"My passion for flowers has been with me forever"
- Interview with Isabel Castro, head gardener at the Califa in Vejer
We continue to uncover the story behind each member of the team that is part of the Califa family. Today we talk to Isabel Castro, a Vejeriega of 54 years, mother of three girls and a lawyer by profession, who changed lawsuits for plants, her great passion. Today she deals with all the gardening, plants and floral arrangements at the Califa hotels and restaurants in Vejer. "A sustainable project whose goal is for the client to feel as comfortable as possible, as in their own home," says Isabel.
Isabel Castro was born in Vejer and studied law in Seville because her passion as a child was to be a lawyer, "to defend the most humble," she says. Her professional experience began in Madrid as a civil servant, work that she got through employment exchanges. "I spent my life between lawsuits and notifications to solicitors," she clarifies.
Her life took a radical turn following a personal circumstance. "I decided at that time to start from scratch by going back to Vejer where I had my family and friends. I wanted to do a masters degree that cost a lot of money but I needed to work immediately so I started my new life as a waitress so I worked in various restaurants in Vejer."
But Isabel had a great passion, flowers. "When I was working as a waitress, I started putting bunches of flowers when I could on the tables and in the bar I always placed a main bouquet. That passion for flowers has followed me forever" she confesses. "If something characterized me every time there was an event or a celebration, such as communions or weddings of relatives, it is that I took care of the flowers, it has always been my thing. I was always watching the plants of my friends and if someone had a problem, they would ask me for help. "
'Dreams can come true if you have the courage to follow them' says a well-known phrase, and Isabel decided to pursue hers. "From here on there was a moment when I started thinking that I could dedicate myself to this, but I had to start from some basis, since it was a world that I was passionate about but had no technical expertise. I spoke with María Eugenia, owner of Cotton Candy, a well-known florist in Conil and she advised me that the first thing I had to do was to train in floral art, that is, learn how to hydrate a flower, how to treat it or how to look for suppliers, among many other things".
So she started by taking a course at the Andalucian School of Floral Art in Bollullos. "At the school I learnt that if you make a bridal bouquet, a crown or whatever you want, the important thing is to enjoy what you do and that comes through in the arrangement".
In 2016 Isabel took the next step and decided to set up a flower shop in Vejer. "I have an architect friend who helped me with a brief business plan to sell flowers at the door of the market entrance". This then started a quest with the town hall to request a permanent site. "My fixation was from the beginning to develop a floral workshop rather than a flower shop because I wanted to show people about my style and that I was creative not just a flower seller".
Isabel on the terrace of the Corredera 55 restaurant of the Califa Group.
With the start-up of the workshop, called Ammi Majus Vejer, her first assignment arrived: "The first thing I did was the bridal bouquet and the floral decoration Vejer's principal church the Iglesia Divino Salvador for the wedding of a friend". From there, little by little, her work began to be known. Her first business client, 'La Oficina', also arrived, "The owner, Candido, calls me the artist of the flowers", says Isabel with a smile.
And from that moment her passion began to take shape. The first garden that was arranged was that of La Tarantella, on the Corredera, for three seasons. "It opened in the summer and I was in charge of it", says Isabel. "Corredera 55 restaurant has been a wonderful visual project as at the entrance to Vejer everybody sees my work".
Turn your dreams into objectives and your goals into reality. There is no greater luck. "On February 27, 2019 James Stuart of the Califa, asks me if I would be willing to take care of the plants and garden of both the hotels and the restaurant and he showed me all the spaces that I would take care of. The work would consist of watering, caring for and maintaining the alley, the terraces of Plaza de España and Tripería, where Las Palmeras del Califa are, etc. He gave me a sheet with all the details, I asked him when he started and he answered me the next day. "
This is how Isabel began on February 28 to take care of all the plants and flowers of the Califa. "I do not have a schedule, I come and go as I please and manage all the plants, replacing and redfining areas where I see fit. There is only one condition, I can't make any noise so as not to disturb hotel guests during the afternoon siesta so I do most of my work in the morning."
