Natural environment of the garden
Terra Nostra Park is located in Furnas Valley in the Azores archipelago, part of Portugal. Made up of 9 islands, the Azores Islands are one of the most interesting and special places in the world.
National Geographic magazine once declared the Azores the “Second Most Self-Sustaining Islands in the World.” In fact, the Azores are an ideal destination for anyone searching for a unique experience, in which to rediscover life’s essentials.
Terra Nostra Park’s location is in itself incredibly special, as it is nestled within a volcanic crater, dormant since 1630, with its own particular climatic conditions.
The air temperature varies between 10 and 16º C in the winter, and between 20 and 25º C in the summer. The monthly air temperature, averaged yearly, is 15.1ºC, with a maximum of 19º C and a minimum of 11.2º C.
Relative air humidity throughout the year is high, sometimes reaching a maximum of 80 to 92%. This is mainly due to the fact that the parish of Furnas is located at a considerable altitude and is rich in vegetation.
The parish of Furnas thus enjoys a microclimate which, associated with volcanic soil and the existence of innumerable hydric resources, permits and encourages adaptation and great vegetable diversity.
Volcanism is present in all the smallest details of the life of the small settlement of Furnas, which is one of the most active thermal locations on Earth, the result of a great number of volcanic springs and waterways.
But the most popular attraction for most visitors to Furnas is undoubtedly the thermal baths. Furnas possesses several establishments where it is possible to enjoy the benefits of water from the earth’s interior, charged with minerals, among them being the thermal pool of Terra Nostra Garden.
Furnas has long been considered a popular holiday destination for islanders, attracted by the thermal features and beauty of the valley.
As a result, several wealthy families have built holiday homes here since the beginning of the 19th century, resulting in a highly interesting heritage in terms of architectural styles, mostly of Romantic inspiration.
Historical background of the garden
The Furnas Valley became popular towards the end of the 18th century, due to the growing interest in the use of mineral water to address health challenges, such as rheumatism and obesity. Furnas has hundreds of small springs and streams, all with different properties. Terra Nostra Park is located in the midst of this magnificent water system.
Around 1775, Thomas Hickling, a wealthy merchant from Boston, built a simple wooden summer house, which came to be known as Yankee Hall. In front of the house, there was a pool with an island in the centre, both surrounded by trees that were brought in mainly from North America. An English oak planted by Hickling is still there today.
In 1848, the property was purchased by the Viscount of Praia, who built a new house where Yankee Hall stood. The Viscountess was a keen gardener, and together they enlarged the original two hectares (ha), expanding the beautiful garden. There is a memorial to them in the garden, which was erected in 1896 by their son, the Marquis of Praia and Monforte.
During the last quarter of the century, the Marquis of Praia made further improvements and written documentation tells us that a British gardener, named Milton, was brought over. Many new species were imported from North America, Australia, New Zealand, China and South Africa; some of these still exist, and dominate certain areas of the garden.
In 1935, the Hotel Terra Nostra, which was located on land adjacent to the garden, opened to the public. A few years later, the entire property was acquired by the Terra Nostra Company, which was managed by Vasco Bensaude, also a keen gardener and responsible for employing the Kew-trained Scot, John McEnroy, who came to supervise the garden’s restoration. An additional tract of land was acquired, extending the garden to its present size of 12.5 ha.
The Casa do Parque (Park House) was completely renovated,. The longer avenue leading to the garden’s southern boundary was then built and lined with Gingko Biloba trees, which becomes a rather special feature in December with its remarkable golden hues.
In 1989 Filipe Bensaude, son of Vasco Bensaude, decided to renovate the garden.
The renovation was entrusted to horticulturist David Sayers together with arboriculturist Richard Green. The work was completed in the winter of 1992-93, and a new generation of more than 3,000 species of trees and shrubs were planted.
Over the past two decades, Terra Nostra Park continued to enrich its botanical value through the acquisition of new plant species. This constant concern to diversify and enrich the existing flora ensures that the garden now possesses large collections and beds with plants of major historical and cultural value. In 2010, a new area adjacent to the garden of endemic and native Azorean plants was built to host the most recent collection – that of the Bromeliads (plants of the Bromeliaceae family).
