The Alameda Gardens Wildlife Park
The military emphasis on Gibraltar’s history meant that it was not until early in the 19th century that much consideration was given by the military governor of the Colony to the social needs of its civilian inhabitants. General Sir George Don, Lieutenant-Governor of Gibraltar, was perhaps the first since the British and Dutch joint taking of Gibraltar in 1704 to dedicate significant resources to the public well-being. This included the founding of a new civilian hospital.
In 1815, considering that “there being no place of public recreation in this Garrison” he “was induced...to establish a walk around the Grand Parade, and form what is called in this country an Alameda, where the inhabitants might enjoy the air protected from the extreme heat of the sun”. In order to avoid public expenditure, the gardens were laid out with voluntary contributions, including some from the Amateur Theatre and monies raised by a series of public lotteries.
The Grand Parade was an assembly ground situated to the south of the town of Gibraltar in an area which had been a “desert of red sand”, used as a raw material in construction within the town. Parts of the area had been used as a vegetable gardens for the forces during the sieges, and parts as cemeteries. The shoreline here had been the easiest access for landings until a fortified wall was built along the shore and had been used to great effect by the Moors in defeating Enrique de Guzman, Second Count Niebla, in 1435.
Grand Parade was the hub of military activity for over a hundred years. The changing of the guard was held there every week and the site was used for ceremonial occasions. To this day two 10 inch RML guns on slides overlook Grand Parade from the east.
The promenade around the Parade was gradually expanded to include about 8 hectares of land in what became known as the Alameda Gardens. Alameda is derived from the Spanish word “Alamo”, or White Poplar Populus alba, and old writings mention these trees growing along the Grand Parade. The walks opened to the public on 14th April 1816. The Gibraltar Chronicle covered the event thus: “The walks at the New Alameda being completed they will be opened to the public tomorrow afternoon, at 4 o’clock, when three bands of music will attend”.
The gardens were laid out with numerous interconnecting paths and terraced beds, set out mainly with native Jurassic limestone rock, much of it tinted by the local red sand. Dry stone walls and retaining walls were also made out of the local rock.
A number of features were gradually added to the gardens, most reflecting historical facts or personalities. Thus late in 1815 General Don had requested of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Earl Bathurst, permission to construct a rotunda with a memorial to General Sir George Augustus Eliott. This did not materialise in the form originally requested, but a “colossal” statue of General Eliott, carved from the bowsprit of the Spanish man-o-war San Juan, taken at Trafalgar was placed at the top of the Heathfield Steps, leading up to the south of Grand Parade. That statue was taken to the Convent, the Governor’s residence, where it stands today, when a bronze bust of General Eliott replaced it in 1858. It stands on a marble pillar and was presented to Gibraltar by a descendant of the General.
Three years after the opening of the Alameda, on April 1819, Sir George Don, accompanied by the Naval, Military and Civil officers of the Garrison, went to the gardens to unveil the bust of The Duke of Wellington. A Guard of Honour and four bands attended. The monument had been funded by deducting a day’s pay from all the members of the garrison. The bust had been cast in bronze under the direction of a Mr Westmacott from guns captured by the Duke of Wellington. It stands on a marble pillar that had been brought from the Roman ruins of Lepida (Libya).
Like elsewhere in Gibraltar, sites within the gardens have been used to display examples of guns used in Gibraltar or connected with British military history. Thus around Eliott’s column are placed three 10 inch howitzers made in 1783 and one 8 inch howitzer dating from 1778. Around Wellington’s column stand two 13 inch mortars with shells and a 1758 bronze 12 pounder gun on a wooden garrison carriage.
Improvements through the early years included the introduction of gas lighting along the west side of Grand Parade and the erection, possibly in 1842, of an archway made out of the jaws of a whale.
During the middle years of the 19th Century, the head gardener and horticulturist of the Alameda was a Guiseppe Codali, a Genoese gardener who was brought to Gibraltar specifically to work in the gardens. His Italian influence can be seen particularly in the bridge and sunken garden (The Dell) in the centre of the Alameda, opened on the 24th September 1842 and re-inaugurated 150 years later on 24th September 1992.
On 16th February 1912 the Governor, Sir Archibald Hunter, laid the foundation stone of a bandstand, which was ready by 24th May of the same year, when the first Gibraltar Fair was held. The promenade where this stood was renamed “The Kingsway”. Sadly, this part of the Alameda was disappeared after the Second World War to make way for accommodation for the returning evacuees. Originally it was planned to build over the whole of the Alameda, but fortunately only the lower third was used for construction.
