Amalia Robredo’s Meadow, Maldonado, Uruguay

Armadillos in the Undergrowth

Words: Noel Kingsbury

Almost like a castle, La Pasionara, the home that the Uruguayan garden designer Amalia Robredo and Marcelo Sterman built 10 years ago, pokes up above a dense mass of low wind-shaped woodland – known locally as monte.

In contrast to most of their neighbours on Uruguay’s fashionable Maldonado coast, they have kept much of the monte and created meadows rich in indigenous grasses and wildflowers.

There is a rough marshland area of pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) and yellow Senecio brasilensis.   This is intended as a minimal-maintenance wildlife area much as many British gardeners create – though rather more exotic: armadillos and poisonous snakes consort with very noisy frogs.

With no native plants available to buy in garden nurseries – indeed there wasn’t even a guide book to the local flora – Amalia who is very much the new designer to watch set to work collecting seed and pressing specimens.  She asked botanists at the University of Montevideo to identify the plants and then trialled them in her garden.  Finally, with a number of grants, the first illustrated guide to the local flora was published. Now she wants to spread the word to colleagues from both Uruguay and Argentina.

Below the canopy of the monte Amalia has carved a series of narrow paths through the trees, incorporating seating and dining areas as well as a children’s playground.

Similar to the low woodland found in many coastal areas, the monte is windproof unless cut in to, so she is very careful in how she makes access paths. At ground level, indigenous flora, mostly ferns though cactus too, mingle with a number of introduced perennials.

Amalia’s family home is only just visible above the monte.  From here paths stretch out over the five hectare garden through a number of grassland areas.  Each of these is managed in a different way so that Amalia can see what different plant combinations develop.

Short spring-flowering prado is kept cut through the long hot summer – good to have around seating and recreational areas as snakes do not willingly cross it. Coarser textured pradera only gets cut once every one or two years, and is dominated by late summer flowering perennials.

The grass Deyeuxia alba makes a good early summer show in prado grassland. Uruguay is very rich in grass species, many of them garden worthy. Amalia is encouraging nurseries to grow more of them.

A mix of native and introduced species surrounds the house, helping to blend with the garden. From the windows the top of the monte acts as a lush green foreground for spectacular views. The proof of Amalia’s success is just how perfectly La Pasionara is part of its landscape.

Quibble

See : How to Get There.

Other gardens to visit

No gardens as such but about halfway along the road between Punta del Este and José Ignacio  there is clearly visible, a rare surviving example of a spectacular specialist coastal plant community ‘Mattoral Espinoso’ with a fantastic unspoilt beach behind. The cacti, silver-leaved shrubs and other plants are now, hopefully, in the first stage of receiving official protection.

How to get there

The garden is only open by appointment. Please email for details and directions.