Private home owners too are taking to ‘gardening’ more than before and bothering to adorn balconies and terraces with drought-tolerant succulents and pelargoniums. But, when I first arrived here in ’94, many a time I’d hear homeowners complaining of the flies that plants attract or bemoaning the leaf debris they had to sweep up. Most, back then, were in favour of scorched earth and immaculate, but bare plasterwork.
Now though, gardens, whether public or private are in demand. House prices rocket, even double, if there’s a minimal bit of earth with the property. So gardens are cool in both senses of the word these days.
Whether you’re seeking shade, a place to picnic with the kids, read a book in peace, chat with loved ones, or just get some evening air, we’ve some choice ones to head for…and will no doubt be able to add more as there are many in the Valletta and Floriana area dating back to the time of the Knights that still lie disused and in need of some TLC (when government funds allow).
1. San Anton - Malta’s most established of public gardens lying between Attard and Balzan just across the T-junction from the Corinthia Palace Hotel. The gardens were laid out by the Knights as part of the San Anton Palace grounds, now the official residence of the country’s president, but bequeathed to the nation for public use in Victorian times. They are large enough to offer quiet areas at all but the most crowded of times. Mature trees, of most species that grow in Med climate and more, plus fountains provide coolness and shade. It’s almost an arboretum as so many species exist here. The central areas are planted with orange and lemon groves which give a lovely perfume in spring. There’s a loo block inside, and cafe and snack kiosk adjacent to the entrance.
2. Palazzo Parisio – the gardens are the grounds of this private palace cum museum with restaurant facilities in central Naxxar, opposite the parish church. The gardens have been fully restored and are lovingly overseen by the current owner, the Baroness of Tabria, Christiane Ramsay Scicluna. They have garnered international acclaim by being the only garden outside Italy to be included in the exclusive Grandi Giardini Italiani guide. They offer a year-round display of colour: pink and white bougainvillea are coming into flower now, and there’s a collection of rare hibiscus. A restful place to while away time, and with the benefit of an open-air cafe and restaurant from which to enjoy their ambience. Gardens are free to visit; the house is not. Follow this link for a taste of the palace and gardens.
3. Upper & Lower Barrakka Gardens, Valletta – a Maltese instution really, Upper Barrakka served the Knights’ recreational needs and now serves as a fine tourist vantage point over Grand Harbour. It’s had a face lift in the past couple of years and now has plenty of contemporary, designer benches, a nice rotunda kiosk for drinks and snacks and a convenient public loo (there aren’t many in Valletta!). There’s not much planting as such, but there are some mature trees to temper the heat and there’s always a sea breeze. All in all, a nice place to find some rest away from the city streets. A favourite with young and old couples and Valletta locals taking some air on summer evenings. Lower Barrakka is visible from Upper, straight along the bastion wall, but it’s a deceptively long walk between the two. It’s slightly smaller, but similar, with trendy benches positioned for ideal harbour-mouth watching. It is home to a monument in honour of first British governor of Malta, Sir Alexander Ball.
4. Buskett Gardens – more a wood than gardens, so the name is perhaps misleading. It is Malta’s largest, and only, properly wooded area and located between Rabat and Dingli Cliffs. Like San Anton, it owes its origins to the Knights who planted it as an area to hunt in. It is topped by Verdala Palace. Built in 1588, it is not open to the public. Buskett is forested with hardy trees, mainly pines like the Aleppo pine (now protected), and has some stubbly, weedy areas where kids can kick a ball about. It is a very useful and extensive shady, natural area to retreat to in the summer. Even in the peak of the afternoon heat, you can feel cool here. Apart from Sundays and weekend evenings, you can generally find a shady picnic spot – there are some tables under the trees. In spring, there is a seasonal ‘stream’ in one gully. The area has labyrinth of stone walls clad with ivy. Buskett comes in to its own on 29 June for the St Peter and Paul ‘feast’ which is a folklore-style event with families gathering to eat traditional food, and share stories and song. The 30th sees horse races on the road nearby and an agricultural show.
5. Argotti Gardens, Floriana (just outside Valletta) – these are Malta’s botanical gardens and well tended. Set out in the 18th century, the gardens were the private domain of the Grand Master Pinto. They operate somewhat more restrictive hours than most gardens as tend to keep to office hours, but are worth a plant-lovers stop over. They have a fine collection of native species and have a fantastic view of Marsamsett Harbour. The gardens are often the venue of arts’ and cultural events and make a perfect evening setting. Enjoy them at several upcoming events during this summer’s Malta Arts Festival; Puerto Flamenco are performing here.
6. Chinese Garden of Serenity, Santa Lucija – (near Tarxien on the Tal Barrani road). These gardens were started in the ’90s and manage a ring of authenticity despite being set in a climate that’s not too conducive to Asian flora! The do have a certain serenity about them thanks to the water and rock features, bamboo and the elegant pagodas. Various parts of the garden have ‘meanings’ and represent yin and yang, and so on. They are popular as there is a dearth of gardens in this part of Malta on the fringes of quite urban and industrial areas. Worth a stop over if you’re heading that way. They also have more than a passing nod to Malta’s long-time relations with China.
7. Gardjola Gardens or Safe Haven Gardens, Senglea – this small garden is perched on the bastions overlooking Grand Harbour with stunning views across to Valletta. The gardens are less green but do have some mature palms and ficus and they are more compact than most above. They are often overlooked by the Maltese apart from Senglea residents, but the make a wonderful place to linger at sundown and enjoy the view and a welcome breeze off the water. As befits their location in the Three Cities, they do have their own slice of history and tourist attraction – the ‘sentry box’ vedette or ‘gardjola’ that is poised picture-postcard perfect on their very tip. It’s one of the best preserved with excellent carvings of an eye and an ear to watch and listen out for the enemy. The vedette features on most brochures on Malta.