The Scientific Committee of the Fondazione Benetton has jointly decided to dedicate the 28th edition of the International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens to the Jardín de Cactus on Lanzarote, part of a unique system of cultivated quarries and crater embodying the fertile balance between nature and culture of the island.

Lanzarote, part of the Canary archipelago, surprises us with its vast expanses of lava. In fairly recent times, a series of lava flows have advanced slowly, leaving behind a world devoid of life and producing twenty-five new volcanoes. After being hit by numerous volcanic eruptions – the most recent one took place in the 18th century and lasted over six years – the island has succeeded in starting over many times, transforming its extreme conditions – poor soil, incessant winds, lack of water – into a stimulus for regeneration, and using them to provide the tools to build a conscious link with its living environment. The quality of its cultivations – the vineyards in particular – and the land area covered attest to this resilient character and to the island’s capacity to develop inventive forms of co-existence with an apparently inhospitable territory.

In the 20th century, César Manrique (1919-1992), a Lanzarote-born artist, recognized the values of these places and fought against the exploitation of the island for tourism, by proposing an alternative model to live it. By building places like the Jardín de Cactus, Manrique has shown us a path to follow.

The Jardín de Cactus, located in the north-eastern corner of the island near the village of Guatiza, was inaugurated on 17th March 1990. Surrounded by a patchwork of prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) plantations, the garden is situated in a disused picón quarry formerly providing local farmers with volcanic ash to scatter on their fields and later turned into a rubbish tip. Inside, a concentric system of terraces and settings nestles in the walls of the quarry. The project continues the process of transformation of the folds and hollows of the surface of the island, using the age-old techniques: raising terraces, spreading volcanic ash on the soil, and inventing forms of windbreak.

Here Manrique’s aesthetic awareness emerges above all in the teamwork collective transmission of knowledge, and the use and promotion of practices and manual skills motivated less by ideological or nostalgic yearnings for traditional landscapes than by the wish to leave a mark typical of his time, including a love of games and an amused gaze on the world. The cactus garden concentrates into its small space all the features of a history (that of Lanzarote’s landscape culture), extending – through the Scarpa Prize – an invitation to continue and renew its key aspects and characteristics.

The awareness-raising campaign linked to the 2017 International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens has begun in Milan with a press conference, will continue in Treviso (where Fondazione Benetton Studi Ricerche is headquartered), with a press conference on 18th May and the public days on Friday 19th and Saturday 20th May, which will involve: the opening of an exhibition dedicated to the award-winning place with a concert  of traditional Canarian music, an in-depth seminar open to the public, the publication of a collective volume dedicated to Lanzarote and its Jardín de Cactus, the public prize award ceremony with the presentation of the documentary and the handing over of the seal designed by Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978) and symbolizing the Prize.

This year the Scientific Committee of the Fondazione Benetton has decided to consign this seal to Antonio Martín Santos, the gardener from Lanzarote responsible for the Jardín de Cactus. His work, made up of daily gestures of care and civic devotion, is inspired by the teaching responsible for this unique political and cultural adventure, and for transmitting  to the islanders an awareness of a landscape that, despite the fragility of its condition,  can find in those hands the tools to build its future.