Madeira – also called the Floating Garden in the Atlantic – is a great destination for those who like flowers and to photograph them. As I do, too. Madeira will start by serving you a colourful palette of flowers immediately after landing at the airport in Funchal. At the edges of the parking lot where we picked up the rental car, fireworks of red and purple bougainvillaea sprang up. When an orange-black butterfly started flying between the bushes, I did not hesitate and took out my camera. However, this butterfly was restless; it did not sit on any flower for a moment, but happily flapped its wings and flew from one end of the shrubby alley to the other. It does not matter, I thought, because there will still be some other flowers and butterflies…
When the Portuguese discovered this island in the 15th century, a large part of it was covered by forests. That is why the island received the name Madeira, which means “wood” in Portuguese. They were not very creative when coming up with a name for the island’s capital either. Since a lot of fennel grew here (= “funcho” in Portuguese), the city was named Funchal.
The Portuguese also brought various flowers and trees from their sea expeditions. Thanks to the mild climate, plenty of moisture and fertile volcanic soil, both subtropical and tropical plants thrived here. The English, known for their passion for parks and gardens, took care of further development. They set up beautiful gardens near their houses and their gardeners made sure that something bloomed in them all year round. Strelitzia and protea came here from South Africa, camellias, hydrangeas and orchids from Japan, jasmine and hibiscus from China, jacarandas from Brazil, Callistemon species from Australia, etc.
Even today, when walking the streets of Funchal, you will come across a fence from which blooming branches of exotic bushes stick out. Although the number of houses with gardens was reduced in the 20th century due to the construction boom of new hotels, the city has fortunately preserved several parks; and what´s more, some private gardens are also open to the public.
I visited Madeira in the first half of September. The hydrangeas, which are mentioned as one of the most abundant flowers on the island, went already out of bloom, but there was still something to admire. The best time to visit the flower paradise is spring, but no matter what time you come here, you will always find some flowers blooming here to please your eye.
We visited the following three gardens in Funchal:
(1) Park of St. Catarina – Parque de Santa Catarina
A pleasant park between the city center and the hotel zone with a nice view of the harbour – an ideal place to relax or read a good book on a bench in the shade under some exotic tree…
You will also find several statues here – Christopher Columbus (who visited Madeira several times, initially for the sugar trade, but later married the daughter of the first captain from Porto Santo) or in front of the entrance to the park – Prince Henry the Navigator (Grand Master of the Order of Christ, an important supporter of voyages of discovery, thanks to which Portugal became a world power at the time).
One of the oldest chapels on the island is located here as well. The wife of João Gonçalves Zarco, a Portuguese navigator who is considered the rediscoverer of Madeira, gave it the name according to St. Catherine.
The original building from 1425 was made of wood, in the 17th century it was rebuilt from stone. The bell tower is original and the cross of the Order of Christ can be seen on the roof of the chapel. Unfortunately, the chapel was closed.
In the western part of the park, among the trees, you can see a house with a classic pink facade – Quinta Vigia from the 17th century. Here in 1860, the Austrian empress Elizabeth of Bavaria (Sisi) stayed for half a year during her first visit to Madeira. Today, the building is not open to the public; it is the seat of the regional government of Madeira.
The following trees and bushes caught my attention the most in this park:
Here, too, a monarch butterfly was flying around. It is not a native species, it was probably brought here from North America. I do not know if it was the same butterfly from the airport, but this one sat on the flowers and I am glad I managed to photograph it. As it turned out later, we would not meet another butterfly in Madeira!
Opening hours: from March 22 to September 22 every day: 7:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. (rest of the year until 8:00 p.m.)
(2) Monte Palace Tropical Garden – Jardim Tropical Monte Palace
It is located on the hill of Monte above the capital, from where there is a wonderful view of the entire bay. The area once belonged to the Grand Hotel Belmonte, but when the Austrian nobility stopped coming to Madeira, the hotel stood abandoned for a long time. Its gray and white facade still breathes its past glory today.
In the 80s of the 20th century, the merchant and art collector, multi-millionaire José Berardo, who became rich mainly thanks to the gold deposits in South Africa, bought the entire plot. He opened his private garden to the public in 1991.
The garden presents the tastes and hobbies of its owner. A collection of contemporary sculptures from Zimbabwe is an example of his love for African art, while in the next pavilion, you can see minerals, incidentally one of the largest collections of semi-precious stones in the world.
In the tropical garden with an area of 7 hectares, you will find not only flowers and trees but also various sculptures, lagoons, waterfalls, etc. History lovers will enjoy themselves just as much – the history of Portugal is told on 40 tile panels – from Alfonso I, the founder of the Portuguese kingdom in the 12th century, to the Third Republic (1974). The collection of old azulejos from palaces, churches, chapels or private houses, which Berardo bought from antique dealers and at auctions, is valuable as well.
