in 1858-60 in the Moorish style, the architect
being Mr. James Knowles, of London.

As far as is known a house stood on the present
site away back in Moorish days; and in 1540
a chapel existed here known as Nossa Senhora
de Monserrate.

In the 18th century an Englishman, Mr.
Gerard Devisme, built a country house on the
site, and it was let by him (1794) for a short time
to the famous William Beckford, who is supposed
to have lived here in great luxury; but it is more

probable that the days of his oriental splendour
were passed at Ramalhâo, a large estate on the
other side of Cintra. At any rate, no trace of
Beckford's residence can be seen here to-day; and
the entire credit for creating the botanical gardens
rests with Sir Francis Cook, who was created by
King Luiz, in 1870, Visconde de Monserrate.
The second Visconde, Sir Frederick (1844-1920)
greatly improved the property, and acquired the
neighbouring Quinta de Penha Verde, the historic
home of the De Castro family.
The present owner, Sir Herbert Cook, third
Bart., is developing the gardens under the direct-
ion of Mr. Walter Oates, to whom the following
sketch is due.
Herbert Cook.

Xmas 1923.

The gardens are very extensive and lie on the
steep hillside, with a general aspect to W. & N .
They contain large collections of plants from
many parts of the old and new worlds. Many
of these plants are superb specimens of their
kind ; while some are extremely rare, perhaps
even unique in Europe.
It would be impossible to give more than
a few names of the plants in a small guide like
this - the catalogue contains nearly a thousand
entries -; but some of the finer specimens are
just indicated here. which the visitor should
look for.
The garden being very steep in places the
easiest way of seeing it is here indicated.
By the entrance gate are some fine Goa
Cedars (Cupressus lusitanicus), with groups of
Begonias and other flowering and foliage plants
beneath them.
Here it is better to turn sharp to the left and
follow the narrow flagged path downwards. This
is the steepest way leading to the more level
paths of the garden below, leaving the easier
path for the ascent back to the gate. Thus
both sides of the garden are seen without undue
Following the flagged path the visitor soon
comes to and passes through an archway of huge
granite boulders. supposed to have been erected
at the end of the 18th century, when the taste
for artificial ruins was in vogue.
Over the high rocks the water from the hills
above trickles during dry weather ; but after
heavy rains, during winter and early spring;
becomes a rushing torrent, tumbling headlong
over the rock and forming an imposing cascade
which falls into a large pool, and thence by
shorter cascades through the deep rocky ravine
to the lakes far below, filling the air with a fine,
misty spray.
At the foot of the steps, on the right, is
a large Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
standing in a fine group of Rhododendrons and
Camellias. On the left is the pool with Bamboos;
Mimosas ; Callas; Water lilies; etc.
The path crosses the edge of the pool by
means of stepping stones, where a fine view
is obtained of the fern covered ravine, with
magnificent tree ferns towering gracefully above
the undergrowth, to the Palacio beyond, of which
this is quite a fine view. This is a beautiful
sight in the spring when the Camellias,
Mimosas and Rhododendrons are in bloom, and
the sunshine glances through the light spray
among the spreading fronds of the ferns. This
constitutes the finest glen of tree ferns in
From this point the path descends by zig-zags
by the fern-covered ravine, till it reaches a level
path, near the torrent bed, shaded by huge plane
trees of striking size of growth.
Here turn to the left and follow the level
path, which leads to the ruins of the ancient
chapel, almost hidden under the foliage of rare
plants of unusual growth, such as: Photinia
serrulata; Grevillea robusta; Paulownia
imperialis; Podocarpus neriifolia ; etc., etc.
Within the chapel. in a rough niche, stands
an Etruscan sarcophagus, probably 8.000 years
old in a good state of preservation. This was
placed here by Sir Francis Cook about 1860.
From the little terrace. covered by a pergola,
in front of the chapel a good view can be
obtained of part of the lawn on the opposite
slope, flanked by large groups of rare and
wonderful plants. To the right a deep, sheltered
nook filled with fine tree ferns, of rare growth.
such as : Cyathea medullaris ; Alsophila australis ;
Dicksonia antartica; etc. Farther along the
slope: Eugenia australis ; Magnolia conspicua ;
Grevillea robusta (Australian fire tree) ; Cocculus
laurifolia ; Magnolia grandiflora ; Dammara .
australis (Kauri gum Pine) ; more Magnolia ; a
fine yew (Taxus) ; Lagerstroemia indica ; Erythrina
corallodendron ; Latania borbonica and Phoenix
On the slope downwards, in front of the
chapel, are various flowering shrubs, such as :
Edwardsia grandiflora ; Staphyllea colchica :
Lucullia gratissima; Feijoa sellowiana; Wistaria
