A certain someone was celebrating a big birthday so I suggested we escape the cold and go to Madeira. No self-interest there but it just so happens that the island has some beautiful gardens, among them Monte.
I say beautiful (and it is) but the real impression you get from Monte is of theatre, the main stage being the giant waterfall and lake which forms the centrepiece of the garden, and the players being the Australian tree ferns, Cycas revoluta and redwoods. There are smaller stages too, like the two oriental gardens with lipstick red balustrades and pagodas, Fo dogs guarding the entrances.
Landscapes that ascend and descend sharply always grab me so this tropical garden on a lush, fern clad mountainside was instantly likeable. The great view is looking out and down towards Funchal harbour, a scene you can glimpse from many points. Actually the great views are all looking down, onto the enormous lacy leaves of Cyathea cooperi and Cyathea australis, onto the lake, the pagoda, Buddhist sculptures and Koi pond.
Kitsch? Maybe. Of course it’s a mish mash of different styles, with plants from all over the world brought back by Portuguese explorers. But that is true of the island as a whole - the joy of Monte is the way it showcases an all star cast of non-native species alongside indigenous taxa without clashes. It’s a terrific performance on a very cleverly designed stage. Go if you can.