More than 50 species of plants make up the floral aspect of the Califa, both in the interior and exterior areas: "In the courtyards and alleys there are geraniums, pelargoniums, many calanchoes, hibiscus, cactus, wisteria, James is planting more Robellini, which is a hardy miniature palm tree. There are shade patios with cóleos, aspidistra and spider plants. There is a rhododendron that I am recovering and it is already in bloom, we can also find strelitzia, daisies, several colours of bougainvillea, which are now in their moment of splendor. There are even honeysuckle and begonias that give their name to the 'Patio de Begonias', oleanders, which gives its name to the 'Patio de las Adelfas' and many more. In the 'Patio del Jazmin' I am restoring a large monstera which as been there for decades. I am one of the few people who notices every new leaf that comes out", confesses Isabel." In this same courtyard there are ferns, a jasmine that we have replanted and an aspidistra, among others" she adds.
In the interiors you can admire yucca, bromeliads, classic indoor plants. Almost all of the plants are now in bloom.
"When I worked in the magistrates court they told me that it would take three months to control the amount of lawsuits I had pending. Today I have been taking care of the floral aspect of the Califa for three months. I can tell you that I believe that I know each species where it is, how it is, what it needs and what it does not lack. The bad thing is when the Levante wind blows and a lot of the good work done, especially on the exposed terraces, becomes undone" she admits laughingly.
Like the objects and other aspects of the Caliph, even the plants have a story behind them. "There are species that have been in hotels since James lived here. I do not think that every plant is placed where it is by chance. There is harmony in every corner with the aim of making it pleasant for the audience. "
A sustainable floral project at the same time. "It's not about buying plants, but about trying to restore all the plants that are here anyway that's what James told me from the beginning." A very important part of the group's philosophy, "The British love gardens, they are a fundamental part of our life", says James Stuart. "Here in Andalusia, due to the lack of water, it is necessary to create spaces in a different way, so I love taking advantage of native species and I am very aware of how complicated it is to adapt foreign plants to our climate. It is a great bonus to have such an intelligent gardener who is very in tune with the natural world around us, who loves flowers and, therefore, her work".
"In the Califa, known worldwide, all tourists want to take pictures of the patios and flowers, in the most colorful places," says Isabel. Thousands of travellers every year who visit each of the Califa establishments, whether they are the hotels La Casa del Califa or Las Palmeras del Califa, La Tetería del Califa, El Jardín del Califa or Califa Tapas " If you are not observant of plants, you do not notice the work that is being done. The only one who has really noticed the results that we are beginning to see is James who loves flowers and my style, that is, the plants in as natural setting as possible".
"Nobody has taught me my work" says Isabel. "When I started in Court they did not explain anything to me and here it is the same. I try to take care of everything more than if it were my own garden, so that it is impeccable. "
Although she has only been working for three months, she already knew the team from long before. "I've known James since he came to Vejer about 30 years ago. I met him first when he rode around Vejer on a bicycle. He's always seemed a very close and friendly person, in fact, his friends are still the same as when he arrived in Vejer, "says Isabel. All the staff in general are wonderful, "like a big family". "It is precisely what James likes most, that everyone does their job well but that there is a good atmosphere," she concludes.
As the famous Chinese philosopher Confucius said: "Choose a job that you like and you will not have to work even one day of your life". Isabel's is precisely a story of self-improvement that teaches us that we have to love what we do and fight to achieve our dreams.
- Your favorite corner... the main terrace. Pelargoniums, the bougainvillea, the robellini, all precious plants to me. What I like especially the most are the spectacular views you can admire. If you are a guest and you have a book and these views you do not need anything else.
- Your favorite Califa species are ... strelitzia and agapanthus, located in El Jardín del Califa restaurant.
- Your best moment... the day I opened my store, Ammi Majus Vejer.
- Your worst moment... the day I left my daughters in Madrid to come back to Vejer.
- You miss... family life.
- A place to lose yourself... Cascais (Portugal).
- A book... The Cathedral of the Sea, by Ildefonso Falcón. I have read it 15 times.
- A song... Color Esperanza by Diego Torres.
Floral decoration at Corredera 55