chinensis; Lasiandra macrantha ; Raphiolepis
ovata ; Hydrangeas ; etc.
At the foot of the slope is a fine specimen of
Sciadopitys verticillala, also we find Seaforthia
elegans ; Wigandia caracassana ; Dracaena
indivisa. Farther back: Leptospermum scoparium
(Australian "Ti " tree) ; backed by a large group,
containing: Magnolias; Dacridium
Griselinia lucida ; Exochordia grandiflora ;
Magnolias ; "Kauri Pines" ; Podocarpus manii ;
etc. The sides of the brook are
covered with: Bambusa ; Cordyline termiinalis ;
Hedychium Gardnerianum ; Alpinia nutans; etc.
To the left: Sequoia gigantea ; Picea Engelmanni
glauca, and, on opposite slope, a large "Norfolk
Island Pine " (Araucaria excelsa).
From the chapel, continuing the same level
path, one soon gets a partial view of the lake,
with its water lilies (Nymphaea) and " Lotus
flowers " (Nelumbium) ; and a small island.
On the near slope stands a fine Eucalyptus
globulus -the first to be planted at Monserrate-;
and on the farther slope a fine group of
Palms and Cycads, containing: Seaforthia
, Kentia Belmoreana, Corypha australis ;
Washingtonia robusta ; Phoenix rupicola (very
rare) ; Cycas circinalis,etc. Farther along the same
path, to the left are the natural woods consisting
chiefly of old cork Oaks (Quercus suber) ; Arbutus
Unedo (the wild " Strawberry Tree ") ; Viburnum
Tinus ; Heaths ; and many wild ferns and other
To the right the lawn slopes down to the
lake. On this slope are many rare and beautiful
trees and plants, interspersed with groups of
From a point not far from the chapel a fine
view can be obtained of the Palacio, with the
long, sloping lawn in front. This lawn is
considered to be the largest in Portugal; and
the only one in the south of the Peninsula.
At the top of the lawn, near the Palacio,
stands a fine Cryptomeria japonica ; close to it a
typical Goa cedar; and, farther on a large
Metrosideros robusta.
Along the edge of the path: Podocarpus
taxifolia ; Lagunaria Pattersonii ; Podocarpus
neriifolia aurea ; and Podocarpus neriifolia
argentea; Elaeagnus ; Phyllocladus tricomanoides
(very rare) ; Thuja orientalis (Arbor Vitre) ;
Osmanthus ilicifolia aurea ; Eugenia australis
(Australian Myrtle) ; Metrosideros floribunda
(with masses of long adventitous roots hanging
from the branches) ; clumps of Agapanthus
umbellatus-blue and white; and many other
The ferns in the group on the left are :
Woodwardia radicans ; Osmunda regalis (Royal
fern) ; and Blechnum spicant. These are wild,
being indigenous to the Serra de Cintra.
Farther on a small cork-covered seat, with,
in front : Callistemon lanceolatum. Close to
this : Cerasus lusitanica (Portugal laurel) ; a fine
group of Thuja; and, near the lake Abies
nobilis ; beyond this: Cocos flexuosa; Taxodium
mexicanum ; Jacaranda mimosaefolia ; Bambusa
gigantea ; Strelitzia Augusta ; etc. backed by
Hickory and common Beech. From this point
the path descends by easy, flagged steps past
a small wood of Camellias to a little old tank,
where the water, direct from the spring, is very
pure, and always fresh and cool.
Another short bend in the path, past moss
covered rocks, and fem covered cork trees leads
down to the torrent in the ravine. Here,
between a laurel bush and a giant Camellia tree
is another ancient sarcophagus in a fair state
of preservation, with recumbent figure, head
resting on left hand, gazing with sightless eyes,
apparently, at the Camellias, under whose shade
she rests.
At this point the ravine narrows rapidly.
From here on the slope above is known as
"Mexico," so called because of the great heat to
which it is exposed during the summer. Here, to
the left, are some fine groups of Rhododendrons ;
many species and varieties of Palms, including a
very rare Cocos; fine Cycads and Cacti ; while,
lower down is a very fine collection of
Pines (Pinus) ; including such rarities as Pinus
montezumae ; P. patula ; P. Ayacauite ; Taxodium
excelsum ; and others. interspersed with Mimosa.
On the steep slope above : large Agaves ;
also the "Dragons' Blood tree " (Dracaena
Draco) from the Canary Islands. Trees of this
plant existing there (Orotava) are supposed to
date from the time of the Deluge-so long-lived
are they.
Paths lead through and around this part ; but
it is quite as interesting to look down on it from
the path above, whence its beauties are better
To the right of a tank is a small curving
path leading to the lower edge of the lawn,
where stands a very fine specimen of Araucaria
Bidwilli ; also large plants of Aloe arborescens ;
Strelitzias ; Cycads. etc.
Return to the path by the tank and follow
it to the right.
On the steep slope up to the right are :
Judas trees (Cercis siliquastrum), Nolina longifolia,
Phoenix dactylifera, Acacia Farnesiana, and,
near the path, a fine specimen of Dion edule.
At the forked path take the one bearing to the
right, near two very fine Goa Cedars, with their
long, clean boles, 50 feet in height, topped by
light, graceful foliage.
From here one has a view of the opposite
hillside, covered with hoary, grey old cork Oaks,
