Take inspiration from the plants, colours and smells of Marrakesh for your own African-inspired plot
Over the past 20 years, I’ve had multiple visits to magical Morocco, and often find myself joining hoards of tourists at a garden in the beautiful rose red city of Marrakesh.
The iconic Jardin Majorelle, more recently owned by legendary couturier Yves Saint Laurent, was created and planted by French artist Jacques Majorelle, who painted his Art Deco studio, the garden’s boundary walls, fountains and features an intense and vibrant shade of cobalt blue.
Viewers of the Netflix hit Finding Anna will also be familiar with this garden, as it plays a delightful cameo role in the scam artist’s escapades.
The Majorelle garden is located in what is now an upmarket suburb of the city, and is famous for the luxuriant planting of bamboos, cactus groves, and shimmering water lilies in raised ponds. An early morning visit is a must for anyone interested in garden design, and fashionistas can also visit the newly opened Yves Saint Laurent Museum nearby.
However, if you are staying in the old city, there’s another lesser known garden that I’d recommend. Le Jardin Secret is tucked away within the walls of the Medina, and is as much a surprise as a secret.
Winding through the hot, dusty and manically busy streets, where street traders vie with each other for your attention, you might easily pass the entrance. As is so often the case with Moroccan architecture, modest exteriors open to reveal ornate beauties. Step inside the entrance and a tranquil oasis of green lies beyond.
It’s a garden restoration, or probably more correctly a garden reimagined. The original fell into complete disrepair but has been recreated in recent years.
There are two separate areas. The first is the exotic garden, which has trees and plants from all over the world, and there are some magnificent mature specimens here. The second is classically Islamic, divided into four quadrants, and is a depiction of paradise as described by the Quran — flowing waters, orange trees laden with fruit, scented flowers, and ample shade.
The pathways are paved with aqua-green brick which, when viewed from above, creates an almost mirage-like effect of green canals running through the garden. The planting palette has been limited, with much repeat planting to create a cohesive and calm atmosphere. Olive trees surround the garden, and the quadrants are mainly planted with citrus trees, French lavender, and rosemary hedges, while pathways are softened by grasses and erigeron daisies. Old terracotta urns are filled with aromatic pelargoniums.
British garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith was central to the restoration team, and this may account for my feeling on my visit that I was in a Chelsea Flower Show garden. As per show-garden guidelines, it’s heavily planted so that no bare soil is visible, and it’s all very “perfect”. Beautiful though it undoubtedly is, it doesn’t feel authentically Islamic, which is a shame. The Moroccan design aesthetic is wonderful, and I’m sure the plot would have benefited from a more local garden designer.
Finish off your gardening adventure with a stroll around the gardens of La Mamounia, the premier hotel in Marrakesh. Set in the grounds of a former sultan’s palace, this luxurious hotel has extensive gardens which are happily relaxed and colourful. With a magnificent backdrop of the snow-capped Atlas mountains, ancient olive trees abound, and borders are crammed with colourful flowers.
Avenues of olive trees line the boundaries of perfect lawns, a citrus orchard shimmers with fruit and vegetables, and herbs are grown in abundance for the hotel’s kitchens.
Just three-and-a-half hours from Dublin via Ryanair, these regular trips allow me to step back in time and design. The plants, the colours, the smells…all great inspiration for anyone planning their own African-inspired plot.
For more information, see jardinmajorelle.com, lejardinsecretmarrakech.com, and mamounia.com
It’s a beautiful time of the year when cherry trees burst into blossom. Even if you don’t have room to plant one, or you feel that the roots are too shallow and they will come and ruin your lawn and lift your paving stones, spend some time drinking in the joyous ethereal beauty of cherry trees and their voluminous clouds of pink and white flowers. Take some time to plant one for the future, or just enjoy them today.
I have a large, well-established bay tree in my garden which has grown well for many years, except this one. The leaves seem to be going brown, dry, and are falling off the tree. Is there anything I can do?
This can be a response by the tree to environmental conditions. As it is a Mediterranean species, it naturally prefers drier conditions. Sudden drops in temperature, very wet weather, or bitterly cold winds can also cause this. I would recommend removing the brown leaves and giving your tree a good feed around the base to give it a boost. Well-rotted manure, garden compost, or an organic feed from your local garden centre will help it produce a new crop of leaves. If necessary, you can prune it to encourage new growth, and now is the right time to do so.
Submit your gardening questions to Diarmuid via his Instagram @diarmuidgavin using the hashtag #weekendgarden