Hidden deep in the Mexican rainforest to is one of the world’s most bizarre gardens. We bring you two travellers tales of this magical place.

Las Pozas

Travellers tale 1 by Erica Victorson.

Xilitla is a town located on the top of a very windy mountain road in the state of San Luis Potosi. It is extremely tropical and not that easy to get to, however, the trek was more than worth it. The drive from Tomosopo was stunning. It reminded us of the landscape of south western Thailand. There were lots of sugarcane fields, trucks over flowing with oranges, lush tropical foliage and sharp granite mountains framing the scenery. It felt like a part of Mexico we had never seen anything like before.

Our destination was Las Pozas, a garden/park/surreal wonderland in the town of Xilitla. Las Pozas was built by Edward James, and English poet and early supporter of the surrealist movement and patron of Salvador Dali.

James fell in love with this part of Mexico and decided to spend his life savings on creating his dream garden and house in this tropical paradise. From 1949 and 1984, Mexican workers and artisans built this other worldly place in the jungle.

While we were there we described it as Alice in Wonderland meets Angkor Wat. Today the Edward James foundation preserves his house so that the public can be part of his beautiful vision. It is a magical place, as you entered you first got to experience all the water. Las Pozas means pools in Spanish and you can see how the place got its name.

Travellers tale 2 by Gordon Taylor and Guy Cooper

It took us eight hours to drive from Mexico City to the semitropical jungle of Las Pozas, the garden created by the celebrated British Surrealist Edward James. We expected something extraordinary, and we weren’t disappointed.

James made his name between 1920 and 1930, when he began collecting Surrealist art – he was a patron of De Chirico, Magritte and Dalí, with whom he collaborated to produce the Lobster Telephone and the iconic, red-satin Mae West Lips Sofa. In 1948, having spent the Second World War in Los Angeles, James went to Mexico with a friend to look for a site to house his growing orchid collection. It was there that his most fantastic excesses were to find expression.

The travellers came upon the delicious pools of Las Pozas, in the north-eastern highlands of the Sierra Gorda mountains, and James’s friend immediately stripped off for a swim. As he sunned himself afterwards on a rocky outcrop, a cloud of smoky-mauve butterflies appeared suddenly and covered his entire body. James took this as a Surrealist and erotic sign and purchased the land. Over the next 20 years, he paid annual visits to Las Pozas, constantly adding new orchids: by 1965, he had 18,000 plants.

But madre de la naturaleza was not on his side and a freak three-day snowstorm killed the whole collection. So James began instead to cultivate giant plants made of concrete – to say nothing of towers, obelisks, pavilions, bridges and spiral staircases.

Each year he would go to the nearby town of Xilitla to give the designs to another friend, Plutarco Gastelum, who was foreman for the construction of the wooden forms on which James’s fantasies were based.

The 20-acre garden straddles a breath-stopping, Lalique-green river, flowing through the smooth, rock-edged pools from which its Spanish name, Las Pozas, is derived. During the rainy season, waterfalls course into them from a 150m (500ft) rock face, on which flourish 18m (60ft) to 24m (80ft) trees and bamboos. Hidden within the rainforest is a surreal concrete jungle enormous man-made trees, bamboos and flowers – many painted in once-bright colours – that range in height from 1.2m (4ft) to 9m (30ft).

The main entrance to the garden is through the Gateway of Snakes, a giant avenue of stone serpents. Other crazy creations are the Terrace of the Tigers, the House of Three Storeys (which actually has five), the Palace, and the Cinema, with its six flights of Escher-style staircases. James was wild about animals of all sorts, travelling the world with snakes in his luggage, and many of the garden pavilions were designed to hold an aviary or a menagerie.

James designed more than 220 concrete structures over four decades, at any one time employing up to 150 of Xilitla’s menfolk to build them. The cost is estimated to have been at least $5 million (more than £10m today). In the 1970s, he sold what was by then the world’s largest and most important collection of Surrealist art to fund the garden.

James died in 1984, leaving the glory of Las Pozas but no money for its upkeep, to his adopted Mexican family, the Gastelums. The marvellous sculptures are slowly being overtaken by jungle and are beginning to erode – some of the steel-reinforcing is now exposed. The complex lighting system at each pavilion is defunct and rusting. A few can be rented for holidays, but it is rumoured that many snakes also take the night air in the garden.

There have been negotiations with American financial foundations over a long-term plan to renovate and conserve this site of world importance to art and gardening. But efforts have stalled. In the meantime, Plutarco Gastelum, son of James’s foreman, is preparing to unveil rarely seen drawings and some of the massive moulds for the structures at a new exhibition in Xilitla next month. It will be well worth a visit.

James said, near the end of his life, that if he had not been so rich, he would have been a gardener.


(Article source: Various)

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