The Jardin d’Essai du Hamma is a botanical garden in southern central Algiers. It occupies about 140 acres of ground between the Mediterranean shore and a hillside that bears two more Algiers landmarks, the Musée National des Beaux Arts and the Martyrs’ Monument. Founded in 1832, the garden spent most of the first decade of the 21st century closed to visitors whilst restoration work was going on. It reopened in 2009 and currently contains an estimated total of 1200 different plant species.
I wandered in there on a Saturday afternoon, which was the busiest point of the Algiers weekend, and the place was swarming with sightseers. Particularly popular was the little zoo at the coastal end of the garden. A half-dozen families were queuing outside its entrance building — a handsome white structure that was decorated with bas-reliefs showing lions, swans, pelicans, flamingos and, most strikingly, peacocks with turquoise and yellow plumage. Thankfully, unlike a lot of zoos I’ve walked past, this one didn’t exude the squalid, smothering stench of animals being kept in too-close proximity to one another. Not that I went into it, though. I’m definitely not a fan of zoos.
Despite the crowds, the garden was pleasant way of passing an hour. I saw some very aged trees whose roots were almost as tangled and dense as their branches above; while their bark had become as creased and veined as a crone’s skin. And I was impressed by some palm trees whose trunks were engulfed in a thick, shaggy parasitic growth that made them look, as they loomed over me, like giant yetis or sasquatches.
A few areas of the garden had titles that would have broken the Trades Description Act if this had been in the United Kingdom. The path called ‘Bamboo Alley’ didn’t actually have much bamboo along it; except for its final strait before it opened into the garden’s main thoroughfare, where two thick clumps of bamboo tilted drunkenly overhead from either corner. Just beyond, on the thoroughfare itself, you got a good view of the Martyrs’ Monument crowning the hill above.
Also, the section called the ‘Jardin Français’ didn’t seem very French to me and another section called the ‘Jardin Anglais’ didn’t seem very English.
The Jardin Anglais contained a couple of hulking white statues of ladies in flowing dresses and extravagant headdresses – maybe they were an Algerian sculptor’s idea of what English ladies would look like in an English country-house garden. Unappealingly, when you looked at them closely, you discovered that their chalk-white surfaces were peppered with graffiti. One statue depicted two ladies standing so closely together they resembled Siamese twins. Another statue was of a single lady, holding up her arms. The plaster or stone that’d originally formed one of her arms had crumbled away, leaving just the metal frame that’d supported it; so that she looked like she was doing an impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger after he’d stripped off his synthetic arm-skin and arm-flesh in 1991’s Terminator II.