The main plants of the Alameda Gardens from the earliest days were the Stone Pine Pinus Pinea, the wild Olive Olea europaea, and the Dragon Tree Dracaena draco. It would appear that some of these trees, which still survive, pre-date the opening of the garden and thus are at least 200 years old. Planting subsequent to this had included notably species from South Africa (e.g. Plumbago capensis, Aloe arborescens, capensis, Tecomaria capensis) and Australia (e.g. Melaleuca decussata), possibly as a result of shipping contact between Gibraltar and the other colonies en route to Australia.
Since 1991, the restoration of the Alameda as a Botanic Garden has been in the hands of Wildlife (Gibraltar) Ltd., on contract to the Government of Gibraltar. The aim is to develop the gardens in ways that will enhance enjoyment, conservation and education, so that its future will be even richer than its past.
PLANTS OF THE GARDENS
The plants of the Alameda Gardens are a combination of native species and others brought in from abroad, often from former British territories like Australia and South Africa with which Gibraltar gad maritime links at the time of the British Empire. Since 1991 many new species have been planted, some growing in Gibraltar for the first time.
The Dragon Tree comes from the Atlantic Islands of the Canaries, Madeira and Cape Verde. It is an unusual member of the lily family. The red resin which quickly crystalises was used medicinally and known as Dragon’s Blood. The smooth grey bark is reminiscent of an elephant’s hide. Its panicles of showy white flowers appear irregularly in summer and produce bright orange berry-like fruit in winter. The oldest dragon tree in the gardens is probably about 300 years old, though there are claims that they live upwards of 1000 years.
This is a native of the Mediterranean where it favours sandy coastal locations. The pine nuts produced in the rounded cones are edible. Roasted and sugar-coated these “pinones” are a delicacy. The cones and nuts in the gardens are often eaten by frugivorous tree rats Rattus rattus frugivorous before they fall to the ground. The outer surface of the bark of this tree in the gardens being about 200 years old. The Aleppo Pine Pinus halepensis is less common in the gardens. It has pointed cones, winged, inedible seeds and more finely marked bark than the Stone Pine.
There is one large Canary Island Pine Pinus canariensis in the upper part of the garden.
The most common tree in the Alameda, the wild olive, produces small white flowers in summer followed by small black olives in winter. Too bitter for human consumption, it is a favourite food of wintering birds, including blackcaps. The wood is strong and hard wearing.
This tree is the ancestor of the cultivated olive tree.
Related to the elms, this tree has nettle-shaped leaves that do not sting. Probably native to Gibraltar where it will have formed part of the ancient woodland that covered what is now the Town. A deciduous tree with bright green foliage in spring that turns darker as summer progresses. Its grey bark is smooth. There is a Nettle tree in the centre of the Lions Pond.
AUSTRALIAN SILK OAK
There is only one specimen of this tree in the gardens, on the lower southernmost area (Atlantic Island Bed). Its springtime flowering is spectacular with orange and red flowers producing copious amounts of nectar (taste it) which attracts bees and birds.
CANARY ISLAND DATE PALM
The common palm of Gibraltar. A native of the Canary Islands. It has long fronds and orange, inedible dates.
Large, fan-leaved palm from the deserts of North America. One of the two large specimens in the Dell has retained its “petticoat” of old leaves.
LORD HOWE ISLAND PALM
Two of these attractive palms grow in the Dell above the bridge. They were reputedly donated to the gardens as young plants by an elderly lady the day she was evacuated in 1941, during the Second World War.
Other species of palm are being added to the garden’s collection.
Also known as “Rose of China”, many attractive varieties of this tropical shrub grow in the gardens, notably in the Hibiscus Bed and in the Dell where there are a number of especially beautiful large-flowered forms. The Hibiscus bed also holds other species of Hibiscus, including the Swamp Mallow Hibiscus moscheutos and the Fringed Hibiscus Hibiscusschitzopetalus, as well as other members of the Hibiscus, or Mallow, Family, the Malvaceae.
Named after French explorer Louis de Bougainville, these showy scramblers come from tropical south America. Of the various varieties growing in the gardens, the purple and deep red are the most spectacular, especially during their main flowering period in summer. The colour is provided by modified leaves called bracts, while the white flowers are small and insignificant.
There are numerous members of this family in the gardens. The small bright blue flowers with yellow centres are Felicia from southern Africa. All-yellow daisies are Euryops, which are also south African. Also from that region are the grey-leaved squat Gazania and the shrubbier Arctotis (often with orange flowers).
