When talking about Madeira, someone will inevitably say: oh, the island of flowers! It’s true that at any given time something is in bloom. In fact, Madeira was the first place I saw poinsettias growing in someone’s garden. Since then, I’ve seen poinsettias on the islands of La Palma and La Gomera, but that first time is always special. Depending on the time of year you visit, you might see calla lilies, poinsettias, jacarandas, plumeria, hydrangeas (just to name a few) blooming. In gardens and in sheltered areas, some plants may bloom year round. This time we decided to visit the Botanical Garden and the Monte Palace Tropical Garden.
We were staying above the capital city of Funchal in Monte and from there, there is a funicular which takes you directly to the entrance of the botanical garden. Originally we had planned to hike down, but the trail we closed and we rode down. The land that now houses the botanical garden once belonged to the hotelier William Reid, but now belongs to the city of Funchal. Here, you can find many imported and endemic plants, some of which only exist on the island of Madeira. In the old manor house, which I immediately fell in love with and wanted to take home with me, you’ll find a small museum of natural history with plants, fossils and stuffed animals which were found on the island.
Just as we were finishing up our wander through the garden, the clouds that had been hovering since the morning opened up and it began raining. We made our way back to the funicular and decided to wait out the rain in our hotel room. It never completely stopped raining that day, but armed with a rain cape and and an umbrella, we were able to visit the second garden which was right across the street from where we stayed: Monte Palace Tropical Garden. First the home of a wealthy Englishman and then later the luxurious Monte Place Hotel, the gardens were then purchased by the city in 1943. In 1987 a wealthy entrepreneur acquired the land and proceeded to renovate the existing gardens from the hotel era and add more features, most of them leaning towards an Asian style. There are also large collections of old hand-painted Portuguese tiles (azulejos) and statues, some dating all the way back to the Roman Empire. The large collection of orchids, which bloom only in February, was especially impressive. Near the entrance gate, there is an extensive exhibit of minerals the owner has collected over the past 15 years, mostly from South America and Africa. Some of the specimens are so big, I could sit inside them and be surrounded with e.g. amethysts!