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finca-garden-morna-romero-lavanda-1The Ibicencan Garden (II). Models of Adaptation

The Ibicencan Garden (II). Models of Adaptation

In the last two decades in Ibiza there has been a gradual trend towards the design of gardens with native and Mediterranean plants. This trend that has been accompanied in parallel through popularity of modern interpretations of the original architecture of the Ibiza, as seen for example in the popular Blakstad style. Many of Ibiza’s native trees are of symbolic importance, as well as for decorative purposes. As with vernacular architecture, when it comes to construction, indigenous gardens also have features that become important advantages:

Adaptation to the environment: less need for irrigation, intensive care, fertilizers or chemical products and the hability to recover from eventual setbacks and pests. Mediterranean plants tolerate drought well and even tolerate some degree of carelessness.

Resource and energy savings: such as the cost of water, electricity and other operating resources, as well as the costs of gardening and maintenance services.

Sustainability: the less need of fresh water, an increasingly scarce resource on the island, and the impact of invasive species are avoided. In addition, the biodiversity of native flora and fauna is promoted, supporting natural habitats, soil health and the longevity of local species.

Resilience: the Mediterranean climate can sometimes be abrupt and rough; Torrential precipitations can occur in the rainy season, prolonged droughts in spring or summer, causing an increase in the degree of salinity of the network water. These are points to take into account as they can particularly harm species less adapted to the environment.

Reproduction: native plants reproduce more easily in a native environments, so in mature Mediterranean gardens it is common for new specimens of existing plants to appear more frequently.

Continued flowering: as the climate is very sunny, it makes it possible to have a garden designed to be in bloom in all seasons of the year, with some plants (such as Bougainvillea) in bloom for almost 10 months.

Wide variety: the island climate of Ibiza, although considered semi-arid, is relatively mild and offers a greater variety of planting, with multiple possibilities of color, texture and shape. The different combinations that it offers adapt to a multitude of designs.

© Kelosa | Ibiza Selected Properties

For about two decades, a multitude of owners of different nationalities have experienced a change of taste in the type of gardens that surround their houses. The tropical gardens full of palm trees, seas of tropical flowers and large lawns, so popular in the 80s and 90s, are giving way to simplicity of the origins and a more permacultural approach – that is, based on the principle of “working with nature, not against it”.

One characteristic example of this trend is the increase in wild gardens. This consists of leaving part of the garden totally or partially feral, that is, without any kind of care or intervention other than an initial plowing or, on rare occasions, an intervention by plague or disease. The result is what the Ibizan countryside offers by default, where everything is growing in disorder, a great variety of flowers of all colors, types and shapes.

© Kelosa | Ibiza Selected Properties

To add some more splendor to the wild garden, there are a variety of beautiful meadow flower seeds that can be scattered around the plots. These species can coexist in small spaces and each one will appear in its respective season. However, in this case the care technique is more sophisticated and consists in carefully removing the weeds between the plants so that everything develops, flourishes and comes out again the following year. This process requires some experience in gardening and above all to be diligent. For the rest, the seeds are well adapted to the weather and the soil of the island, therefore they do not require special care or fertilizers and they reproduce without much effort.

Ultimately, the Mediterranean garden recreates a relaxing sensation, through its soft-colored plants and flowers with distinctive aromas. For example, with the presence of lavender, rosemary and rockrose, a lush, aromatic garden is achieved with minimal care. A good method is to combine plants that bloom at different times of the year. Other plants, such as bougainvilleas or hibiscus, bloom practically all year round. Olive and lemon trees, while being among the trees best adapted to Ibiza’s climate, give an elegant character to the garden and a large quantity of fruits. To create a secluded environment, there are a variety of climbing plants, such as vines, on rustic-looking vertical trellises, making the most of the available space (especially for smaller gardens).

© Kelosa | Ibiza Selected Properties

There are two types of gardens in Ibiza that fall into a special category and need a somewhat different approach. The gardens by the sea and the gardens with saline water.

Gardens by the sea.

On a relatively small island, with an area of 572km², the influence of the sea extends far inland. There are, for example, strong storms that hit the island in winter, leaving trees bent in the opposite direction to the wind as witnesses of its intensity. It is important to know that these storms do not stop at the garden limits, therefore they must be taken into account to be prepared for the adversities that these gardens usually suffer.

