It’s cold outside in London. Although I can sometimes enjoy a dreamy morning like this, as I set off  around my local park…


…and sometimes foggy days in London town do indeed have the ability to turn into mornings like this…


…what I am really dreaming of, as the rain begins again and every stretch of green turns into a murky expanse of brown, is THIS – soaring palm trees and walls heavily, exuberantly cloaked with billowing Plumbago, Bougainvillea and Jasmine:

palm trees

The Casa de Pilatos in Seville is one of my favourite gardens in the world. A wonderful series of elegant, slightly faded gardens, courtyards and loggias, exquisitely and abundantly decorated – with five hundred year old Cuenca tiles (Casa de Pilatos holds one of the largest collections in the world):

more tiling

detail tiling

and richly pigmented paint:IMG_0001

It is above all a masterclass in thinking about the garden from the interior of a building, with the different garden rooms, framing the view , luring the visitor from one part of the space to another.

entrance gate

yellow chamber doorgreen beyond the corridor

I could be lured there again anytime.  Seville in Southern Spain is a great place to visit in the cooler months of the year.  The last few days of January 2014 will apparently be sunny, with day time temperatures of between 15 – 20°C.

I start to smile when I am in a part of the world where the windows are bordered in yellow

entrance cleaner

and where you can stop for a moment to  enjoy the muscly elegance of its doors. Here is  a wonderful glossy green paint and brass door in the nearby hilltop town of Carmona:

palace of justice door detail And here is the kind of soft geometric wall pattern that you find a burst of everywhere:

painted wall cordoba

It would be great to try something like this in a London garden:

close up painted wall

Cool, verdant courtyards are crucial here to provide somewhere to sit and calm the spirit when temperatures rise.  And there are lessons everywhere we could take away for urban back gardens anywhere.

The rusty orange awnings that can be drawn to completely enclose a courtyard

orange blind close up

are clean and elegant and cast a brilliant glow on the patio below.  IMG_0007

Casa de Pilatos itself, in the Santa Cruz district of Seville, is the ultimate courtyard garden.  Created within the exquisite walls of an innovative and influential Andalusian palace, it was built in several phases in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for a wealthy Aristocratic family.  The first ambitious phase built by the Chief Governor of Andalusia, Don Pedro Enriquez, and his hugely wealthy wife, Dona Catalina de Ribera in 1482.

Behind the simple, gothic facade (with excellently riveted double doors):

IMG_0005 IMG_0006is an elegant cloud- coloured mansion built around a spacious central patio in the lacy, Mudejar style :


During the sixteenth century, successive generations of the family travelled to Italy and returned inspired by Renaissance ideas  – and loaded up with classical sculpture.   Remodelling – to include ideas found in Italian architecture – took place between 1526 and 1539 and again in 1568 when Neopolitan architect, Benvenuto Tortello was commissioned to build a ‘new palace’ within the gardens of the Casa, the main purpose of which was to house the now extensive collection of classical art.

In particular, Tortello adapted the Italian notion of the Loggia – traditionally an open-sided building with views over the countryside – to suit the Casa de Pilatos’ position amongst a dense urban network of Seville streets, and of course the Aristocratic desire to be screened from public view. Two loggias and an arcaded corridor were built opening instead onto the enclosed gardens – creating an intimate and yet monumental setting for the extraordinary family collection.


Here, the combination of deep ochre yellow walls, perfectly placed sculptures and fragments of classical architecture and a soft green fringe of lingering foliage is seductive and feels entirely personal.

tablets yellow wall green fringecentral stone

Everywhere, the extent of the detailing is breathtaking. If you look down, the chalky terracotta floor is embedded with jewel-like coats of arms:

detail floorIf you look up, an iron gate may be framed with a gorgeous corrugated roof of jade-coloured tiles:

green roof tileEven the steps up to a working area of the palace are densely lined with pots of impressively lush spider plants IMG_3825

A tactile mannerist grotto – turbulant papier-mâché style pebble work against a crumbling Venetian red wall – houses a sixteenth century marble ‘Sleeping Venus’

pink grotto–  it is a delicious surprise after the cool, intricate elegance of the Mudejar plasterwork. lacy wall and tiles

The planting itself is a slightly ramshackle version of formal, with fading Acanthus casting laddered shadows against the walls,

IMG_0002mounds of suckering but sweetly scented Clerodendrum bungei,

IMG_0003and trees of rather mismatching scales amongst ranks of Aganpanthus.


But it is this relaxed, comfortable imperfection, combined with the quality of the architecture and decorative elements that make it such a pleasure to visit.

I love the rugged, hairy  palm tree trunks and their stiff strings of fat pea-like seeds –IMG_0009

in such close proximity to the fine, Mudejar, marquetry doors and shutters:


and the intense, sometimes incredibly freely-patterned, tiling.

IMG_0004I love the way the trees are allowed to close over sculptures to form a bright green canopy:

verdant towerand the way shadows form new patterns of their own against the rich backdrop of colour and tile.pot shadow tile

I love the way a bench can be merely another curving line of green against an intense, multicoloured tapestry of tiling:

tile benchor it can provide a perfectly judged balance of red against yellow in a neighbouring room.

yellow chamber with benchCasa de Pilatos has the eclectic charm and multi-layered beauty of a house and garden which have been cherished and invested in by generations of passionate owners.  It has a romantic, timeless atmosphere that could perhaps be the starting point for lifting an interior or an exterior design simply by painting a wall in a rich yellow geometric pattern:

IMG_0002Or it could be the trigger to a hundred stories and daydreams.  It is not surprising to discover that David Lean used the Casa de Pilatos along with other locations in Seville to represent Cairo in his film, Lawrence of Arabia – Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence meets Jack Hawkins’ General Allenby in the main patio:

3620131502184552w lawrence-of-arabia-1962I am very tempted to jump on a plane …IMG_0008

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