A good garden cannot be made by someone who does not know and love growing things… we just try to replicate the forms, shapes, mood and manners of nature. We humbly try to order and give life to the little space for which we have access.
— Miguel Urquijo
Visiting gardens with Miguel soon reveals his passions. Sometimes, long after completion, Miguel will suddenly appear on site, to the owners’ surprise. He examines plants carefully to check on progress and to consider evolution of the overall design. His love of plants developed while studying biology at the University of Buckingham. Miguel sums up the challenges of gardening in Spain, with its true Mediterranean climate.
Miguel says, Spain has taught the world about gardening for centuries. There’s no better model for minimal water use in a semi-arid climate than the Alhambra Gardens of the 13th century. Something can still be learned from Spanish gardens today.
Sustainability is the future for garden design, with a return to indigenous and well-adapted plants from other countries to create gardens that benefit people, wildlife and the environment. By modeling landscapes on native ecosystems, we are responsible stewards of the land.
Most of our work is in Spain’s central plateau at 600 meters plus. Annual rainfall is 14—20 inches, summer well into the 90°s, winters down to the 20°s and humidity may drop to 7%. However, we still believe that a garden that is not beautiful in summer is not a beautiful garden. To achieve this in our Mediterranean ecosystems, perennials play only a minor role and shrubs must be dominant.
Structure is essential and we work to build definition and well shaped plants. With such intensity of light, colours fade and without colour a garden must rely on other attributes like interplay between light and shade and mass and void.
Structure is also vital for other fundamental garden qualities: sequencing, contrast, rhythm, repetition and most importantly—connection and fluidity within the garden.
Miguel says he builds well defined structures with evergreen trees and shrubs like Pistacia lentiscus, Mastic tree, Arbutus unedo, Strawberry tree, Phillyrea, Green Olive tree, Myrtus, etc.
Miguel works closely with his wife and business partner Renate Kastner who studied at Hochschule Weihenstephan-Triesdorf, the leading school of horticulture and landscape in her native Germany.
Presentation One – Continental-Mediterranean Gardens: from Andalucian grandeur to ignoto (unexplored) gardening in Castile.
If the sky in Castile is so high it’s because the peasants have raised it after so much looking at it.
— Miguel Delibes (Spanish novelist)
A garden is an oasis, our small paradise… not a place for plants withered by hot summers but for pleasure all year round and for this, artificial irrigation is mandatory. Here is a photograph to consider—the Alhambra.
Concept / design characteristics: Structure links and holds the whole space. Use evergreen species with occasional flowering. Hard surfaces, paving and water bodies must be carefully designed and shade provides definition. In the absence of perennials, fine hardscaping such as stone ornament and decorative masonry create another type of garden.
Presentation Two – Interpreting the Site and Landscape Integration
Light determines colour and colour creates mood. In this Toledo garden we had a vast, imposing landscape, which we didn’t wish to confront. We had to define a space safe from animals and dry hot winds—to divide but not separate.
We chose plants in the scale of grey, silver and yellow to echo what we saw on the other side of the hedge. Textures are so important after ephemeral spring flowering and gravel tones seek to resemble ploughed fields. It should appear as though things had been removed rather than added. I feel we created a sense of place and of belonging, so that the eye travels easily from the garden to the landscape and back again.
How is this done?
We start with careful observation of the ‘building blocks’ in the area. Plants don’t make gardens as bricks don’t make houses; they are just part of a long list of building elements used for various purposes: for structure (vertical or horizontal), floor covering, shading, covering, reflecting or absorbing light, screening, refreshing, adding color, texture, movement, scent, etc. Knowing their origins and life cycles provides information and clues on how to use them.