Description of the Garden
At Terra Nostra Park, you can find flora typical of the Azores, as well as numerous plants native to countries with climates that are completely different to that of Furnas. This adaptation has been made possible, in part, by the shared experience of Terra Nostra Park’s team of gardeners, who have been successful in adapting various plants, species and varieties to the existing conditions of the garden.
In a garden which is two hundred years old, along a number of different possible pathways, you can find plants in very different phases of growth. There are hundred-year old trees of the genera Metrosideros and Araucaria, and other important tree species, such as, Liriodendron tulipifera, Sequoia sempervirens, Quercus robur, Taxodium ascendens, Taxodium distichum, Eucalyptus globulus, Ginkgo biloba, among others; innumerable shrubs the size of trees, such as rhododendrons, magnolias and camellia; as well as other plants and flowers, particularly azaleas, hydrangeas, Kaffir lilies, calla lilies, tree ferns, and countless other species, all of which contribute with their colours, forms and growth to making the garden an incredible destination in itself, and wonderful to visit any time of the year.
The garden now possesses large collections and beds with plants of major historical and cultural value. These collections and gardens include the Fern Collection (with nearly 300 different species, varieties and cultivars), the Cycadales Collection (with 88 different species and sub-species), the Camellia Collection (with more than 800 different species and cultivars), the Azorean Endemic and Native Flora Garden (including several examples of the major plants endemic to the island of São Miguel) and, finally, the Vireya Garden – Malaysia Rhododendron.
New projects are continually being developed in such a way as to ensure the conservation of this unique environment, particularly, the creation of a bamboo garden and an artificial lake to host the Victoria cruziana Orb., a water plant of the Nymphaeaceae family, from northern Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia.
This species of plant is a gigantic lily pad, rendered unique and fascinating by the morphology of its leaves (reminiscent of a pie mould), which can grow up to two metres in diameter. The flowers acquire various tones and shapes during their short life cycle, a rare beauty which survives only 48 hours.
Today, Terra Nostra Park is the site of one of the most remarkable collections of camellias in the world, with more than 800 varieties of different species and cultivars, with one of the largest, if not the largest, collections of Cycads in Europe.
By 2010, the Victoria cruziana could already be seen at Terra Nostra Park, distinguishing the garden as one of the only ones in Portugal to possess this plant in the open air. In 2014, Terra Nostra Park is recognized by the International Camellia Society as a Camellia Garden of Excellence.
1782 – Thomas Hickling acquires a plot of land in Furnas where he builds a summer house, which he informally names Yankee Hall
1848 – The Viscounts of Praia acquire the Tank and begin its restoration, including the construction of Casa do Parque/ Park House
1933 – The Terra Nostra Society, led by Vasco Bensaude, buys the Tank to build the first hotel in the Azores and begins the restoration of the property under the direction of Scottish gardener John McEnroy
1992 – The Park’s restoration works begin, including an evaluation of the phytosanitary status of all trees and the planting of 3,000 new trees and shrubs
1993 – Start of the Vireya Garden (Malaysian rhododendrons)
1994 – Head Gardener Fernando Costa starts the Camellia Collection, the Fern Collection and the Endemic Plants Collection
1996 – Terra Nostra Park is awarded the prize for best hybrid camellia (Camellia x williamsii W.W.Sm. ‘Brigadoon’), awarded during an exhibition held in Ponta Delgada
2000 – Start of the Cycad Collection
2002 – The annual exhibitions of camellias commence
2007 – Introduction of the Wollemia nobilis species – the first specimen of this species planted in a Portuguese botanical park
2009 – Start of the Bamboo Garden
2011 – Start of the Bromeliad Garden
2012 – Introduction of the giant water lily (Victoria cruziana)
2014 – The International Camellia Society bestows the prestigious Camellia Gardens of Excellence award upon Terra Nostra Park
2016 – Renovation of the Flower Garden
2017 – Start of the Aquatic Plants Collection