With a four-leaf clover as its ensign, Gijón’s Atlantic Botanic Gardens celebrates its thirteen years of existence. It seems nowadays that the Botanic Gardens have been there forever, although it should be recalled that the initial project was greeted by scepticism in some quarters, as an impossible idea to accomplish. However, it seemed clear that the time would eventually come to provide protection and public use two natural monuments in Gijón/Xixón. On the one hand, the La Isla Garden created from 1870 on by local industrialist Florencio Valdésand linked to a private property which still stands in the grounds of the Botanic Gardens, though it houses outside activities.
La Isla itself is a jewel that allows visitors to appreciate the basics of gardening over the last 200 years. Its restoration has been enriched with collections of the most representative groups of ornamental plants. The second masterpiece of nature which in itself justifies the creation of the Botanic Gardens is the Carbayeda del Tragamón or Tragamón Oak Grove, with specimens of more than 400 years old, which has been included within the Atlantic Route.
This itinerary comprises one of the four areas or plant collections into which the Botanical Garden is divided. It offers a tour of the main plant landscapes of the North Atlantic, a recreation of the archetypal vegetation of different biomes of the European zone, namely the boreal and temperate biomes.
The variety, density and quality of the contents of the Botanic Garden is completed with two more collections in which visitors can come into contact with other plant varieties. One is the Cantabrian Environment, a botanical and scenic tour of the native species of this geographical area. The ancestral relationship of human communities with their surrounding plant life is also reflected in this area of the Botanic Garden in the so-called Quintana de Rionda, the recreation of a traditional Asturian farmstead. The farmstead comprises five architectural elements: the house where the family lived; the stable for animals; the cider press for cider making; the mill for grinding grain; and a panera or large raised granary-cum-storehouse in which food was stored and cured. The buildings of the Quintana de Rionda farmstead house permanent exhibits that explain the contents of the Botanic Gardens before the actual visit. They also introduce visitors to the fourth thematic area of the Gardens: the Plant Factory, a title that sums up the purpose of this area very well, namely to explain many aspects of the productive value of plants. These include fruits, vegetables, teas, aromatic and medicinal herbs, fruit trees, cereals and tubers that have changed the lives of humans.
The roots that the Botanic Gardens have put down over their thirteen years of existence have extended out to many spheres of society, from the simply curious to researchers and the thousands of students who visit each year to take advantage of their broad-ranging educational programme. The “Children’s Wood”, the “Passport to Nature” workshops and the different displays and teaching resources on offer have opened the doors to an exciting world for younger generations that is right there, on their very doorsteps. In addition, the Botanic Gardens boast a high-level research profile that links them to the best botanic gardens in the world through knowledge sharing. The germplasm bank, the herbarium donated by Father Laínz and the care of the botanic collections, both living and dead, are some of the missions of the team of scientists who oversee the daily life of this immense organism.
Yet the Botanic Gardens are much more than this… they are inexhaustible. They host concerts as well as public and private social events, organize courses, workshops, tours and guided visits, in addition to having their own plant shop and book shop. Founded at almost the same time, the Association of Friends of the Botanic Gardens provides substantial backing and collaboration via its contributions and the publicizing of the activities organized by the Gardens.
Thirteen years of putting down roots and harvesting abundant fruit… and hopefully many more still to come!