February 19, 2024

It could be said that each city has its green heart, a organ that pumps oxygen, calm and beauty. We can easily imagine that heart, making the well-being it generates flow through the asphalt arteries, irrigating the hard part of the neighborhoods with green chlorophyll. Without Central Park, New York would be less of a city. Without Hyde Park, London would be grumpy. Without the Retiro, Madrid would become harsh and unfriendly. Each metropolis has its heart of leaves, or should, and this is not influenced by size, but by the function and rest it provides to all those who enter its tree-lined paths.

On this occasion, a fresh path of lime trees awaits us (tilia tomentosa), so leafy that you could even see one of those typical forest creatures appear in the middle of the city. It is the Campo de San Francisco, in Oviedo, although it is interchangeably called San Francisco Park. “The countryside comes from its origin,” emphasizes Rafael Suárez-Muñiz, a doctor in Geography. This scholar of gardens, who has been awarded the Rosario Acuña Research Award this 2023 —an award that IES Rosario de Acuña de Gijón convenes annually— for his work on The singular gardens of Asturias, remember that the place where the San Francisco stands “were cultivated fields of the old monastery of San Francisco from the 13th century. They had so many species that they turned it into a true botanical garden”.

For centuries, his work with the plantations continued. “And since the 16th century they even allowed people access to the garden,” recalls Suárez-Muñiz. “This garden, with a geometric layout made up of flower beds delimited by low boxwood hedges (Buxus sempervirens), remained as such during the 19th century and part of the 20th”, continues this researcher. “And the eastern third still preserves trees from that time, with species such as the Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica), Himalayan cedar (cedrus deodara), the sequoia (Sequoia sempervirens) or the shadow plane (platanus orientalis)”, concludes Suárez-Muñiz. In fact, one of the plane trees in the park has adopted a very Velazquez shape, having a trunk that resembles one of the bulging dresses worn by the meninas in their famous court portrait in the Prado Museum.

The Campo de San Francisco is stocked with fine specimen trees, with some yews (Taxus baccata) noteworthy. The dark green of its linear leaves contrasts with the small meadows here and there full of parsnips (Bellis perennis), which enhance the nature of an arboreal species that is capable of changing its sex. But that’s another yew story worth telling apart.

A plane tree with its thickened trunk like the skirt of one of the meninas from Velázquez.
A plane tree with its thickened trunk like the skirt of one of the meninas from Velázquez.Edward Beard

It may be because of the rich fertile substrate that has been cultivated for centuries in this place of orchards, or simply because of the generosity of the Asturian soil and its water, which is why the trees easily reach considerable sizes. In front of the Banco de España building, which adjoins the park, a large holm oak grows (Quercus ilex subsp. ilex) which denotes that it does not have to face the thirst of the other oaks (Quercus ilex subsp. ballot) of the fields of Castilla that Antonio Machado praised in his poems.

They could not miss magnificent magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora / Magnolia x soulangeana), one of the hallmarks of Asturian streets. The white maples (Acer pseudoplatanus), also called false plane trees, spread their branches to shade the paths near the fountains, because the water adorns and refreshes various corners of the garden. One of them, the Duck Pond, greets each day one of the many statues that adorn the park. But this one is special, because on a bench the eternal Mafalda remains seated, immutable, accompanying the photos of the visitors with her smile.

Foxtail asparagus and white astilbes in the shade of the big trees in the park of Oviedo.
Foxtail asparagus and white astilbes in the shade of the big trees in the park of Oviedo.Edward Beard

The borders and massifs where shrubs and herbaceous plants are planted multiply on each frontal of the meadows, on each peak and corner that the lawns offer to the paths. Species as striking as holly (Ilex aquifolium var.), Mexican oranges (Choisya ternata var.) or Japanese maples (Acer palmatum var.) as larger plants, which are accompanied by agapanthus (Agapanthus var.), bergenias (bergenia var.) or heucheras (Heuchera var.). The latter, colored in the most varied green, reddish or yellowish tones imaginable, become flowers with only their own leaves. With so many shadows interspersed with the sun, walking along the wide promenades —such as the Bombé promenade— or along its paths becomes a pleasure, also for different species of ferns, which vegetate happily and give health just by looking at them.

Flowering hostas and Himalayan palm trees on Paseo del Bombé del Campo in San Francisco (Oviedo).
Flowering hostas and Himalayan palm trees on Paseo del Bombé del Campo in San Francisco (Oviedo).Edward Beard

Larger trees are in charge of isolating the park from the traffic of adjacent roads —such as Calle Uría—, such as a mixed alignment of poplars (Populus sp.), bananas (Platanus x hispanic) and purple beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropurpurea’). At the foot of these red-leafed trees, a calendar made of grass is changed every day, so that it notifies unsuspecting passers-by of the day in which they live, walking above the orchards of an old convent in this beautiful city.

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