April 05, 2020
One morning during our stay in Mexico City we explored the city’s “lungs”, the Bosque de Chapultepec, or Chapultepec Forest. At 1,695 acres, it’s one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere. Chapultepec means “grasshopper hill” in the Aztec language, and in fact the park does contain a tall hill — a rare sight in flat Mexico City, which is built upon a drained lakebed.
Tucked into Chapultepec park is a small botanical garden, only 13 acres, but an interesting one. A recent article by Wildflower editor Amy McCullough about the jardín botánico had piqued my interest, and we soon found it. Happily, admission is free.
We strolled in, and I smiled to see this: a long border of cinderblock-planted succulents — much like my own (much smaller) cinderblock wall planter!
Hundreds of cinderblocks laid end-to-end and stacked into miniature modernist towers hold echeverias galore.
The creative display makes for a fun moment as you arrive.
Echeveria is native to Mexico, making it a perfect plant to greet visitors.
Next we came across a fort-like structure made of wooden pallets. Stacked about 8 feet high, they invite climbers with stair-stepped construction.
Curved walls, doorways…
…and benches — this place is made for play and relaxation.
A gravel garden studded with rocks showcases toothy, agave-like plants — Furcraea macdougallii — and cactus.
And agaves too. I believe these are all Mexico native plants.
As with the native plant garden at Plaza del Marqués, a modern grid layout and pineapple-pruned agaves distinguishes the xeric garden.
Beaucarnea stricta, or elephant’s foot, with spiky, punk-rock hairdos.
Edible seed display
One section of the garden features plants with edible seeds, showcased in tall, see-through cylinders — like storage containers in your pantry, perhaps.
A wetland garden features a pond with a flat-bottom boat. I wonder if the boat is planted up later in the season.
Tropical-looking flowers and banana trees in this garden contrast mightily with the xeric garden of cactus and agave.
The girls stopped to smell the flowers.
Banana trees and their shadows add drama along gravel paths.
Shazam! A banana leaf arbor and “hedge” of giant papyrus, with orange-flowered clivia making a pretty groundcover.
Fern and iris
Deeper into the garden we came across this interesting space: a grassy garden planted in red steel planter boxes — like an atomized meadow — with red grasshopper silhouettes atop long poles. What a fun play on “Chapultepec,” which, if you’ll remember, is Nahuatl (Aztec) for “grasshopper hill.”
The red planter boxes wind river-like around a circular focal point of boulders and stacked beach pebbles.
You can walk through the “meadow” via gravel paths.
The color, the undulating lines, the grasses and grasshoppers — I enjoyed exploring this garden space.
Culvert pipe accents
Benches tucked inside painted concrete culvert pipes offer a spot to rest and take in the view.
A bigger pipe segment makes an arch smothered in ferny greenery.
Painted face in the culvert arch
Flowering tree arching over the scene.
Oil drum succulent garden
At the rear of the garden, another playful display appears: oil drums painted red and blue, installed at varying heights to create a path and planters filled with agaves and small sedums.
The blue-drum planters overflow with bold agave foliage and tendrils of golden sedum. The red drums, fitted with stepping-stone lids, invite you on a dancing journey through the space.
It’s the kind of garden a creative recycler might make.
Standing atop the drum path, you get a nice view of both the containers and the surrounding garden.
There’s a lot more to see in Chapultepec park than just the botanical garden, of course, including a paddle-boating lake, a castle, a zoo, museums, and monuments. We wandered for a few hours and posed in front of a giant CDMX, the acronym for Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City). Then we headed over to the celebrated National Museum of Anthropology.
Museo Nacional de Antropología wowed us with its Umbrella, a sculptural column supporting a vast, asymmetrical roof, with a waterfall sheeting from the ceiling onto the plaza below. According to the museum’s website, the hanging roof is among the largest in the world and is supported by cables above the roof.
The museum’s vast collection of pre-Columbian artifacts is wonderfully displayed and tells the stories of Mexico’s peoples. Tucked into leafy courtyards accessible from some of the display rooms are also reproduction Mayan or Aztec temples, like this one, which you can explore.
We spent about 3 hours at the museum and saw only a tiny fraction of its offerings. Isn’t that always the way it is with museums you visit while traveling? There’s never enough time or energy to see it all. You must be a local to really have a chance to see everything. The lesson I take from that is, be a tourist in your own city and visit and revisit your own local museums and attractions.
Up next: Scenes from pretty parks in Condesa and San Angel neighborhoods. For a look back at the colorful folk art of Museo de Arte Popular, click here.
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