The strong wind off the Ibizan coast can knock down the youngest plants, cutting off tree branches and shrubs. However, the wind is not the biggest problem, but the resulting saltpetre that is deposited through the wind on the earth’s mantle and, dissolved by rain or irrigation water, can damage the fine roots of many plants. These fine roots are the ones that absorb and transport water, so few plants can recover from this saline saturation. In addition, these salts carried by the wind also settle on the leaves and can burn them.

The most important step would be to choose plants that are salt tolerant, which also avoids excessive maintenance costs. These plants tend to be native to coastal habitats and other environments with high salinity, such as the salt marshes. An optimal garden near the sea should also contain mostly dense plants and shrubs, forming a firm structure of robust and wind resistant plants. Generally, this type of vegetation is low in height and has few flowers. The flowers should be select, more like touches of color than for the usual prominence that they usually have in gardens.

Palm trees, pines and cypresses, with their flexible and resistant trunks, are suitable for windy coastal locations. Deciduous trees have less surface area that the winds can attack, since they lose their leaves from autumn when the harsh season begins. Succulent plants have water reserves and are ideal candidates for low maintenance gardens and have a greater tolerance to sea winds. Last but not least, almost any kind of cactus are ideal in this environment, since Ibiza is considered semi-arid and in these conditions they resist practically everything.

© Kelosa | Ibiza Selected Properties

Summer is the most benign season for seaside gardens. Starting in autumn, the plants are put to the test and at the latest during the first winter of its life its put to the test whether a plant can resist the brackish winds. Strong winter winds in Ibiza blow 90% from the northwest, therefore the gardens on the south and southeast coast are largely more protected. In those areas one has more of an option of planting a variety of more sensitive species.

Gardens with saline water.

The residences in the south and southwest parts of Ibiza have a supply water that is of a higher salinity, especially in summer when more people use the water from the network. At some points in the summer you may have to buy bottled water to cook or make a simple coffee, but using that drinking water for the garden would mean an excessive cost.

Many kinds of plants suffer from the salinity of the irrigation water, for the same reasons that we discussed above, but in this case it affects in particular during the summer months. Saline irrigation water, added to brackish winds, can wreak even more havoc on plants that are not acclimated to these conditions. What usually happens in these cases is that the plants look good during winter and spring, due to the rainwater that dilutes the salinity, but when summer arrives they begin to lose their leaves and flowers, presenting an increasingly sickly state until there is no turning back, since its roots can’t tolerate the salinity of the soil, the plant dies.

“Mediterranean Garden” by HeatherW is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

To avoid dramatic scenarios such as the mass death of plants or an exorbitant water bill, there are two possible solutions: one is the construction of a water collection cistern for the rainy season (autumn and spring), which would involve construction, licensing processes and it is not entirely clear to what extent it would solve the problem; the more reasonable second option is to adapt to the circumstances and place plants that withstand both salinity and drought. In this case, it is recommended to plant them between October and April, when the abundance of rains and the more temperate climate help the young plants to adapt to their new habitat, gradually getting used to the increasing salinity, the strong sun and the summer droughts. Here is a quick list of saline water resistant plants.

Some steps that can be taken to reverse high salinity:

  1. Plow the soil, providing organic matter and sand, to increase the permeability of the soil.
  2. Install drainage pipes to evacuate excess water laden with salts.
  3. Abundant irrigation of fresh water that floods and wash the soil.
  4. Choose mainly resistant plants, in particular to the salinity.
  5. Do not abuse fertilizers, as they salinize the soil.

In the long run, the sea has the strength to beat the greatest precautions and care provided in a garden, so lowering the claims makes sense to avoid displeasure, considering the beauty of the seaviews in itself.


