Joel's cactus bike
Greener Golf - Almanzora, Spain
“When they asked me to work here I thought, how can I work on a golf course? I’m an environmentalist.” Charismatic Frenchman, Joel Lode, in charge of the cactus and succulent planting at the Desert Springs course laughed when he remembered his initial job offer.
“But this place makes me proud. It has taken years but my cactuses love it here. And so do I.”
Joel showed me his home made greenhouses with four thousand species of cactus and succulent. These are his personal collection, gathered from all over the world, a lifetime’s work.
“I didn’t mean to be a Cactus man. As a child in France I read Jules Verne and wanted to go around the world in eighty days. Or around the world in any amount of days would do fine. At twenty one, I went off with my bicycle across Europe, Turkey, and eventually came to the Dasht-i- Kevil, the great salt desert in Iran. It was full of tulips. How can plants grow in the desert like this? I wondered. So, since then, I can’t stop going to deserts, collecting plants that shouldn’t be alive. A cactus is like a magic plant and each one tells a story to me.”
One hundred and sixty varieties of Joel’s enthusiastically tended collection were thriving around the golf course and extensive gardens of Desert Springs.
“I choose plants that will need no irrigation. This golf course uses only a third of the water used on other Spanish courses. They only have a small amount of grass for the tees and greens. The rest is sculpted sand, rock features and my cactus plantings.”
Beside a long, quiet stretch of Almeria coast, Desert Springs had runners, tennis enthusiasts, cyclists and a couple of football teams in training, enjoying a true oasis alongside the golfers. With low level buildings in colours blending into the landscape, Desert Springs was a pretty place to stay. Serious sportsmen mingled with holiday makers who were just trying to work off a few of the delicious meals from the Desert Springs restaurants. Or holiday makers busy doing nothing, in the breezy sunshine, under bright blue skies.
A member of the UNESCO Botanical commission, Joel Lode kept a stern eye on the resort’s environmental credentials as well as its good looks. Several awards have been won. Naturalists arrive regularly to study the birds, insects and wild plants starting to thrive here.
“We’ve created an environment that’s attracting nature, not damaging it. Birds, lizards and insects that haven’t been seen around here for years have come now.” Joel told me.
“Naturalists arrive to be critical and stay to count the different types of good things we have. One hundred and seventeen species of birds. Four hundred species of wild flowers. My next project here is a botanical garden, then we’ll really see happy environmentalists I think.”
Even the approach road to Desert Springs was narrow and winding because:“There are old plantations of olive trees that we didn’t want to disturb so we worked round them.”
Old olive plantations and new swathes of rich green citrus trees coloured all the hillsides surrounding Desert Springs. The olives and oranges found their way to the restaurant tables. Olive oil and honey, served and for sale, was produced in the resort grounds.
I asked Joel Lode if he felt the very high standards set by himself and the Desert Springs owners had paid off. “I am happy in my work. I’m sixty years old now and have been interested in cactuses all my life, so to have a chance to really show people how wonderful they are is great. But I did think that golfers just saw the ball and the hole out here. One day I was putting in new plants and a golfer asked me many questions about them. We talked for a half hour. Imagine a golfer interrupting his game like that! So they’re very busy playing, but they do notice.”
- For more on Joel Lode’s projects and remarkable life go to: cactus-adventures.com
- Desert Springs, Almeria, offers year round golfing, family breaks, tennis coaching and spa holidays. A full range of information is at almanzora.com
- Almeria, Murcia and Alicante airports are all in easy reach.