I’d been wanting to experience Ponte de Lima’s annual international garden festival for ages but never got the timing of my visits right. Spurred on by reports of all the awards the festival won last year, I decided to incorporate it into my most recent trip to northern Portugal. Although some of the flowers were past their best by early September, the imaginative themed gardens were still fun to explore and I’d happily go back another year.

The theme for 2013 is the Garden of Senses (Jardim dos Sentidos) so as you might imagine, the displays appeal to more than just the eyes and nose. Visitors are encouraged to experience the gardens through touch and sound, too. The sense of taste is left more to the imagination, however. The explanations at the entrance to each garden are worth skimming for nuggets of background information which can help you understand the concept and interact with the different features.

You can vote for your favourite garden and the winner stays on for another year. It was easy to see why last year’s Garden of Plenty was chosen; it’s a complete cottage garden with a myriad of vegetables and flowers. Not all of this year’s entries are of the same standard but despite a couple of disappointing displays, the overall quality is high enough to make it difficult to choose which garden to vote for.

If you can’t make it to Ponte de Lima before the end of October, here are some of the highlights from the 2013 festival.

Enter the garden of Paradise through a tunnel of red curved rails.
Paradise – A Utopian Place, or Not. The more you rub the giant apples, the stronger they smell. When you’ve had enough of that, relax on the beanbags and listen to a recording of cheerful birdsong.
Man playing colourful circular drums in a pond.
The Music Box garden has various interactive stations where you can make your own music.
tunnel of shadows and bamboo with hanging baskets
This simple garden, Suspended Senses, consists of coloured ceramic hanging baskets and a wooden frame. As you can see, the shadows create a dramatic tunnel effect. 
Woman standing behind a large copper bow filled with water, hands outstretched
If you follow the trail through the flowers to a circle of coloured cords, you’ll find this metal bowl in Taste the World. Bang the sides to hear its hollow ring and watch the ripples in the water.
Pebble fountain and large green leaves
These prickly leaves make a scratchy sound, contrasting with the gentle tinkle of water dripping from the pebble fountain. The Sound Garden is one of five separate areas in the Whirl of Sensations, International Garden Festival, Ponte de Lima
Different textures on a footpath, Awakening the Senses, International Garden Festival, Ponte de Lima
Take your shoes off and let your inner child help you explore this playful garden. Games, musical instruments and a mini library await you in Awakening the Senses. 
Mike in a flower, ConScented Alchemy, International Garden Festival, Ponte de Lima
The ConScented Alchemy garden is mainly about contrasting textures and shapes, enhanced by mirrors. There are some fun bits, too!


The annual festival runs from May 31st to October 31st and costs 1 euro to enter. You will be given a map of the gardens and a voting slip.

For more information, visit the International Garden Festival website.


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  1. I went to the garden festival when we were in P de L recently, it was boiling hot to walk around and as you say some of the exhibits were past their best come the end of September (I dread to think what another month will do). I enjoyed the ‘hanging wall’ of cactus but I voted for a Spanish one, A whirl of Sensations. I also have to admit that I really liked last year’s winner, the Irish raised allotment – and stole one of the chili peppers! I see on the festival website that they list the plants in each garden, thoughtful.
    And thanks for recommending P de L to us, we thought it was just lovely and a walk along the river was a delight, we saw a fisherman catch a large fish, it seemed one of the nicest things to do and be on a Sunday.

    1. Author

      Hi Jackie, I’m glad you enjoyed Ponte de Lima. Mike chose the Whirl of Sensations, too but I went for the barefoot garden after much deliberation between the two. I reckon the recent rain will have given the gardens an added burst of life and colour but next time I go, I’ll try to get there a bit earlier in the year. The Garden of Plenty was fabulous, even if it’s now a chilli short 😉

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