Galicia: Three Gardens I

Pazo de Rubians

A Galician Chateau

Here is where I had my first taste of Albarino wine. It came with a light lunch of seafood and cheese, tapas and pastry. Though lunch was lovely, I don’t remember it with quite the delight as I do the wine.

Grape vines supported by granite posts

Albarino is an easy wine to fall in love with, mellow, fragrant, fresh. And there was something sweet about knowing that the grapes had been grown just over the hill.

It was a moody day, the skies not choosing to commit to sunshine, broody clouds, misty white-out, or rain showers. My pictures reflect the heavenly caprice.

In fact, our visit to this pazo, probably about 100 acres all told, is best told in snippets of images.

Road into the garden

Aged, broken trees near young camellias that would one day grow into hedges.

Vineyards stretching across gentle hills. Forest nudging Garden.

Stone horreo (granary) up on the hill.

Magnificent old camellias.

A single immaculately pruned azalea in bloom amid clipped boxwood.

The box maze, inviting us, but maybe not during today’s visit.

The base of the old eucalyptus

The most beautifully shaped Southern Magnolia I have ever seen, and the largest eucalyptus.

And, of course, the murky frog pond. With a dash of Spanish moss it could look like a transplant from an abandoned mansion in the Deep South. New Orleans, maybe?

We wandered like kids in a toy store. It was the perfect time to visit, that first week in March, because those old camellias were showing off for us. They are huge and grand and bloom profusely.

Pictures don’t do justice to the size of these camellias planted a century or so ago

Some of them had been around for 150 years, maybe more.

The Pazo dates from the twelfth century, but not as a manor house. If you guessed “fortress,” you are right on.

By the fifteenth century it had become a residence but not until the 18th century did it become the manor house we see today.

When Jacobo Ozores, Lord of Rubianes, returned from exile in France, he built the manor house with designs from a French architect, so some call this elegant structure a Galician chateau. The interior of the house, which we visited, is filled with as much rich history as the gardens.

The Pazo de Rubianes has been declared a Garden of International Excellence.

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Pazo de la Saleta

A Garden From a Miracle

Colonel Cardecid Severo Perez was a devout Catholic. Perhaps he visited the town of La Salette-Fallaraux in France some time in the mid 1850’s. Or perhaps he was simply touched by the miracle that took place there.

By Sylvia, from her blog

In 1846 the Virgin Mary appeared to a young girl and boy as they were herding cows.

She shed tears of sorrow for the waywardness of her people and sent a message of hope that they would come back to Christ’s fold.

After the visitation was confirmed by the church, Our Lady of Salette became an icon.

Some time around 1870 the Colonel built a chapel near his home and dedicated it to Our Lady of La Salette.

The stone chapel is lovely, and the carving and delicate coloring of the altar piece, which includes the two children, are superb.

The Chapel in late spring, from Sylvia’s blog

Fast forward a hundred years and a British couple, Robert and Margaret Grimson now own the five-acre plot.

They re-institute the traditional religious celebration of Our Lady of Salette, but they also arrive with a vision of their own: that of creating an exceptional botanic garden.

They hire an English landscaper and seek plants from temperate environments round the world: oaks, eucalyptus, rhododendron and exotic (to us) species from Australia, South America and South Africa.

The altar in the chapel

Ultimately, it was the camellia that took the lead in this parade of exotic plants. The wonderful collection here of rare and hybridized camellias is perhaps the most significant legacy of the Grimsons. Today’s owners continue to add to the collections.

But it’s the spirit of the garden that infects us: exuberant, lighthearted.

We are led by the charming owner, Sylvia, who is committed to managing the garden with flair. Her plants are her life, and she readily admits to getting dirt under her fingernails.

The dovecote

That makes this garden a bit different from the others. While the horreo (granary) and dovecote remind us of other pazos, the feel is not so much historical as it is botanical.

Sylvia winds us seamlessly through the oak wood and the tea meadow, where exotics mingle with azaleas and magnolias, and where some of the finest hybridized camellias are flowering.

Even in March, when little else is in bloom, the variety of bark and leaf textures and the infinite shades of green actively invite us to explore the garden’s botanical wonders.

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Castelo de Soutomaior

Fortress on a Hillside

It’s easy to imagine a happy-ever-aftering Camelot here: Lancelot in full armor, Guinevere enjoying May picnics in the garden. But this is Galicia.

The Castle from the garden

It wasn’t quite so tranquil back in the 15th century when swashbuckling Pedro Álvarez de Sotomaior, Count of Camiña was the owner, and starving peasants were revolting against feudal lords in Galicia and throughout Europe.

“Madruga,” the Count was nicknamed, for his legendary, crafty early rising to catch the big prize: Land!

He was a master of intrigue, equally at home politicking in the courts of Portugal and Castile or raising an army that decisively defeated the peasants. And somehow this charismatic Count who controlled southern Galicia seemed to remain fairly popular.

Table and benches of granite under moss-embossed and fern-covered trees

The garden surrounding the castle is a place for lingering and wandering, a fine botanic park.

Under the shade of aged trees and trees broken by age you step back in centuries.

There’s a giant California redwood tree and the grizzled remains of a sweet chestnut tree and magnificent magnolias.

One very old camellia has 18 trunks and a crown diameter of 60 feet. Still blooming! Pale pink, though the flowers seem smaller than today’s hybrids.

The camellia walk has nice views of the countryside

More than a hundred varieties of labeled camellias are scattered along a walk that overlooks the countryside, fine specimens, carefully tended, some dating back to the 19th century.

For plantaholics, the monkey puzzle tree and Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria) grow along side eucalyptus, oaks, and chestnut trees from five continents.

In total, about 90 acres are dedicated to the castle gardens, vineyards, native forest, fruit trees and palms — and camellias.

Old redwood tree

After centuries of deterioration, during the 19th century the marquis-owner modified the castle in  neo-gothic style and created the Damas gallery and a chapel, and designed the surrounding gardens.

Later, the marquise added a hospital and other outbuildings. There’s even a drawbridge in use since the 19th century.

Today the Pontevedra provincial government owns and maintains the castle and gardens, which are open to the public for tours.

The International Camellia Society has designated the property a  Garden of Excellence.


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For more about gardens and Galicia visit the links below.

Galicia: Three Gardens I                  Galicia: Three Gardens II

Galicia Encantada. . .Part I                Galicia Encantada. . .Part II

Galicia Encantada. . .Part III             Galicia Encantada. . .Part IV