A few weeks ago I needed a bit of time away from Madrid, exploring a new city somewhere else, and Oporto, Portugal became the desired destination. Second time in Portugal, first being Lisboa (link), another city worth visiting again. It was a pleasant surprise to find so many terraces and balconies in Oporto hanging lush and green packed to the rails with plants, more so than I see in Madrid. The reason for this, I believe, is this is a coastal city with more moisture hanging in the air, a more hospitable climate for growing something green. Wandering through the city on foot, I passed over and over these small plant shops, flashing their wares in the windows. The first few I passed were closed for lunch, but found this one called Casa Horticola, or Horticulture House. The windows alone beckoned me from across the street, packets of vibrant color upon closer inspection turned out to be vintage seed packages. Nose pressed to window, I drooled at the items on the other side of the glass.
I saw seeds, bulbs, starter plants, vegetables, colors, flowers, cut flowers, possibilties, my future terrace all green and lush. I vowed to return and ravage the shop of goods to take home to my nearly empty terrace back in Madrid. I went back later the same day and my jaw dropped when I went in. Marble counter tops, old style register, a scale, original molding details painted beautifully, and this was before fondling the merchandise, the goods that I came for. It was as if time had stopped. Focus, focus. I began thumbing through everything, salivating like a kid in a candy store. The fact that I did not speak Portuguese nor the men working there English was not a problem, we managed. Through smiles and nods and slaps to the back of my hand, he took me through his store, guiding me through a plethora of many purchases of promise. Dahlia tubers, ‘Bantling’, ‘Kenora Macob’, and ‘Shining Star’. And lilies galore, such as ‘Gran Paraiso’ and ‘Geneve’. A Zantadeshchia may have jumped in to my basket too. Artichoke seeds, cactus zinnias, everlasting flower and a pair of bulbs of Nerine ‘Ou Raguis’ which love to bake in heat, perfect for Spain I thought. Did I really need a reason?
The posters of gladiolus on the walls beckoned me the way pin up girls adorn the inside of mechanic shops, ‘Hey Big Boy, over here, do you like what you see?!” Oh, yes, yes I do I thought, and gently tossed some into my basket as well, with the man guiding me back to reality. ‘These, not those, you will like these better, trust me”, he seemed to be telling me without words. I listened and took Gladiolus ‘Trader Home’, ‘Violetta’, and ‘Silver Spark’ (or was it ‘Spic and Span’??! His handwritten packages were hard to decipher). I’m buying frilly Gladiolus I thought and realized I needed to stop. I ended my shopping spree, 30 euros later and two large bags, I left feeling guilty. “What happened? Did I buy more than I needed to?” It didn’t matter, I couldn’t wait to pack these treasures into the terrace containers at home.
Before I left, I asked the man, by way of hand gestures, if one photo of him and the shop was allowed, so he got behind the handsome counter, straightened his tie and stood proud. How can you not want to shop in such a magical shop guided by a horticulturist in a suit and tie? One of the best moments in Oporto, if you ever go, please visit…. Casi Horticola (link) – James