About Index. Noahs Garden – Soulgarden for Earthlovers. Ibiza. [consultado 18 de agosto 2020]

Elías Bonells, José. Jardines junto al mar de influencia marítima (2017). Blog: Jardines sin fronteras. [consultado 20 de agosto 2020]

jardin_ibicenco_black whiteThe Ibicencan Garden (I). A Brief History & Botanic Guide

The Ibicencan Garden (I). A Brief History & Botanic Guide

The garden and wild flora that we know today on the island has been largely the result of the different cultures that settled in the Pitiusas throughout history. The ships brought seeds and plants from distant lands that were used for the cultivation. Not all seeds germinated equally in the island’s clayey, calcareous soil, nor did those plants thrive to survive the arid climate without the help of an effective irrigation system. After several centuries, some of these plants managed to acclimatize better than others and have been included in the catalog of indigenous plants and are today considered endemic to Ibiza and Formentera.

Among the multitude of conquerors who came to Ibiza, three cultures in particular stood out because they had the greatest influence on the introduction of new species and agricultural systems:

1. The Phoenicians (1200 BC – 200 BC) were the great merchants of their time. They founded one of their most important colonies in Ibiza, which meant the true beginning of a solid settlement and cultivation on the island. Having under their control a vast trading network and interaction with other civilizations across the Mediterranean, the phoenicians introduced a large number of new crops and techniques to the island.

2. The Muslim conquest of Al-Andalus and the subsequent Caliphate of Córdoba (AD 900 – 1235) meant a new era of prosperity and abundance for Ibiza, which left two centuries of dark periods of changing dominance of the vandals behind. With the arrival of the Arabs, new plant and fruit tree species were introduced, but above all were the modern cultivation knowledge such as the cultivation of the terraces and the most advanced irrigation systems of their time.

3. New plants and a series of cacti came from the Spanish colonies of Latin America, which adapted perfectly to the island conditions and now make up a significant part of the native flora. These new species from the new continent have been used by the local population for a number of purposes.

Here you will find a short guide to the most characteristic trees, palm trees and cacti of the Ibizan Garden with a brief description of their origin and use:

Carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) – Its cultivation was extensive in the Arab era, but it is unknown if it is an indigenous tree. The fruits ripen in autumn acquiring a brown color. Carob was normally used as feed for livestock and was used to combat colds. Today considered a superfood and also used in the manufacture of medicines and cosmetics.

The carob trees provided shade in good times and nourishment in bad times. It was especially in the post-war period, when the general famine led to the harvest of a fruit that had hardly been considered before. Animal feed saved the lives of their owners, and later generations paid the debt with affection.

Carob Tree (Ibiza, 1956). Photo: Raoul Hausmann

Almond (Prunus dulcis) – growing wild 6,000 years ago, it began to be cultivated in Central Asia and was probably introduced to Ibiza by the Phoenicians. The almond tree had to be one of the first crops because it was very common in ancient times.

The tree adapted well to the light, calcareous, dry and stony soil of Ibiza as well as the temperate climate, with mild winters and little wind inside the island. It adapts so well in some areas of Ibiza that it blooms in early January. A beautiful natural phenomenon called the “snow” of Ibiza.

Giant Reed (Arundo donax) – was an everyday element of rural life in Ibiza, and came to the island from northern India and Nepal in the 16th century. The farmers used it for various purposes: for tomato plants to climb, to create enclosures for the animals and to create baskets. The cut reeds were later burned. The reed fields were regularly cut and kept under control, but when most of the field work was abandoned, this has led to unprecedented expansion of the reed, and this has recently become a problem for the island’s biodiversity.

The slender reed swaying in the wind in the dry waterbeds seems to beautify the landscape and to be a characteristic element of these habitats. It is incredibly hardy and sometimes even populates dry terrain or salt water lagoons (Ses Feixes).

Prickly Pear or Nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica) – is a cactus of Mexican origin, which was introduced by the Spanish conquistadors in Europe and is very common today. In the finca, it was used as a natural separation element, as a windbreak, as a primitive toilet or as a discrete waste disposal site.

The nopal has an anarchic growth form, which forms a complicated tangle of logs, on which flat blades covered with spikes grow one above the other in completely random order, from which grows a spherical fruit covered with thin, almost invisible needles. This fruit, called prickly pear, has been an important part of the local diet since its arrival on the island and the scoops have been used to heal injuries. Medicinal properties are attributed to the prickly pear. Today it is one of the most popular diabetes remedies. Their tender fruits are prepared liquefied with water or eaten raw or in a salad. The boiled root is also said to be a good remedy for gastritis and intestinal colic.