interspersed with the lighter green of other trees
and in the valley below, the Rhododendron dell,
which, in the pleasant spring days forms a scene
of great beauty. Here, too, one gets the best
comprehensive view of the Pines, Palms, etc. in
the ravine below, already mentioned.
Hence the path winds gently upwards through
a wood of gnarled old cork Oaks, allowing
delightful glimpses over gardens and mountains,
leading over to the other side of the low ridge,
facing W. and N. Here a group of Pinus
insignis is very striking, by reason of their
enormous size, with groups of tall Rhododendrons
and Camellias beneath.
On the right a large group of Agapanthus
umbellatus, and farther along a large deciduous
Oak (Quercus Lusitanicus) ; a Goa Cedar; Cedrus
Deodara; and a glimpse of the lawn.
A little farther along on the left a huge
Metrosideros robusta, and the Rose garden. A
cork seat made round the trunk of a fine
Pittosporum undulatum offers a pleasant rest in
the shade, whence an extensive view is obtained
across the Rose garden, over the undulating
country below to the blue Atlantic; and thence
to the wide horizon beyond.
In the centre of the Rose garden stands a
very fine Cryptomteria elegans, with dense misty
foliage; and groups of Dahlia imperialis among
the Roses. To the left below: Abies Webbiana
and Acacia saligna; and farther away Cedars
and Eucalypti.
To the right the lawn slopes up to the
Palacio, glimpses of which can be caught
between the large trees of Cryptomeria japonica ;
Cedrus Deodara ; Pinus canariensis ; and Abies
Nordmanniana. A huge Eucalyptus viminalis:
stands half way up the slope ; with an equally
large E. globulus close to it. A wych elm
spreads its umbrella shape near a tall Acacia
dealbata and a rose covered archway. Close
to this is a Judas tree ; a Camphor tree ;
Dacridium; and a group of Berberis stenophylla.
On the left the dark brown stems of a Banksia
rose trail up into a Myrica quericifolia.
From this point is obtained a fine view of
the old Quinta de Piedade, on the crest of a low
hill opposite.
Beneath a fern-covered cork Oak stands a
large group of Aloe arborescens and Fourcreya
Bedinghousi, some plants of which latter have
flowered, the old flower stems still standing and
covered with the tiny bulbils, which this plant
produces in the place of seed ; at least the seed
is very rare, and as the plant flowers only once
and then dies nature has provided the means of
reproducing the species by bulbils instead of
seed - in other words it is " viviparous."
From here another view of the Rose garden
is obtained. Again on the lawn on the right
stand fine plants of Thuja gigantea and Taxodium
Next to the path a cork seat with Cotoneaster
obliqua round it; and, close to this: Zamia horrida ;
Yuccas; Agave Franzosini; Abelia floribunda; -
and some very ancient Yew trees.
On the left the primitive woods come right
up to the path, affording, however, here and
there, glimpses of the open country below, dotted
with picturesque villages.
The path now winds below the edge of the
lawn, showing some fine Agaves and Cedars ;
on to a group of large evergreen Oaks, with a
semicircular seat in their dense shade, from
where some fine views of the country can be
obtained, as well as a partial view of the Palacio
and terrace above.
From this point the path continues along the
same level, passing through a fine general
collection of plants, of great botanical interest,
but too numerous to mention by name; and joins
the main path again at another point. But the
best way is to take the zig-zag path up across
the lawn, to below the terrace of the Palacio.
Here the path to the left is strictly private,
as also is the terrace above, so we take the path
to the right, along the top of the lawn, which
here slopes away to the path already traversed.
On the left, at the foot of the terrace wall, a
raised border contains a fine general collection of
climbing and other plants, chiefly of flowers of
various shades of brown and yellow.
The views from this path are more extensive
than from the path below; and many of the trees
already mentioned can be seen again from
another view point.
On the left the South façade of the Palacio,
with its Moorish architecture, and oriental,
delicately fretted, marble decorations, shows to
advantage. At the foot of the steps, on either
side, stands a fine Goa Cedar; and on the lawn
opposite a large Cycas revoluta.
The view across the lawn is very fine.
Farther along stands a dwarf Japanese
Cypress. A Kentia Belmoreana stands in front
of a fine Cryptomeria japonica.
A little lower down the slope is another
magnificient specimen of Araucaria Bidwilli ;
and close to the path a fine specimen of the rare
Macrozamia Macleayi spreads its handsome,
glossy leaves. Next, a New Zealand Flax
(Phormium tenax) ; and on the left of the path -
a fine Magnolia grandifiora, with a good general
collection of rare plants near it.
Here the path descends, and from the shade
of a fine Phoenix canariensis a good view is
obtained of the old chapel on the opposite slope.
