A Charming, Other Worldly Experience
I can’t believe I almost missed out on these wonderful gardens when I was staying in Guanajuato in Mexico for the Cervantino arts festival! I stumbled upon the hacienda San Gabriel De Barrera on a map a couple of days before we left and immediately made plans to go and visit the old estate, just outside the city center.Credit: KathyRM
The hacienda was built in the 17th century when Guanajuato was the largest source of silver in the world. Inside you can see typical European furnishings of the time, including solid wooden furniture, sparely but delicately decorated bedrooms and a beautiful claw bath. Baths really have gone down hill since those days! The walls of the house are incredibly thick, as are the beautiful wooden doors. The interiors are moody and dark, to keep the heat out I suppose.
I didn’t spend much time inside, though, as I wanted to explore the different gardens.
The hacienda is painted in the typical yellows, oranges and browns of the area and there is a huge courtyard separating the house from the gardens. I could imagine the parties that were held there back in the day. During our visit the hacienda was full of energy as a crew set up sound equipment for a concert to be held in the courtyard the next day. Tents were up, chairs were out and bright flowers floated in the ponds.
These gardens were planned with views, coolness and leisure in mind. I believe the original buildings in the grounds were used as refineries and the gardens have taken over the disused buildings. Everywhere you look, there’s a vista: up broad steps to the San Francisco Garden or through the Asian Garden into the Mexican Garden, each with its own representative plant life and ornamentation. Trees grow in cooling abundance and I found a pepper tree with a trunk as thick as a medium redwood’s.Credit: KathyRM
Whilst a lot of the plantings have seen better days, the original layout is spectacular, with stone pathways leading you from one garden to another, separated by incredible, high stone walls and colonial architecture. The area near the house is more formal, with lots of topiary, becoming wilder the further away you go.
Holes in the walls let you peek into the gardens beyond, enticing you ever on, just around the corner or up the stairs, though the pergola covered walkway. There is even an underground garden with a shell fountain against its wall, a pool house for the now disused ceramic pool.
Ancient creepers cover the walls – bougainvilla, ivy, plumbago and golden shower. There is a stained glass window depicting bright sunflowers high above the path, catching the sunlight behind it but shaded in front by over hanging palm trees. I went to find the other side of the stained glass and found myself in the Roman Garden, with formal raised beds and a pebble pathway.Credit: KathyRM
It delighted me to discover that all the plants growing at the hacienda grow equally well in Southern Africa. Of all the plants I saw, there was only one that I did not recognize.
One of the things I love about Mexico is that benches are everywhere, inviting you to take a moment or three out of the hustle and bustle, and these gardens are no different. Gorgeous ironwork, stone and ceramic benches wait for you along the paths or in hidden, elevated garden rooms where you just want to linger longer, looking out over the wild hillside or down at the stream meandering through the valley below your garden balcony.
I was fascinated by the layout of the gardens which covered seventeen different countries, took me on seemingly endless mysterious trails and made me gasp at huge courtyards with wonderful trees or creepers, tables or statues. Yet the entire area, including the house and other buildings, can’t be more than four or five acres or so. Whoever designed them was a master of the maze. Even if you’re not a gardener, you should visit ex Hacienda San Gabriel De Barrera. You’ll love it.Credit: KathyRM