Holm oak or acorn (Quercus ilex) – formerly populated the forests of the Balearic Islands; but deforestation from the 17th to 20th centuries in Ibiza has led the holm oaks to be a rather rare tree. They are usually seen near rural farms for the use of their wood, which is highly valued for its hardness. This wood was used to make utensils and carriage, in addition to making charcoal. The acorns, are edible for both human and animal use and the bark was used for medicinal purposes, as healing and anti-inflammatory.

A close, bush-like relative, the Kermes oak (Quercus coccifera), is found in the interior of the island, feral near torrents and the forests surroundings.

The biggest holm oak on the island is the Bellotera de Can Carreró, located near Benirrás, seven meters high and a crown 20 meters wide.

Bellotera de Ca’n Carreró in Sant Miquel. © JOAN COSTA

Pomegranate (Punica granatum) – fruit tree of Asian origin, probably introduced by the Phoenicians or Carthaginians. In the past, a dark red pigment was extracted in the Balearic Islands to dye clothes, and the bark of the roots was used to fight intestinal parasites. The fruit is considered a superfood and powerful antioxidant, containing a large number of vitamins and minerals.

The pomegranate is a tree perfectly adapted to the climate of Ibiza and can be seen throughout the territory in the wild.

Fig tree (Ficus carica) – originally from Asia Minor and introduced by the Phoenicians. As an exceptional survivor, it grows easily even in poor or very calcareous dry areas, thanks to strong roots that slowly but steadily grow in depth to maintain groundwater. Indeed, it is recommended to plant the fig tree in an isolated place in the garden, away from the house and pool or any other structures, as it could easily lift the concrete over time.

The fig tree can grow both inside the island and on the coast. Because of its tendency to grow at low altitudes, it can withstand occasional strong winter winds. It should be noted that, apart from the nutritious fruits that we all know, fig trees offer a dense, fragrant shade under the tree top in the summer heat.

The listed fig tree known as na Blanca d’en Mestre, located in the extension of the camí vell de la Mola, in Formentera, is more than one hundred years old and has an enormous crown, supported by juniper struts, which reaches a horizontal surface of between 300 and 350 square meter.

Fig tree na Blanca d’en Mestre, in Formentera. Photo: Pilar Arcos

Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) – Plant native to China and Japan, probably introduced by the Arabs. Its adaptation is good to the Ibizan environment, but it appreciates the irrigation in the driest months.

It has been better known as an ornamental tree, but it produces a sweet and succulent oval fruit, with a flavor halfway between peach, citrus and mango. It is an excellent diuretic and helps to eliminate excess fluids in the body.

Lemon tree (Citrus × limon) – it is estimated that it originated in China and came to the Mediterranean via Greece. Like the loquat, it was originally used as an ornamental tree. It is one of the fruit trees that has best adapted to the island’s climate and requires minimal maintenance. Excellent source of vitamins and a strong alkalizing agent.

Olive (Olea europaea) – originally from the s. I a. C., reintroduced by the Phoenicians. The olive has sustained the Mediterranean for millennia, providing fruit, oil and wood and a sense of historical importance in its gnarled and ancient branches.

The most magnificent of the trees is an ancient olive tree known as n’Espanya, located in San Carlos. It is believed to be over 800 years old and with a perimeter of 10.5 meters, it is one of the oldest olive trees in the country.

Palm tree (Phoenix dactylifera) – original from North Africa and introduced by Punic peoples (Phoenicians and Carthaginians), where it was planted near water points to take advantage of its edible fruits, the dates – which are a great source of minerals, so It helps to recover muscles, ensures the proper functioning of the nervous system and strengthens bones and teeth.

Apart from its fruit it was appreciated for its elegance and beauty, reaching a considerable height. The palm tree was also a symbol of social status and was used to be planted individually or in groups near the house.

Llegada principal a la finca Can Mariano Prats

Sentry plant (Agave americana) – originally from Mexico and – like the prickly pears – introduced in the early 16th century. It is very drought-resistant, with the leaves forming a rosette at the bottom of the stem to guide the water to its base. The vegetable fiber is extracted from its large bluish green leaves to produce Ibiza’s historic footwear, the Espardenyes.