Groups of Iris fimbriata and Agapanthus
umbellatus fringe the path here, near a small alcove
in the wall, wherein stands a small statue and
some cork seats; and a little farther down, beside
a rough tank, stands a tall specimen of the rare
Araucaria brasiliensis; and close by a giant
Erythrina corallodendron.
The path is now level again and runs straight
for some distance, through a fine collection of
rare plants, most of which are superb specimens
of their kind. Among many others are: Rondeletia
amoena, Erythrina caffra, Salisburia adiantifolia
(the "Maiden-hair tree"); Sabal umbraculifera;
Phoenix dactylifera (Date Palm); Seaforthia
; Grevillea robusta; Aralia crassefolia; etc.
From a small terrace, on parapet of which
lies a dainty statue of sleeping Cupid, a fine
glimpse through magnificent Kauri Pines and
Magnolia trees gives on to the lower lawn and
the lakes, up over the rock-stewn, tree studded
Serra to the sky-line, making a view of wonderful
depth and beauty.
Farther along the path, to be noted: Datura
arborea ; Erythrina Crista-galli ; Jacaranda
mimosaefolia ("Rosewood Tree"); and a large
Irish Yew.
The path now bends to the left, past the
corner of the big tank, with a fine plant of
Philodendron pertusum (Monstera deliciosa)
clambering luxuriantly over the wall ; on which
also Ficus repens, the climbing fig, grows well;
covering all the stones with its close growth.
Here the path joins another at right angles.
To the right it leads back to the old chapel.
already visited ; but it gives a glimpse of wondrous
beauty up the ravine. filled with all precious
things, and water and spray and music.
We turn to the left, and first observe the
greatest curiosity in the garden :-a great Plane
tree and a cork Oak growing apparently from
the same root. The explanation is this : when
the Plane tree was planted it needed support and
training so the Oak branch was put in for this
purpose. It took root and both grew up together
now leaning as far apart as possible, being
secured to each other by iron bands and rod -
the Plane now supporting the Oak -a striking
modem illustration of the "Master and Prentice
Passing through the archway turn to the
left. Through an old Indian gateway of carved
red sandstone a small terrace is reached with
red brick pergolas, covered with Wistaria;
Roses ; and other climbing plants. On one side
is the large reservoir, and the view of the lower
gardens, already described, only even more
beautiful from here; on the other side one looks
down on to the old nursery, where there is
another fine collection of Palms and other rare
plants, especially noticeable being : a very fine
plant of Washingtonia robusta, a palm over 60 feet
high; Jubaea spectabilis ; Phoenix canariensis ;
Phoenix spinosa ; Cocos australis ; and the very
rare Cocos insignis ; Dombeya Wallichii ;
Theophrasta imperialis ; Banksia integrifolia
(White Bottle-brush) ; and many others. There
are paths leading through this part by which
closer observation of the plants may be obtained.
Here the easier path from the seat under the
Evergreen Oaks joins the main path again ; but
beyond this point, towards the Palacio the drive
is kept private, for access to the residence only.
From the terrace the drive turns slightly uphill,
turning to the left through the stable-yard, where
there is also a good general collection of plants,
some of them rare, such as: Nolina recurvata
Citrus triifoliatus ; two very fine specimens of
Rhopalostylis sapida ; Erythrea armata ; etc.
The path to the gate, however, follows the
rough flagged, easy stairway, under some very
large old Cork Oaks. This is the easiest way out,
leading to the main drive again near the entrance.
Near the beginning of the path another level
path bears off to the right, leading to the water-
falls in the ravine, and is well worth visiting for
the fine views of the garden and the tree ferns ;
and some large groups of Camellias, Rhodo-
dendrons, Mimosas and other plants. It also leads
back to the entrance gate, being the shorter way,
but very steep; so it is better to tum back and
take the flagged path once more, by which one
arrives at the drive, opposite the lawn at the
main gateway.
By using the paths as indicated here the
visitor will have seen all the chief points of
interest and beauty in the gardens in an easy
way and in a comparatively short space of time;
but there are many other paths and points of
interest which the visitor can discover for himself.
Two hours is a convenient time to allow in
which to visit the garden comfortably.
A small charge for admission is made at the
gate, and this together with all the money re-
ceived for this little guide, is given to the local
hospital for the benefit of the sick poor.
Visitors are kindly asked to sign their name
in the Visitors' book, kept by the gatekeeper .
It is also respectfully requested that visitors
refrain from picking flowers or otherwise
damaging the plants.
Any information required will be given with
pleasure by the head gardener .


