Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid

It’s warming up in Madrid – high 80s, low 90s. So we search for interesting things to do that get us out of the sun. A little later today we will visit the nearby Madrid Archaeological Museum. A few days ago, we escaped into the 20-acre oasis that is the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid, or the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid.

For a couple hours, we strolled its shaded paths marked by burbling fountains, parterre plantings, and impressive collections of palms, bulbs, medicinal plants, and more. A dense canopy of trees, some more than 100 years old, welcomed birds and buffered the heat and urban noise, though they were no match for chattering groups of school kids who charged by.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had a personal connection to this park.
This serene garden was founded along the banks of the Manzanares River by King Ferdinand VI in 1755. BTW, he was my 11th cousin 8 times removed. Unfortunately for my distant relative, he had a sad ending. When his beloved wife Barbara died, it broke his heart. He often wandered his park unshaven, unwashed, and in a nightgown until he died in 1759.

In 1774, King Charles III, a much-beloved monarch (and my 11th cousin 10 times removed) moved the garden to its current location, a short walk from the Prado Museum and Retiro Park. It opened to the public in 1781.

The Royal Botanical Gardens had and still has a dual purpose: not only to showcase plants, but also to educate visitors about botany. It promoted expeditions especially to Spanish colonies in the 18th century to discover new plant species and classify them. In 1794, it received a significant boost when Alessandro Malaspina brought back a collection of 10,000 plants from his travels.

Today, the Botanical Garden boasts 90,000 plants,1,500 trees, and five greenhouses filled with non-endemic species. As we strolled the garden, workers were busy replacing spent displays of tulips, iris, and other spring blooms. Not much else was in flower, but it was still a joy to claim a bench and relax with other visitors lost in conversation or a good book. Busy-body magpies entertained, gliding through the jasmine-scented air. It was a splendid way to spend an afternoon, refreshing body and soul, on a sultry Madrid day.