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  • : frank beswick
  • : The blog of Frank Beswick. It deals with my interests in religious, philosophical spiritual matters and horticulture/self-reliance
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August 24 2017 5 24 /08 /August /2017 09:13

I have just returned from a lovely break in Lisbon, where we visited the national Botanic Garden, which is the oldest botanic garden in Portugal.What a lovely place! It is quietly set back from main roads so that you might miss it if you did not know that it was there, but it is quiet, except for the peacocks a-calling to their mates.Entry is very affordable. Maureen paid two euros and I as a "senior" paid only one. 

I was struck by how well-maintained the garden is. It is technically an arboretum, a garden dedicated to trees, but the grassy space between the trees is well-trimmed and the gardening is clearly of professional standard. There are many box hedges whose trimming is exact. What impressed me is the dedication to proper labeling. When it is necessary to name a plant you have a plaque giving all the technical terms necessary to its identification :genus, species, subspecies, family, habitat

On entry you are struck by a fine avenue of trees that re native to Portuguese territories overseas. You see a Bhodi tree, the type of tree under which the Buddha sat as he received his enlightenment. It towers massively over you, tall and slender. There are colossal tree ferns that were extant when the dinosaurs ranged the earth. The avenue has a fine collection of palm trees of a wide range of species. 

But the garden is rich in cycads. These look like palms, but they are  different and are a primeval kind of tree older than palms. Found in Australasia they have cylindrical trunks and a palm-like rosette of leaves on top. They are one of the two relict orders of trees that have struggled to  survive the dominance of gymnosperms and angiosperms, the others being Gnetales and Gingko. Their seeds are neuro-toxic  and so should not be eaten.Their seeds are akin to the seeds of the gymnosperms, as unlike angiosperm seeds they are naked

The garden is in two layers, the upper garden being the old palace gardens of the Portuguese king. Some of the old place buildings remain. There is also the official residence of the president of the republic in thee garden grounds.  Flowers are not the main element in the garden, but there is a long bed of agapanthus and bilbergia. There is a variety of shrubs, of which Wisteria springs to mind. 

Altogether this is a very enjoyable place to visit and I certainly recommend it to anyone visiting Lisbon. It is in the area known as Belem, a lovely area with a number of cultural attractions easily accessible from Lisbon centre by tram or bus, which take you down the coast in a straight run where you alight near a massive, unmissable and beautiful ex-monastery. 

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Derdriu Marriner 08/26/2017 16:25

FrankBeswick,
Thank you for the answers, especially regarding chestnuts. Your post came out about the same time that I was reading Ana Patuleia Ortins' Authentic Portuguese Cooking. She includes chestnut recipes. In researching chestnuts online, I read an article that seemed predominantly reliable, but possibly questionable in attributing sweet chestnut existences in the United Kingdom to imports from the isles' ally and friend, Portugal. Your answer tells me that the article confused sweet with horse chestnuts in that one instance.

Derdriu Marriner 08/24/2017 17:24

FrankBeswick,
Does the bodhi tree represent Goa? What represents East Timor and Macau? Would the Belém monastery be the place where the poet Fernando Pessoa was buried?
Somewhere I remember reading that some of the United Kingdom's chestnut trees descend from imports from northern Portugal, some 100 to 300 years before Catherine of Braganza's queenship. Is that fact or fiction?

frankbeswick 08/25/2017 10:35

I have done some research on Chestnuts.The horse chestnut is a Balkan species, but it makes sense to think that it came to Britain via a series of land hops and Portugal's being one of them makes sense. England and Portugal are nations that have over history been friends and allies, and much interaction has passed between them, and that might mean that plants from Portugal were imported to Britain. The horse chestnut arrived in the early 1600s, and Catherine of Braganza was queen from 1662-1685. So the horse chestnut arrived in the century in which she was queen. Note that I say horse chestnut, for the sweet chestnut was introduced by the Romans. It grows near where I live, but I don't think it sets seed reliably, possibly because the north western English climate is not ideal for it.

frankbeswick 08/24/2017 20:14

I have done some more research and have discovered that Fernando Pessoa was buried in the Geronimite monastery at Belem. The Geronimite order, the order of St Jerome, is now extinct and the monastery is a cultural institution.

frankbeswick 08/24/2017 19:27

The Bodhi tree is a Buddhist symbol, but it might have come via Goa, as it is a species found in South India. I am unsure about which plants represent East Timor and Macau, but there are probably few from the latter. East Timor is geologically connected to Australia, so the cycads might represent it. Pessoa was buried in the family vault, but where that was I don't know. I don't know the answer on the chestnuts, but horse chestnuts are definitely an import to Britain.

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