As a great admirer of the culture and lifestyle of Japan and China, Berardo had two oriental gardens set up here, too. There, 166 modern azulejos tell the story of mutual relations between Portugal and Japan, and there are not only plants from these countries but also pagodas, marble dogs and other mythological creatures, stone lanterns and a pond with decorative koi carp.
The tropical garden provides a wide variety of flowers and plants from different continents. I was interested in the old cycas species (known as living fossils) and laurel trees.
I know Dracaena as an ornamental plant in a pot, but here, they are stout trees (Dragon Tree) with a multi-branched crown and a thick trunk from which red resin flows, the so-called dragon’s blood, which was used in the past to dye fabrics.
African art is exhibited here outside as well. I chose this photo on purpose, where large leaves of a plant, which is also known as an indoor plant under the name philodendron, are intertwined between stone sculptures.
Opening hours: every day (except December 25): 9:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Entrance fee: €15, children under 15 free
More information: montepalacemadeira
How to get here: by car, taxi, buses 20, 21, 22 and 48 or by cable car (from the lower station in the city directly to the main entrance to the garden, approx. 15 minutes). We went by car because there was a long line of people waiting for the cable car. We took the cable car back to Funchal to enjoy the amazing views.
(3) Botanical Garden – Jardimo Botanico
It is located approximately 4 km northeast of the city center. On an area of 8 hectares, for me, the largest and most interesting display of an astonishing diversity of exotic and native vegetation. After all, more than 2000 types of plants grow here!
In the past, this land belonged to the influential Reid family. William Reid, originally from Scotland, had built the first luxury hotel in Madeira for the noble European aristocratic clientele. In this part of the city, they built their residence in 1881, which they named – in my opinion very aptly to the success of their business – Quinta do Bom Sucesso – House of Happy Destiny. The family lived here until 1936, then the land was acquired by the city administration and in 1960, the Botanical Garden was opened to the public as a unique collection of exotic flowers, trees and birds.
A small, somewhat old-fashioned natural history museum with fossils and stuffed birds and sea animals on display is housed in the former private residence. Nothing will happen if you do not visit inside, because the real thing for which you came here is out there.
All plants have plates with the local and botanical name as well as the country of origin. This way, right near the museum building, you will get to know the endemic plants of the island – with more than hundred-year-old laurel trees or flowers called echium. Its two species are referred to as the “Pride of Madeira”. The larger one – echium candicans – grows at heights above 800 meters above sea level – unfortunately, it had gone already out of bloom. However, we saw at least the last few blue flowers of the smaller species – echium nervosum.
So, we did not see the Pride of Madeira in its full beauty, but in my opinion, the symbol of the island is still the strelitzia, also called the Flower of Paradise, although it comes from South Africa. Strelitzia grows in Madeira almost on every corner, even in parking lots or gas stations. Of course, they must not be missed in the Botanical Garden either. As the bed of these flowers appeared in front of me, each one turned its head in a different direction, so that they looked like a flock of curious birds. The view was truly unique and was enhanced by the wonderful view of Funchal.
The botanical garden is divided into five parts:
1. the aforementioned native plants – around 100 species
2. Arboretum – a garden of trees where trees from ecologically contrasting regions of the world grow side by side, for example from the Himalayas and the tropics
3. succulents – most come from South America
4. useful plants – tropical and subtropical fruit trees – mango, papaya, avocado, coffee trees, sugar cane, aromatic and medicinal herbs
5. Loiro park with parrots from all over the world
The most famous photo motive is the flower carpet in the middle of the garden. Purple, red, burgundy, yellow, green and white flowers are perfectly cut and arranged in different geometric patterns. On the right side, there is an inscription with the current year and the year the Botanical Garden was opened.
I am sure that topiary trees – thuja, evergreen buxus shrubs and ligustrum cut into cones, balls and other shapes will certainly become the motif of your lens as well.
Although we did not see any butterflies, spiders spun their dense webs on some plants. I was also interested in the following plants:
I recommend 1.5 – 2 hours to visit the Botanical Garden. The garden is not spread over a flat plane, but on a slope. Therefore, do not forget to wear comfortable shoes and take a jacket with you, because the weather here can be colder than down in the city. It also started to drizzle during our visit, so a cup of herbal tea with a cheesecake with passion fruit frosting in the cafe right in the garden was the best choice.
Opening hours: every day (except December 25): 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Entrance fee: €7.50, children under 6 years free, children 6-12 years – €3
More information: here
How to get here: by car, taxi, buses 29, 30, 31 and 31A or cable car (from Monte station, approx. 5 minutes). More information about the cable car: http://www.telefericojardimbotanico.com/
For more information about Madeira: visitmadeira
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri