César Manrique’s Jardin de Cactus

My mum and I took a trip to Lanzarote last month. I had been expecting something a bit Benidorm-esque so I was thrilled to discover a stunning volcanic island of small white-washed houses, gorgeous blue sea and lots of work by the architect and artist César Manrique.

Born in 1919, his work provides an incredible contrast between the tradition and natural beauty of Lanzarote, and his own bold and graphic style of design. This came together at his home, which now houses the César Manrique Foundation, and features a living room built in a lava bubble – but more on that in another post!

Mum and I hired a car one day and decided to take a trip to his Cactus Garden. The place is a tribute to…well, cacti, as well as the stunning volcanic rock the island is covered in. With the addition of some small architectural features and an awful lot of wry humour, the gardens look like something out of a Pixar movie.

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Obviously the clue was in the name, but I genuinely wasn’t expecting the sheer array of cacti in the gardens. From the flowering, to the traditional Toy Story spiky limbed plant, and my favourite (above left) which I reckon looks like Cousin It from the Addams Family. The variety was amazing.

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There were so many lovely details, including this mad looking water feature (yep, he’s dribbling!) and one of Manriqe’s characteristic sculptures. These can be found all around the island, in towns and on roundabouts.

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Definitely the best toilet signs I’ve ever seen.

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Here’s my mum refusing to smile for a photo (finally, I understand the pain she felt when I’d only scowl at a camera!).

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I was genuinely blown away by how peaceful the place felt. The high perimeter wall means there’s almost no breeze in the garden itself, allowing the plants to flourish in the (frankly blisteringly hot!) sun. Everything is built from local volcanic rock, including the tiny ticket office at the entrance, and you can see the volcanoes themselves rising up from beyond the wall.

I guess the gardens really summed up what I liked about Manrique’s work. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but has incredible respect for the world around him. He uses this to create pieces that are both beautiful and witty, as much an homage to the island he grew up on as they are examples of brilliant and sympathetic modern design. Equally relevant is his almost Puritanical desire to maintain the beauty of Lanzarote; it’s the result of his influence that you’ll see only one building over a few storeys high (a hotel in Arrecife), that electrical cables were laid underground and that the island has a strict palette of whites, greens and blues.

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If you’re in Lanzarote, a ticket to the Jardin de Cactus, Jameos del Agua and the Cueva de los Verdes will set you back €20. All three are in the north-east of the island and require a car unless you’re on a tour. All three are also 100% worth it – more on the others soon!

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