Pazo Da Saleta: Mystical Shrine and Magic Meadow

Late 19th Century and mid 20th Century
Source Countries: Spain (Galicia) and Britain

by Stephen Utick

Pazo Da Saleta, Mystical Shrine and Magic Meadow

Pazo Da Saleta, Mystical Shrine and Magic Meadow

Gardens can sometimes be the product of diverse cultural influences. The camellia gardens and broader botanical collection of Pazo da Saleta at Meis in Spanish Galicia is a remarkable blend of mystical shrine and magic camellia meadow reflecting two stages of its history. During the nineteenth century, the devoutly Catholic Colonel Severo Pérez Cardecid enhanced his rustic Pazo beween 1863 and 1879 by constructing a chapel in honour of the Virgin Mary, celebrating a reputed apparition to two French children at La Salette-Fallaraux in France in 1846. The chapel’s extroadinary altarpiece with its figure carvings was built by Manual Magasiñas, 1870. Many other features of this old property date from this period including a granary house (hórreo) and an octagonal pigeon house, both made of stone.

In 1968, an English couple Robert and Margaret Gimson acquired the old property with every intention of turning its two hectares into a heaven of a horticultural kind. Aided by landscape architect Brenda Colvin, they planted oaks, eucalyptus, rhododrendron, and a wide range of botanical specimens from Myrtaceae, Proteacae and Ericaceae from across the world including from Australia, South America and South Africa. It was however for camellias that the Gimsons developed a particular passion, with their blooms winning national prizes at Spanish camellia shows. The tea meadow and oak forest of Saleta now feature hundreds of camellias, including stunning reticulatas such as ‘Mouchang’ and ‘Mandalay Queen’. However, the most significant legacy of the Gimsons is a wonderful collection of rarer Camellia x. williamsii hybrids (that is hybrids as a result of crosses between Camellia saluenensis and Camellia japonica) – featured in the tea meadow. Given the Gimson’s own national background, this reflects the legacy of twentieth century British horticulturalist John Charles Williams who commenced hybrisation with saluenensis during the 1930s.

Saleta’s collection is therefore of considerable significance in the history of camellia gardens, not least for its mystical element. Before their own passing, Gimsons possibly felt some spiritual satisfaction with their achievements and re-instituted a traditional religious celebration in the chapel of the Virgin once annually. In this way the two phases of this garden’s history could be harmoniusly blended. Pazo da Saleta is one of twelve historic camellia parks and gardens featured as part of Galicia’s Ruta da Camelia (the Camellia Route).

Sources: Notes taken by Stephen Utick, Post-Congress Tour, ICS Congress Pontevedra, 2014. See also Sociedad Española de la Camelia, Concello De Vigo and Xunta De Galicia 2014, Pazo da Saleta (Camelia Galicia) brochure; Sociedad Española de la Camelia, 2014. Photography by Jenny Donohoe, Jim Powell and Stephen Utick.

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