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Preserving the Past: The Cactus Gardens of Cadereyta de Montes

Edythe Anstey Hanen

If Mexico calls to you with its old-world beauty, its bloody but glorious history, its rich culture and the profound pride and love of life that is reflected in the faces of its people, then like me, you will never tire of searching out the country’s endless natural treasures. From the cathedrals of power to the cathedrals of faith, from the breathtaking beauty of its coastal beaches, to the pueblos, valleys, mountain peaks and ancient ruins that make up the country’s landscape, Mexico is a journey without end.

One of the great joys of travelling in Mexico is that wherever you find yourself, for the cost of only a bus ticket, a cab fare or the services of a hired guide, you will always be able to find new frontiers, another piece of Mexican history to unravel and delightful memories to carry home with you. In the winter months, David and I make our home in San Miguel de Allende, and one glance at the map reminds us each year that we will never run out of new terrain to explore and still-undiscovered roads to travel.

Jardín Juárez, Cadareyta, Querétaro
Edythe Anstey Hanen
Jardín Juárez, Cadereyta, Querétaro. Photo: Edythe Anstey Hanen

One of our 2013 journeys was a day trip to Cadereyta de Montes in the state of Querétaro, a 90-minute trip from San Miguel. Sometimes referred to as the gateway to the Sierra Gorda, Cadereyta was founded in 1640 at the site of a Franciscan mission. In 2011 it was designated a pueblo mágico through a federal and state program that focuses on promoting the country’s places of particular natural beauty, historical significance and cultural bounty.

Cadereyta’s pristine main plaza features two churches – the parish church of St. Peter and St. Paul and the temple of La Soledad – that exemplify the beauty and grace of neoclassic architecture. It also features a stone-carved and beautifully painted Atrial Cross dating back to the late 1500s and preserved in a baptistry, and an extravagantly sculpted and gilded late baroque retablo created by Pedro de Rojas in the 1750s.

Edythe Anstey Hanen
Photo: Edythe Anstey Hanen

The highlight of our time in Cadereyta, though, and the purpose of our journey, was a trip to the city’s two botanical gardens: the older La Quinta Schmoll, founded in 1920 by biologist Caroline Wagner and her painter husband Ferdinand Schmoll, and the government sponsored Regional Botanic Gardens (Manuel Gonzales de Cosio Regional Botanic Garden), founded in 1990.

La Quinta is still a family project, run by the 4th generation of the Wagner family and is dedicated to the preservation and reproduction of cacti and succulents of the region. Some of the more unique species to be found at La Quinta are what they refer to as ‘oldies’ – 500-year-old plants, some of which take 300 years to bloom. The plants have served a variety of purposes; many are edible and many are used for medicinal purposes. In one area called Casa Abuela (Grandmother’s house), mother plants are cared for to enable the collection of seeds for reproduction. The work in progress at La Quinta and the organization’s dedication to teaching and the sharing of information is clearly a labour of love. La Quinta’s beautiful old-world ambience and its mysterious winding pathways into a true world of natural wonders inspired a friend to say: "The old display garden at the back, now wildly overgrown, feels like a setting for an exotic mystery novel.” And indeed, it does.

Beautiful paths through the gardens
Edythe Anstey Hanen
Beautiful paths through the gardens. Photo: Edythe Anstey Hanen

Cadereyta's Regional Botanical Garden occupies 12 hectares and is supported by the Science and Technology Council of the state of Querétaro; this garden focuses on the preservation of the many cacti and succulents that are under threat of extinction, particularly the Cactaceae and the Agavaceae. Dedicated to the conservation of these endangered families, greenhouses have been constructed as propagation units with low humidity refrigeration where seeds are stored in a germplasm bank so that they may be reproduced at a later date. The centre offers guided tours and educational, conservation and research programs for both school children and the general public. Its beautifully groomed gardens and winding pathways provide an enchanting experience for the visitor and the views above the gardens (a winding rocky path makes its way to a small lookout at the top) offer a stunning view of rolling green and umber fields and hazy blue distant mountains.

Both botanical gardens are a delightful visual gift for the traveller. Cadereyta is in the state of Querétaro on Federal Highway 120 (San Juan del Río-Xilitla Highway); it is 29 km to Bernal; 71 km to Quéretaro and 211 km to Mexico City.

Published or Updated on: December 17, 2018 by Edythe Anstey Hanen © 2018
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