It was in the Summer of 1992, the year of the Friends of Monserrate official launch, that I first ventured into the Rose Valley.
After many years of neglect, the valley had been cleared in 1987 by a a group of Canadian gardeners led by Gerald Luckhurst. However, the work was not followed up and so by 1992 it was practically impossible to walk through it due to the acacias and brambles and also some rose bushes which somehow had survived in very adverse conditions.
The following year the valley was already impenetrable: brambles were more than two metres high and were only broken though by slender acacias striving for light.
Over the years, during guided tours organized by the Friends, I often brought up the question of this forgotten valley with Gerald. I believed that once restored it would become one of the must see areas of the Garden. And so the dream began for the Friends. Emma Gilbert, their Chairman, was one of the first to take up this challenge: a courageous step on Emma’s part to accept the first donation to clear the valley once again. Lack of access gave us no way of assessing the cost, what type of project involved or even how many roses would be required. What we did know was that it would take quite a few years to make this dream come true.
When a large area of acacias is cleared, the seeds that have accumulated in the soil begin to germinate after the first summer’s heat. In the second year we had thousands of small acacia trees ready to take over the valley. It was only in the third year that we felt we were finally beginning to win the battle. A battle which is not really over as some acacias are still appearing. Only when the soil is shaded by the rose bushes can we breathe a sigh of relief.
The project for the new Valley was begun by Gerald Luckhurst right after the valley’s initial clearing. Most of the planning was done in situ because we did not want any undue earth moving work. We wanted to save as many of the old roses which had started sprouting as possible.
In order to have the roses flowering over a wider period of time as possible we organised the planting over three years and thereby to obtain more information on the flowering period of each type of rose. The objective is to have at least nine months when the roses are in flower, though we know that May is by far the more spectacular month.
In this way we achieved a better result than if we had rushed the job. We are happy to say, and our especial thanks go to Prof. António Lamas, that the restoration work was never interrupted due to lack of money or lack of support from Parques de Sintra.
The inauguration of the Rose Valley during the visit of Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall to Portugal on the 29th March, culminates seven years of work and represents the public recognition of the importance of Monserrate – possibly the most important English garden created outside Great Britain in a climate that allows plants to grow in the open air as opposed to a green house where they would have to be grown in England due to the colder climate.
Prince Charles has always been interested in gardens, has created at least one garden and has written on the subject. He only accepted to come to Monserrate after receiving detailed information on Monserrate and its Rose Garden. We are all therefore to be congratulated. The Friends of Monserrate Executive Committee would like to thank all those who contributed towards the Rose Garden, be it through donations or personal involvement, to make this dream come true. We also thank all who were present at the inauguration.
The idea of restoring the Rose Garden, which was conceived by a few, was only possible when backed by many. We know, however, that it did not end with the inauguration. Some rose bushes, that did not survive, have to be substituted. We would also like to plant some more roses which we have not as yet been found on the market. An automatic watering system has to be installed and we will have to help with the maintenance.
Only when, in a few years’ time, the roses grow and intermingle, will our dream really come true.
João Sande de Freitas