1843-1918. Between two centuries. Chaplain José Castaño.
He was born in Elche on the 12th of May 1843. He was the third son of a large family that were tenants in an orchard that over time would become the land of his father, and afterwards, his own.
He was a practising vicar in the Parroquia del Salvador (Saviour’s Parish) and afterwards, he became chaplain of the prison and of the Order of Saint Clare Convent. He dedicated most of his life to the orchard, very modestly refusing to accept help and prebends. Around 1900, he constructed a chapel on his land where he conducted mass every day. Let us think that the garden at that time was a rural area, where vegetables, fruits and, of course, dates were grown, and where there were also chickens and some cattle.
José Castaño knew how to value and spread the word about the gem that his orchard contained: the Imperial Palm Tree, and he started to set up a “baptism” of the palm trees and the custom that the visitors would leave comments in a journal. It was he who received in December 1894 the unexpected visit of Empress Elisabeth of Austria and Queen of Hungary (1837-1898), known as Sissi, from whom comes the name of “Imperial” given to the famous Palm.
He passed away when he was 75 years old on the 14th of October 1918. His burial received mass crowds of people with the town of Elche paying him a tribute.
1918-1936. Transformation: Sir Juan Orts Miralles.
Not only the garden, but Elche, begins to transform. Elche has just over 25,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the twentieth century, but the industrial revolution is progressively imposed, and it shows mainly in the footwear industry.
The new owner of the Garden, Juan Orts Miralles, was born in Elche on March 30, 1874 and died on September 18, 1936. He was the sixth and last child of a family of modest resources.
Owner of an important espadrille shoe company, he won important prizes in the Paris and Milan exhibitions with his models wearing canvas footwear. He was, undoubtedly, an intelligent and advanced man for his time. Friend of Chaplain Castaño, he knew the orchard very well and, when the property went up for public auction after the death of the Chaplain, Juan managed to acquire it.
He immediately started the renovations making the orchard into a summer house. One of the most respected decisions of Sir Juan Orts was his consistent refusal to urbanise the land.
In this stage of the Garden, it is when it becomes an open space for visitors, so that in their time they visited the garden illustrious characters, many of whom he presented with the dedication of a palm tree
1936-1958. Consolidation with Juan Orts Román.
During most of the sad Spanish Civil War, the Garden was seized by anarchist brigades, renamed “International Garden”, and finally used as a school.
Already in 1940, he returns to the Orts family with Juan Orts Roman, son of the previous owner. He was born in Elche on September 22, 1898 and died in Orihuela on June 18, 1958.
The firstborn of six brothers and qualified in law, he had many different roles in his city, which he achieved thanks to his sound cultural and humanistic training, becoming a journalistic collaborator with the press both in his province and nationally. When he died he was an official city journalist and boss of the Elx Mystery Play.
Once his father died, he became the owner of the garden and made the most important reform that had been done so far, turning it into a playground and gave him tourist projection, obtaining the status of “National Artistic Garden” in 1943. He built the current house and made it his permanent home.
A great defender of Elx Mystery Play, he welcomed every one that could help him to spread the word both nationally and internationally.
His own work is also renown, which from the touristic point of view brought the orchard to a national and international level.
If in the times of his father, the orchard was the meeting place of powerful politicians, now it was the centre of the best of the learned society at this time.
His remains rest, according to his own will, in the chapel of the garden next to those of his wife, María Serrano Barceló.
1958 to the present day: Modernization.
Upon the death of Juan Orts Román, his 6 children inherit the garden and that is when, thanks to José Orts Serrano and the unconditional support of the rest of the siblings, new ornamental spaces are created around the Imperial Palm. Thanks to the inspiration and landscape and botanical knowledge of Pepe Orts, successive landscapes appear in different plots of the garden, where you can see cacti (between ponds in the Rocalla), exotic palms of different latitudes, citrus, and other curious plants like those of the family of zamiaceae (zamias) or of the genus of cycas. This transformation is carried out in a way that remains true to the structure of the traditional garden of Elche (with its plots and its paths), maintaining its flavor of Mediterranean Arab garden.
In this way, the Cura orchard evolves in less than 100 years, from being a traditional rural area to a garden with international tourist and cultural projection, where traditional plants of the area coexist, with others of more tropical origin. The garden then becomes the most visited place in Elche and a clear exponent of its past and its future.