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Gardenlust: Jardins de la Rambla de Sants in Barcelona, Spain

by Timber Press on September 25, 2018

in Design, Gardening

A crowded part of the city now has a place to see itself from a new vantage point, flowers to smell, and somewhere safe to walk. A garden.

Sergi Godia, Ana Molino • 12 acres (4.9 hectares) • 2016

When barcelona set out to create an elevated park, Los Jardins de la Rambla de Sants (the Elevated Gardens of Sants), which has been called “the Spanish High Line” after the High Line in New York City, it did so with a unique, socially conscious, and egalitarian goal in mind: joining two working-class and ethnically diverse communities divided by a busy railroad line.

Without the luxury of starting with an unused but charming rail line, as in New York, the Barcelona architects opted to build a support structure and new deck over active tracks and, in doing so, have created an entirely new recreational space where none existed before. It is not without controversy, but then few public works ever are. Locals are rightfully wary of green gentrification—the gift that keeps on taking.

To cover the rail lines, Godia and Molina designed a long, rectangular armature of prefabricated concrete diagonal beams. These give the impression that the park is resting on a series of triangles, which in turn create a pleasing rhythm when viewed into the distance. It makes the intervention feel like some sort of modern-day aqueduct bringing life deep into the center of the city. Glazing is used to fill open areas in the geometry, so trains can be seen but not heard. Vines, trained on wires, will gradually grow up these concrete cages, creating a veritable hanging garden.

The roof of the enclosure creates the footpath of the promenade, 40 feet (12 meters) high at its highest. A total of 875 linear feet (267 meters) of garden is separated by paths into a shaded area along the north side and a permanently sunny area along the south. Pergolas fitted with plenty of benches, roofed with photovoltaic panels, provide resting places. A gateway—or umbraculum, to be correct about it—forms the entrance from the Plaza de Sants. To give the eye visual pauses along the length of the garden, the plantings are massed in rectangular and curving, rising and falling, beds that break up the rectilinear path. Flowering from late winter into late autumn, a bright red, bushy, evergreen sage, Salvia ‘Royal Bumble’, with almost black stems and calyxes, fills a good part of the sunny borders. It’s a luscious thing, all velvety and soft, buzzing with bees.

Lantana montevidensis ‘Alba’ is a low-growing plant that gets about 2 feet (0.6 meter) tall and trails to 10 feet (3 meters). It is a tough ground cover for sunny, hot areas that blooms profusely and continuously.

A cooler color proliferates with Teucrium fruticans ‘Azureum’, a silvery shrub about 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall with deep blue flowers for most of the year except the dead of winter. It is native to Spain and Portugal and is often seen pruned into globes and other unfathomable topiaries. In this garden, it rests happily in a large mass, pruned but not absurdly. Trees are a necessity anywhere people might want to gather in the hard Catalan sun, and here the apricot-colored flowers of tipuana (Tipuana tipu), a large tree native to South America, add beauty to the large canopy. The golden raintree, Koelreuteria paniculata, is also used because it’s a good choice for hot sun and poor soil. As its common name suggests, yellow flowers in great profusion bloom from the tips of the branches, the spent blossoms covering the ground when the wind blows. In late spring, Malus ‘Evereste’, a crab apple with red flower buds opening to white flowers, marks the turning of the cool season to the hot Mediterranean summer.

Shrubs, such as Cistus albidus, native to Spain, with gray leaves and purple-pink flowers, the white-flowering tree heather Erica arborea, and Lantana montevidensis ‘Alba’, with trailing white flowers, complete the well-thought-out understory.


Christopher Woods began his gardening life at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. He was director and chief designer of Chanticleer, and he has served as vice president for horticulture at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden; director of the Van Dusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Canada; executive director of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden; and director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Meadowbrook Farm.


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