This side of Paradise

A great many years ago, we lived on La Palma in the Canaries for a while (~6 years). My youngest was nine months old when we returned to the UK and this year when we  discussed taking a holiday there it became clear that he felt that he was the only one in the family with no real memories of the island. So when we touched down on the La Palma runway (extended into the ocean to get the stopping distance and flat landing), he began his catch up. In fact, he started a lizard obsession, but that is another story!


Meanwhile, I was busy getting re-acquainted with the flora. The island really is generously covered in sensational flowers. Indeed, La Palma is nicknamed La Isla Bonita (the pretty island) by the locals. It is a volcanic island (last eruption 1971), with an unusual erosion crater at its core, but it is also wonderfully forested (Canarian pines and laurel) and exceptionally green and beautiful.

April is a great month to see everything in full bloom, particularly the native flora, before the summer dryness takes that lushness away with the wind. This (below) is newly cleared patch of the laurisilva forest is erupting into a sea of purple and white (wild cineraria and Ageratina adenophora).


Cleared laurisilva forest

Roadside flowers are looking either dramatic:


Dead agave spikes and sonchus spp

or fantastically colourful:


Nasturtium and convolvulus climbing walls, telegraph poles and stands of prickly pear (opuntia ficus-indica)

The garden of the home that we were renting was a treasure trove of glorious flowers too, many of which I had no idea about. I’ve been looking them up since we got back and there seem to be a number of exotics that will be impossible to grow in Cambridge. It won’t stop me from trying a few though. For instance, I’ve not grown cannas at home and I want to try Canna glauca:


Sadly, the following beauties will have to remain in paradise (and apologies if I’ve mis-indentified them – please do say though).

My favourite was Erythrina crista-galli. This was grown as a tree over the driveway and had such sumptious colour. Obviously pea family!


Erythrina crista-galli

Then there were the fluttering butterfly-like flowers of the Orchid tree, Bauhinia blakeana. This had seeded around. How lucky for the owners!


Bauhinia blakeana, the Hong Kong Orchid tree

There were several examples of another pretty blue butterfly-like shrub, Clerodendrum ugandense. (I’ve seen this in the glasshouse at Cambridge Botanics).


Butterfly bush, Clerodendrum ugandense

In the orchard there were avocados, pomegranates, lemons and this showy fruit flower: The pineapple guava, Feijoa sellowiana. I’d have liked to have tried one of the fruits. Alas, too soon though.


Feijoa sellow

This next one was a huge tree: Brachychiton populneus or the Kurrajong tree.


which had rather lovely honeycomb seed pods:


There were also a couple of very exotic looking yellow Leucospermum cordifolium plants.


Leucospermum cordifolium

And there were several bottlebrush trees in the garden, happily in full bloom. They were covered in honey bees. Now I do have a small one of these at home, but around La Palma I discovered that they are used as street furniture. Trained as high standards and planted in rows along the roads, they gave the towns a literal buzz of red. Strange, but I’d not noticed this when we’d been living there.


Well, I thought I would finish with the iconic flower of the Canaries (or at least the one they sell at the airport in great bundles): Strelitzia reginae, the Bird of Paradise flower.


Sterlitzia reginae, the Bird of Paradise plant

And that is probably enough drooling on my part, but I hope that you can see why I had a lovely time on La Palma.


About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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22 Responses to This side of Paradise

  1. I can see why you like the Erythrina; it’s a beauty! Hoping to hear about the lizards. My 4-year old grandson was here for an Easter visit and I discovered he is fascinated with bugs, especially spiders. We had great fun looking for creepy-crawlers!

    • My other son’s most vivid memory from La Palma is the walk along an aquaduct through a rough patch of land. He remembers battering his way through the spider webs strung between the fennel and cactii!

  2. Tina says:

    What a great post–thank you for the tour! The flowers are just gorgeous, what a place to have live and to visit!

    • We have very fond memories from La Palma and it was great to be able to share them with the kids. The watering regime is the critical thing with the gardens. If you have your own tank it is so much easier.

  3. Eliza Waters says:

    A tropical paradise! I can just imagine the garden I would have there. 😉

  4. pbmgarden says:

    Fabulous flowers. The Erythrina is so unusual.

  5. FlowerAlley says:

    I have never seen such exotic flowers. That island is lovely.

  6. The shapes and colours of flowers are so enticing! What a fabulous place to visit let alone live in. Did you have garden/pots on a balcony while you lived there?

    • Our house was built on stilts and did have a fantastic patio with balcony. However, we had to child-proof the whole thing, ‘cos David was a climber and that meant no pots etc along the balustrade and fencing to stop him putting his head through!!!!

  7. Sue says:

    What a colourful array of flowers, they all look magnificent. I love the bottlebrush, we had a red one in our backyard when I was a kid and it grew quite big and birds would come and visit it when it was in flower.

  8. Sam says:

    Wow – loads of unusual flowers. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and that your son made a connection with the island. We grew cannas in our garden in Twickenham for a few years – they were fabulous for a couple of years, then seemed to fade (which could be that they’re not long-lived or that we made a mistake!).

  9. Brian Skeys says:

    Beautiful exotic flowers, I hope your son enjoyed his return.

    • He did thanks. He took a lot of iphone pictures in the gardens. He also now thinks the roads in England are wonderful (the mountain roads were much too bendy and bumpy for him).

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