Rounded bushes with white flowers with yellow centres in early spring are the Canary Island daisies Chrysanthemum frutescens. A climbing daisy Montanoaschotii and a tree daisy Montanoa bipinnatifida, from Mexico, can also be seen.
CLIMBERS, CREEPERS AND SCRAMBLERS
A number of other climbers, creepers and scramblers are common in the gardens, often shaped into hedges. With bright orange tubular flowers is the Cape Honeysuckle Tecomaria capensis, from South Africa. Also South African is the pale blue flowered Leadwort Plumbago capensis.
There is a Chinese Wisteria Wisteria sinensis over the upper fountain in the Dell, while on the bridge grow Bougainvillea, Lantana and Wisteria as well as Golden Chalice Solandra maxima and the Australian Native Wisteria Hardenbergia comptoniana. Scattered about the gardens are a number of honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum, Jasmine Jasminum spp. and Jessamine (or “Dama de Noche”) Cestrum nocturnum, with its intense scent of summer evenings.
SHRUBS AND BULBS
Some of the more obvious shrubs of the gardens include Oleanders Nerium oleander, with pink, white or yellowish flowers in summer, the Blue Butterfly Bush Buddleja davidii with pale blue flowers in late winter and the native Shrubby Scorpion Vetch Coronilla valentina with
sweet-scented bright yellow flowers in late winter and early spring. One traditional plant of the Alameda which has been re-planted in various areas is the Heliotrope or Heliotropiumarborescens which has pale blue flowers and an overpowering cherry-pie scent. The Bugloss Echium spp. is another shrub with attractive blue flowers. In late summer the pink trumpets of the Bella Donna Lilies Amaryllis bella-donna appear from the dry ground. In winter and spring dark green clusters of leaves show instead. Agapanthus Agapanthus africanus, with blue flowers and Antholyza aethiopica, with orange flowers are another two southern African bulbous plants of the Alameda.
Commonly known as geraniums, these plants, which mainly originate in South Africa do well in Gibraltar’s similar climate. A number of cultivated varieties grow around the gardens, while true species can be seen in certain areas. These include the attractive oak-leaved pelargonium Pelargonium quercifolium and other species with scented leaves like P.tomentosum and P. fragrantissimum.
Several beds are dedicated to succulents from the dry regions of the world. Many plant families have developed some form of succulent habit. The best represented in The Alameda include:
Aloes, which are mainly southern African and have spikes of tubular, often red flowers. These are pollinated by sunbirds in Africa and also attract birds in Gibraltar to feed on their copious nectar. The most common is the Tree Aloe Aloe arborescens which flowers in winter.
Cacti are almost exclusively American and include the pad-like Opuntia, the columnar species like Cleistocactus jujuyensis, the cushion-like Echinocactus grusonii and the climbing species with large night-opening flowers like Hylacereus undatus candelabrum.
Euphorbias, or spurges have many forms, including ones, like Euphorbia candelabrum that resemble columnar cacti. Other forms to be seen on the main succulent bed are represented by, for example, Euphorbia stenoclada and E. milii hislopii. The small succulent bed near the Theatre is dedicated to plants of the Sonoran Desert in North America.
GIBRALTAR AND MEDITERRANEAN PLANTS
Wild plants are to be found in locations throughout the gardens, with some beds being particularly dedicated to them. Gibraltar plants to be seen include the Gibraltar Candytuft Iberis gibraltarica, the Gibraltar Restharrow Ononis natrix and the very rare Gibraltar Campion Silene tomentosa.
The Mediterranean Bed in particular has typical species including lavenders and Cistus sun roses, as well as leguminous shrubs and bulbous or rhizomatous plants like the Paper-whiteNarcissus Narcissus papyraceus, Giant Squill Scilla peruviana and asphodels Asphodelus spp.
Some of the other beds are dedicated to the plants of California, Australia, South Africa, and the Canary Islands, regions with a climate similar to Gibraltar’s. The Family Beds display plants according to selected plant families.
SITES IN THE GARDENS
The Eliott Memorial
The bust of General George Augusts Eliott, later Lord Heathfield, was erected in 1858 to replace the wooden statue of the General originally erected in 1816. Around the memorial are four howitzers.
The Wellington Memorial
The memorial to the Duke of Wellington, atop a Roman pillar brought from the ruins of Lepida (Lybia) was erected in 1819. Two mortars flank the column and a gun stands facing the Bay to the west.
