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The Garden of Seville

April 12, 2010 – 10:59 am

Lovers of urban green spaces, and long-term Andalucian expats, will be interested to hear that one of Seville’s many neglected Expo 92 sites has been resurrected.

The 8.5-million-euro Jardin Americano (American Garden), now subtitled El Jardin de Sevilla (The Garden of Seville) had its grand reopening yesterday, complete with the ubiquitous band, face painting and balloon animals. The garden occupies a strip of land on the Isla Cartuja, between the Avenida de Descubrimientos and the river, stretching from the Pabellon del Futuro, past the Pabellon de Naturaleza, which is part of it, right up to the Auditorio Nacional Rocio Jurado, with entrances next to both Pabellones. If you’re not familiar with this area, as many aren’t, it is also next to the Monasterio La Cartuja, whose distinctive pointed chimneys are a well-known landmark of the city, and are visible from the other side of the river.

The garden is divided into several areas, on different levels. These include a cactus garden, a palm garden, a big pond with a small children`s play area next to it, and various ramps, steps and bridges linking the main garden with the lower-level covered areas – wooden umbraculo (greenhouse) and concrete pergolas – and the river walkway.

This is a 400-metre metal and wooden structure which sits on the water, rising with the river when its level changes. It follows the length of the garden, so you can take a good stroll at the level of the river, which will be markedly cooler in the hot summer months, although the view to the opposite bank offers only graffiti-covered walls.

When I visited yesterday, it was buzzing with families arriving on bikes, kids with their faces painted, African drummers in the shade of the pergola by the river. Children played in the concrete waterfalls between the pond and river levels. Everyone (10,000 people according to today’s press reports) had come out, on a fine spring day, to see Seville’s latest attraction.

But you couldn’t help thinking that the plants looked a little sad, uncared for. Now I know that when new gardens open, the inhabitants have been recently planted and need to settle into their environment and, well, grow. But they already looked dog-eared and dusty. What it needs is colour – I saw some typical (if not indigenous) plants such as bouganvillea and hibiscus. Other bright touches came from some bright yellow daisies, a flowering cactus and a Brazilian plant with purple flowers. Also there was a `‘gardened wall’’ (muro ajardinado), made of hollows with red flowers and other hanging plants (you will have gathered by now that I am no gardening expert, but, as with art, I know what I like – pinks and purples, mostly).

Other points worth noting were the first recycling (ie separated) public bins I’ve seen in Seville; a total lack of life-rings along the river walkway, or safety railings on the shore area; and the interesting state of the roof of the umbraculo. Made of natural materials, this has trees growing up through it (not surprising, since they’re been left there for nearly 20 years) and the rafters have neat square holes to accommodate them. Apart from that, I doubt it’s changed much since Expo finished.

One of yesterday’s newspapers carried a feature claiming that the 690 species from 22 American countries featured in the original Expo garden haven’t been conserved in the new version, despite an offer from a group which had carefully stored seeds from the 92 park. The new Jardin Americano has over 350 plants from countries including Cuba (which sent 127 species, including the Royal Palm, whose leaves are used as to roll tobacco in), Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina and Paraguay. Each plant is labelled with its name and native countries, though not with its uses (I got the info about the Cuban palm from the leaflet they handed out there).

I personally see this garden as having great potential – it is well connected to the centre, being right next to the Cartuja bridge, and with plenty of parking; it is a large area for kids to run or cycle around in safely (though the lack of safety precautions around the river worries me, especially as a mother); its educational potential is vast, if more information about the various species and their uses is displayed. It needs time, more colour, and perhaps a café from which to contemplate, as gardens are, above all, places for contemplation.

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