Sunday, 1 February 2009

Cadmium Begonias

One of the chief charms of Cintra consists in the innumerable beautiful walks and drives that bring fresh interest to each day spent there. Most popular of these is the drive of a few miles to the gardens of Monserrate, that are said to be unequaled in the world. Nowhere but in the unique climate of Portugal can grow in perfection the plants and trees of the tropics and of the temperate zone as well, so in the century since Beckford ransacked the world to find specimens for these gardens, which he laid out at fabulous cost, the trees and vines, and shrubs and flowers he planted there have developed into wonderful beauty. The property is now owned by the estate of Sir Frederick Cook, who spares no money to keep and increase the splendor of the place. There are palms and bamboos; oaks and evergreens; orchids and roses; vines that are perfect sheets of strange, intense color; uncanny-looking flowers lifting their blossom of flame or lavender straight from the earth; queer trees with long, pendulous blooms of scarlet; ponds where pink and blue lilies grow; Roman benches whence are views of mountains and the passing ships at sea; and in the midst the beautiful Moorish-like house where Sir Frederick lives.
Another delightful walk takes you in the opposite direction, where there is a little pink town that seems to have strayed out one day from Cintra, and, nestling down contentedly under the mountain, never returned. Tall palms grow there, and glossy-leafed magnolias which even in midSeptember were sending out a few huge, cup-like, creamy flowers. Along the street at the mountain's foot, the houses cling to terraces covered with ivy and roses of cream and pink, led up to by the most picturesque steps imaginable. At one point the rock is hollowed out, and here a fountain fills a large basin. Around are broad stone seats, and nearby a tiny public garden, where grow more beautiful begonias than I ever saw before, even in Holland. Double shell-pink blossoms, each as large as a rose, hung in clusters of six or more, literally covering the plant. They were in endless variety, white, red and white, and deepest crimson. Then there were single ones that glowed with flame, like cadmium, and all the shades of pink and red in rare profusion.

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