Experimental Garden at Tietar Valley (Central Spain) —2020

This garden demonstrates Álvaro’s design style, using mostly Iberian native species distributed in an informal and relaxed way. He describes it as being “planted in an ancient orchard with bad soil and too many rocks, we brought in good new soil and we moved some rocks around… basically there are seven circles of gravel (actually crushed granite) surrounded by planting of the plant species that I want to experiment before use them in my client´s gardens… how much irrigation they need, as well as mixing textures, colours and flowering times”. His intention is to make it a showroom of his work, to use it to illustrate talks about landscaping and to teach gardeners how to maintain this kind of perennial garden.
Álvaro is one of several designers who like to use Pistacia lentiscus, a tough shrub with divided foliage, an attractive level of diversity in leaf shape and size between plants, and, unlike many Mediterranean shrubs, the capacity to re-grow after hard pruning. Other favourites are Lavandula multifida, with fine foliage, and a twice-a-year flowering habit, Armeria pungens, a larger version of the familiar thrift and Thymus pulegioides, a spreading broad-leaved thyme.

The low hummocky forms of Mediterranean shrubs are emphasised by occasional pruning, a practice which imitates the nibbling of goats characteristic of many local habitats. Pruning helps lengthen the lifespan of many species as well. Grasses are a highly effective contrast with them, in addition Álvaro noting that “they bring movement and different colours to the garden”. For the most part it is not native species he uses, but mostly of North American origin: Panicum vigatum ‘Heavy metal’ , which “I like to think is named for the movement that the seeds make with the wind which is like watching the equaliser of a heavy metal soundtrack”, Muhlenbergia capillaris with its vivid pink flower heads as well as that old favourite Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl foerster’ with its strongly vertical flower and seed heads.