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A Picturesque garden in the Azores

Terra Nostra Park brims with warm waters and leafy groves.

(Page 2 of 2)

In 1990, Mr. Bensaude’s son, Filipe, oversaw yet another expansion and refurbishment. Although they opened the garden to the public, the Bensaude family still maintains it and still owns the Hotel Terra Nostra.

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The current Terra Nostra Park brochure announces, “You are about to discover a 200-year-old garden.” Discovery applies to the garden’s botanical collections as well as its design.

Nourished by the ocean mist and, perhaps, by the warmth of the underground volcanic springs – hotel guests can soak in a pool of hot, ochre-colored water near the garden – diverse temperate plant species thrive, creating startling juxtapositions: camellias and tree ferns (cycads), gingkos and palms, red oaks and Norfolk Island pines.

Around each bend lies a new view and another choice: Should you take the left fork to the lower level, or the right fork ascending the bank? Are glimmers of water enticing your eye, or the dark, cool foliage of the grove?

Entering the garden near the sulfurous pool, visitors tend to climb the pyramid-shaped mound to the white stucco mansion, a vantage point that reveals a placid pond where swans and exotic ducks float. Also from here, the viewer can glimpse a canal flowing into the pond.

Descending again, the path rounds the corner of the steeply sloping mound, leading the visitor through a grove of tree ferns. The pond’s surface glitters below, screened by the enormous lacy fronds.

As David Sayers, a British-born gardener and horticulturist who has worked on these gardens, writes in the sole Azores guidebook (Bradt Travel Guides), cycads “would have been browsed by dinosaurs.”

Planted thematically throughout the park, they create a primeval air. Their fronds unfurl from fiddleheads as big as salad plates.

More steps descend from this middle terrace to the water, and the pond narrows into a lagoon. The moss-edged path leads to a vine-draped opening at the base of the bridge, and behind the curtain of green, the sound of trickling water beckons. Inside lies a perfect grotto hollowed out of rough volcanic rock.

A tiny waterfall spills down the rear wall, cloaked by maidenhair ferns.

Among other delights are the allées, which form some of the garden’s few straight lines and comprise its chief architecture. In counterpoint to the whimsical, curving paths, they feel restfully sedate.

Off of these, hidden garden rooms contain collections – camellias, cycads, rhododendrons (among them a rare Malaysian species), ferns, azaleas, and hydrangeas.

These are among the newer additions, and although they no doubt add botanical interest, their design lacks the charm of the garden’s older core. But this is a small quibble, given the extraordinary variety of botanical and spatial experiences here.

The overall effect is of a marvelous garden salad, tossed by the Atlantic breeze.