The cactus, locally called Pitrera, can live up to 100 years and only bloom once (monocarp). The flowering consists of a 5-10 meter high and branched stem with yellow flowers. When the flowers die, the plant dies. Fortunately, before dying, they tend to produce numerous shoots that spread easily.

Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) – native to Syria, today the most common tree on the island. The wood was mainly used for furniture and firewood, the bark was exported to dye leather, and the waterproof resin that was produced when the juice was cooked was used for shipbuilding and other household chores. This pine is considered to be very resistant and aggressive, colonizes the environment and acidifies the soil to such an extent that only a few species of shrubs and plants can survive in its shade. For this reason, the trees removed the jaws when they appeared in the fields of the cultivation.

Stone pine (Pinus pinea) – unlike the Aleppo pine, this grows very differently and requires more water. It is also a tree that is completely indigenous, Spain being the country with the most specimens in the world. Its prized fruits, pine nuts, are of great nutritional value and contain 2/3 of the proteins in veal meat.

The Pi ver d’en Besuró is the largest specimen on the island, featuring a 12-meter tall height with a 25 meter wide crown and around 100 years old.

Sabina (Juniperus phoenicea) – was introduced by the Phoenicians in ancient times. It offers extremely strong wood that helped build the island’s houses, villages and settlements, while the sap served as an insect repellent resin. The trees themselves were carefully cared for, gently cultivated and made to grow straight and strong.

It is possibly the most emblematic tree in Ibiza and is currently classified as the island’s cultural heritage. A group of ancient Sabinas are located near Sa Rota in Santa Eulalia, a unique tree complex that is listed and protected as a historical heritage.

Grapevines – also introduced by the Phoenicians, but saw the era of maximum popularity in the 19th century. Later the plague of phylloxera arrived in Ibiza and the cultivation decreased. However, the residents have never stopped growing wine. Today the cultivation has expanded massively and the wine that is produced in Ibiza has even attracted attention outside the island. The island offers small valleys surrounded by mountains that are very suitable for viticulture. The soil, which consists of limestone, Dolomites and marl, is mostly clayey.

The “Sant Mateu Wine Festival” is celebrated in December in the village of Sant Mateu, and at this festival, in which people from all over the island participate, the locals present the young wines.

In addition to this selection, other plants such as orange trees, apricots, plums and vines complete traditional agriculture. The wheat and other cereals were mown in May. The red clay soil is fertile as long as it has enough moisture. During the summer, when it is not raining, most of the fields remain unused. Few farmers grew vegetables. The islander’s demand was met by transports from the mainland, and the exports were predominantly the carob fruit and salt.

There are characteristic elements of infrastructure and irrigation that have been of great importance in promoting a more productive crop on the island. These techniques were largely introduced by the Arabs – since they came from the driest desert areas on the planet and had developed (the still) most effective methods of water extraction. These elements are the following:

Terraces – were introduced during the period of Muslim rule and are very common in the length and breadth of the mountainous landscape of the island. These are terraced stone walls along the sloping terrain to create horizontal areas that are suitable for cultivation. They were created in steep terrain of more than 30%, where horizontal excavations were not possible.

Cisterns – usually underground cisterns that are filled by collecting rainwater. They are used in places away from rivers where there are no springs and wells, or where the groundwater is hard and salty and cannot be used to supply people or animals.

Acequias – is an open trench or canal that was built for irrigation or water supply. With the particular development in Arabic culture, these constructions have affinities for use with the Roman aqueducts, although their main use is to irrigate orchards, plantations or fields, using the orography of the site for the distribution and management of water from the networks of the Main channel.

Wells – were developed to optimally use the groundwater before many groundwater veins were exhausted due to overuse and the desalination of sea water had to be used. Meetings and festivals took place around fountains and springs, symbols of life and regeneration in many peoples of the world.

All of these cultivations and constructions are reminiscent of the past of an agricultural island with poor soils, scarce water and a diverse population history. Centuries of invasions and looting followed by hunger and neglect led to a culture of resilience and ingenuity in Ibiza.

Globalization has facilitated access to materials and ideas on an unprecedented scale, but Ibiza’s cultural heritage is still very much alive as a model of self-sufficiency and connection with nature, which for many can be a fundamental part of personal well-being.


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