In case my view of Madeira’s mountains have given the impression the island is austere and bleak, it is far from it. And although we were there in December a surprising number of plants were flowering in bright, cheerful colours.
Bird of paradise flowers bloomed abundantly including in our hotel garden (where bananas were also growing), and the local market was radiant with containers of them. We almost expected these distinctive flowers to flap their petals and utter parrot-like squawks as we passed.
Hydrangeas are said to be plentiful. Very probably. But beyond several bushes, with flowers fading, in the garden of our hotel, I wasn’t aware of other plants, though without their distinctive flowers I probably wouldn’t have noticed the
Flowers of the agapanthus, though the strap-like leaves of these pest-hardy perennials can be seen everywhere, were few and far between. The wrong season, no doubt. We were told they had been copiously planted beside roads and on verges around the island as their proliferous, deep roots and their invasive habit bind the earth and stop it leaching away in rain, leaving road edges vulnerable to crumbling. Not what is wanted in roads clinging to mountainsides. So a useful as well as a beautiful plant, though I was surprised to learn that in some countries agapanthus is classed as an environmental weed.
Orchids, which in Scotland are quite definitely house or hot-house plants, grew in profusion in the garden at Monte, and we also saw a wonderful display in a sheltered area of a hotel garden — and this was in December. It seemed unbelievable to us.
Though, given the Japanese nature of the garden, with its red bridges and structures, the orchids didn’t seem totally at home.
Our December holiday obviously only provided a hint of Madeira’s floral treasures. In conversation with a member of the travel agent staff, she told us that in May the whole island bursts into a riot of colour and perfume. One year, she bet a friend she could find her way from the hotel where she worked to her home blindfolded (though accompanied by her friend), using the heady scent of flowers and shrubs to guide her. She won the bet.
Those of you who stay in warmer places will probably recognise many of these flowers, but I stay in an area where only the hardiest of plants survive. The winter jasmine has flowered profusely this winter as, so far, rain has supplanted the usual frosts and snow. But beyond that we have the green of conifers, the russets of beech hedges, but nothing in the way of flowers until the aconites and snowdrops decide to peek through.
So seeing such a plethora of bright blooms on holiday is enormously cheering. Blooming cheerful, in fact.