Laid out by a Genoese gardener in 1842 this Italian style garden was restored in 1992. Notable are the two fountains dating from early in the 20th Century and the waterfall and pond with a selection of lilies and marginal plants including Papyrus. Goldfish, frogs and terrapins share the pond. Plants of note are Hibiscus, Bougainvillea, Jasmine, Jessamine, Wisteria and palms. Plants traditionally grown indoors, like several species of tropical ferns are perfectly at home in the rockeries alongside the stream.
The 17th Century Stone Cottage, once the head gardener’s residence, has been restored to include a display on the botany and natural history of Gibraltar and the gardens in particular, including the history of the Alameda.
The Nature Shop
Plants, seeds and gardening sundries can be obtained from The Nature Shop. So too can gifts and cards, as well as a wide range of books on natural history and gardening.
Open Air Theatre
The Open Air Theatre boasts an expanse of open water that holds a collection of tropical water lilies. It is open on special occasions and for functions, stage performances and concerts.
Endangered Animal Unit
Open to the public only by prior arrangement, this Unit, run by the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society, holds species that have been rescued from illegal trade.
Wildlife in the Gardens
Herbicides and pesticides are not generally used in the Alameda, and so there is a rich wildlife. Bird species nesting within the gardens include Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Blackbird, Robin, Greenfinch, Serin and Wren. Winter additions include Grey and White Wagtail, Chifchaff, Black Redstart, Chaffinch, Short-toed Treecreeper and occasionally Kingfisher, while notable birds of passage periods are Hoopoe, Redstart, Woodchat Shrike and flycatchers. Kestrel (throughout the year) and Booted Eagle (in winter) regularly hunt in the grounds. Reptiles include the Moorish Gecko, Iberian Wall Lizard, Amphisbaenian and the harmless Horseshoe Whip Snake.
Of the bats, the Pipistrelle is the commonest (often seen during the day), while Schreiber’s Bat and the European Free-tailed Bat can also be seen.
The Alameda Gardens are peat-free. Coconut fibre and our own composted material is used in order not to foster the destruction of peat bogs in northern Europe, which are important wildlife habitats.ALAMEDA OPEN AIR THEATRE - ALAMEDA BOTANIC GARDENS
The Alameda Gardens were opened to the public on 14th April, 1816. They were the brainchild of Lieutenant Governor George Don, who wanted to provide an area for recreation for the residents of Gibraltar. Part of the money for the laying out of the gardens was raised through the amateur theatre in Gibraltar, so that the connection of the Alameda with theatre predates the gardens themselves.
Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s the gardens were host to regular band concerts, but there is no record of a theatrical performance as such until 1962 when, at the suggestion of Norman Cumming of the Gibraltar Tourist Office, a temporary wooden stage was erected for a performance of Fuente Ovejuna by Lope de Vega by Group 56.
The idea of an open air theatre in the Alameda took on and in 1964 what was meant to be a permanent theatre was constructed by the Corps of Royal Engineers. This proved popular for some years. Theatrical performances included Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, again by Group 56 and Librada al Aire Libre en la Alameda by Gibraltarian Elio Cruz. In 1972 Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar was presented.
The Alameda Gardens fell into a state of disrepair soon after and the theatre, also subjected to vandalism fell into ruin. The seating areas collapsed, the stage was badly cracked and weeds and rubbish accumulated.
Soon after, Wildlife (Gibraltar) Limited, a firm of Evironmental Consultants and Managers was contracted by the Government of Gibraltar to manage the gardens and convert them into the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens, the task of restoring the theatre began.
In order to extend its use from just theatre to general use, a number of new features were introduced, like the waterfall and lake - the largest area of open fresh water on the Rock, with Koi Carp and a collection of exotic water lilies and grassed terraces. The seating area and stage have also been restored.
The Alameda Open Theatre was inaugurated once again on 14th April, 1996 at four o’clock with three bands of music playing - the same number of bands as had attended 180 years before to the hour at the opening of the Alameda Gardens in 1816. Since its opening, this venue has been used for a variety of purposes, from beauty contests to band concerts, also weddings, dinner dances, conferences and variety shows. All proceeds will go directly into continued improvements here and in the rest of Gibraltar’s historic and rapidly improving Alameda Gardens.
Useful information about the theatre and its facilities:
Seating Capacity: 435
Stage Area: 120 sq. mtrs.
Lighting Equipment: 24 Wide and Beams with coloured filters if required
3 stage and 3 public entrances
Bar, changing rooms and toilet facilities
Seating with tables maximum capacity: 300