Anonymous said...

This description gives a very useful impression of layout and landscape.Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Monserrate 1923:
I wish I would have fourd your blog, before going with my daughter to Monserrate. It has been one of our most lovely experiences to walk thru the gardens and finally find the impressive mansion.
One detail I have been looking in your article is the name of the rare trees by the fake ruin. I seems some of them are embraced by a vine. Can you tell me the name of the tree and the invasive vine? The arches of the chapel at the entrance are covered in front with some plants, or maybe roots to add the effect of a ruin...

Gerald Luckhurst said...

Glad you found Monserrate an emotional experience, I certainly found it that way when I first saw the garden in 1985. I sometimes worry that the magic is being lost as it is tidied up, twenty years aogo it was like sleeping beauty! Please try to come back in the near future there is a tremendous amount of work in progress. I hope that soon the garden will become even more atmospheric.

The tree growing on the ruined chapel is a type of Banyan Fig from Australia. I have written about it elsewhere on this blog. Its botanical name is Ficus rubiginosa. The vine to which you refer may well be the aerial roots that drop from its branches, but there is also a remnant of a spectacular vine from Madeira called Semele androgyna. Old photographs show the ruins draped in climbing roses ans great thick wisteria. Search tag chapel on this blog.

Thanks for dropping in.


carmy said...

I wish I could have read your Monserrate 1923, A Short Guide To The Gardens Preface. I visited Monserrate Palace and gardens two weeks ago with my daughter. It has been one of the most beautiful experiences walking thru the gardens of Monserrate. It took my attention a type of vine embracing the trunk of a few trees by the entrance of the ruined chapel and the tree or roots by one of its arches. Can you tell me the name of the tree and this type of vine. I have seen something similar in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. There I saw this type of embracing vine or root aroung palms. They use this trucks to make furniture and decoration as vigas in houses. Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.

carmy said...

I appreciated your prompt response. Thank you very much. I will search for the tag chapel in your blog. I find the information and photos in your blog very interesting. The description of the chapel old photographs must have been a beautiful sight. God willing we will visit again Monserrate and its gardens. Thank you again for your information and help.