A rich tapestry of planting within a biodynamic farm in Spain
Weaving together elements of the site’s past and present, designer Álvaro Sampedro has created a rich tapestry of planting for a lauded chef’s wedding venue garden. Words Hannah Gardner, photographs Richard Bloom
Marauding cattle and pesky, foraging pigs are very much part of the narrative at El Jaral de la Mira, a wedding and events venue northwest of Madrid that stands out for its excellent restaurant and exuberant gardens.
It’s the vision of the celebrated Spanish chef Mario Sandoval, whose commitment to food sustainability is central to the venue’s core values. His much-lauded restaurant is housed in former farm buildings, restored by architects Foxium Arquitectura, and much of the estate is given over to a biodynamic farm. But at its centre is an atmospheric garden, the work of Madrid-based designer Álvaro Sampedro, who loved the idea of a garden with a commitment to food sustainability and environmental protection at its heart, even if that did mean accommodating hungry cattle.
On his first visit to the site, Álvaro was delighted to discover an old mill and dairy, both littered with old tools and bits of machinery, some of which he has creatively reconfigured as water spouts for a series of garden fountains. It’s a way of linking the authenticity of the area’s agricultural past with its revitalised productive present.
The area’s royal past – in the 16th century it was a hunting ground of Philip II – is also referenced in the geometrical layout of the central area in front of the restaurant. Here, a series of interconnected terraces is a nod to the nearby Monasterio del Escorial, a former royal residence built in Spain’s geometric Herreriano style of architecture, popular in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
At El Jaral de La Mira near Madrid, designer Álvaro Sampedro has created an atmospheric garden for all seasons. Soft mounds of grasses, including Miscanthus sinensis, and resilient, drought-resistant shrubs, such as Escallonia ‘Iveyi’, mirror the contours of the surrounding forest and offer a contrast to the vertical accents of a multi-stemmed Arbutus unedo and iconic Italian cypresses.
Stately granite steps cut through a wide border featuring striking clumps of grasses, including the silky Miscanthus sinensis ‘Graziella’. These steps lead up from the lower terrace to a romantic pergola walkway, covered in fragrant star jasmine and a white rambling rose, which guides guests to the central outdoor bar.
Name El Jaral de La Mira. What An exclusive event
venue with gardens set within a biodynamic farm. Where Central Spain. Soil Well-drained, poor soil. Size Roughly five acres. Climate Warm continental with low rainfall. Hot dry summers and cool winters with frequent frosts. Hardiness zone USDA 9.
Plumes of Stipa tenuissima and Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ combined with the bright-pink flowers of native Valeriana rubra create a link
to Miscanthus sinensis and pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris on the other side of the terrace wall. A neat hedge of Laurus nobilis frames a series of woven planters filled with herbs, beside the restaurant and an old, cylindrical well. As well as introducing new trees to these terraces, Álvaro has also integrated several existing trees, including ancient Quercus ilex, which not only offer shade from the scorching summer sun, but also give a sense of scale and create rich colour blocks during autumn, as well as connecting the garden to the surrounding forests.
Achillea millefolium seedheads add an additional layer of interest to the buff-coloured grasses and evergreen shrubs that dominate the curved beds surrounding the formal terraces. Divided by paths of crushed granite, this low tapestry of generous perennial borders is punctuated by tall Italian cypresses, which Álvaro thinks of as a “link between heaven and earth”.
Calendula officinalis on the well-ordered slopes of El Jaral de La Mira’s productive kitchen garden, which offers guests a direct link to the provenance of their food. Producing more than 30 varieties of heritage and local herbs and vegetables, the kitchen garden and wider biodynamic farm forges a link between the venue’s metropolitan sophistication and the area’s rich rural heritage.
Iberian black pigs munch on beetroot leaves and Swiss chard in the restaurant’s kitchen garden. Normally, they are constrained on the farm but occasionally escape, which caused Álvaro headaches in the early days of establishing plants in the garden.
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The airy flowers of the long-season perennial Oenothera lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’ combine with a mix of grasses, including the distinctively upright Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, groups of Panicum virgatum, and the eye-catching, semi-transparent haze of pink Muhlenbergia capillaris.
The full feature appeared in Gardens Illustrated magazine. Subscribe here.
Hannah Gardner is a Kew trained head gardener with twenty years experience based near Bath. Hannah founded her design studio New British Landscapes in 2010 and became a freelance consultant specialising in sustainable and organic horticulture in 2021. She pursues interests in travel, design, writing, consultancy, plantsmanship and practical horticulture.