Spring. The city becomes green and leafy, the pavements dappled with sunlight. I have always loved the trees of Barcelona. Orange trees lining quiet side streets in Gràcia. Pines refreshing you with their cool tang as you ride the escalators to a concert at the Palau Sant Jordi. Shining tall palms silhouetted against the sky, the essence of the Mediterranean. The ancient Park Güell carob tree, which Gaudí famously built around.
I’ve always found Balmes and Via Laietana singularly unlovely and stressful streets—and not just because of the horrendous traffic. It’s because they have no trees. I’m sure I read somewhere that Barcelona has more trees than any other city. Or was that motor bikes? According to the Ajuntament, the total number of trees is around 153,000.
I love the plàtans (plane trees—once spotted as banana trees in a translation). Their trunks are gnarled, and they are bruised and battered by regular prunings when the Ajuntament gardeners hack off their branches with chainsaws, leaving them naked and amputated. But they bear their pain nobly, later giving us deep and welcome shade.
I love that the city honours its trees with plaques. There’s one just down the road from me, on Diagonal-Roger de Llúria, an exceptionally tall and majestic alzina (holm oak) dating from around 1923. I usually greet it on my way. As the Parcs i Jardins website explains, in Barcelona we find trees with their own fully-fledged personalities. They are citizens too.
First published in the Barcelona Metropolitan, April 2009 as part of a series looking back over 35 years in Barcelona.
NB. Since this column was written, parts of c Balmes have been remodelled, with pavements widened and trees planted.