Tuesday, 16 April 2013

MAJORELLE GARDENS





Majorelle Gardens, Marrakesh, is one of my the favourite gardens.  In fact, I would say it is truly world class; and the best garden I have ever visited.  If you are ever in Marrakesh then you simply must visit these gardens.  If you are not in Marrakesh, well……..you had better plan a visit.

The garden was created in 1920s and 30s by the French artist Jacques Majorelle during the colonial period when Morocco was a protectorate of France.  Jaques Majorelle was influenced by the Berber style in the surrounding desserts and Atlas mountains, especially the outlining of windows and doorways in a deep colbat blue. He was an avid plant collector, and this is obvious from the quality and variety of plants within the garden.

The architecture within the garden is art deco in style, with rich colours, bold geometric shapes and lavish ornamentation. Famously the 12 acre garden was home to Yves Saint Laurent, who restored the gardens back to their former glory in the 1980's.

Walking through the gardens

You enter the gardens into a small circular fountain courtyard, which is tiled in bright colours and surrounded by seating.  It provides a welcome area to sit and contemplate for a while (we ate our pickled onion monster munch here).

Travelling further into the garden you are led to a small square pond and get your first glimpse of the main garden, and all the cacti and palms.  The path leads you away to a mass of tall (VERY tall) bamboos.  The bamboo are very old and thick, and some even have graffiti initials carved into them.

You then leave the bamboo forest behind and are greeted by the tallest trachycarpus I have ever seen.  You do eventually look down and the mid height plants include fantastic grasses that have wonderful bulbous barks and  palms with fantastic leaves that look like bird wings,

The lower story is home to all the cacti, which contrast perfectly in regards to form, texture, colour and proportion.  At every viewing point you will see the mix of glauca blue, verde green, soft white and all other shades of green and blue.  There are cacti, agaves, aloes, succulents, palms, yuccas and tall grasses of all shapes, colours and varieties. 

Each plant within the garden is displayed brilliantly, both as a specimen plant and within a group. They are allowed to breathe and have the space required to admire them as an individual plant.  But then you look back away and realise that the grouping of plants is truly inspired, with contrasting groups of cacti, agaves, palms and grasses at every turn.

The cacti are set off with a mulching of red gravel, which is formed into distinctive sunken circles around the base of each plant.  This is very effective at highlighting each plant, and I saw this circling around the base of plants in Marrakesh used for retaining water when irrigating the beds. This spacing and the gravel around each plant reminded me a little of Zen gardening.  But then you look up to the enormous palms or bamboo above and you realise this is very different.

Geometrically the centre of the garden is very linear, with square pools and rectangular rills.  However, the edge of the garden is softened with the circular path and the tall planting that encloses the garden and allows you to travel informally around it. You forget that you are in the centre of busy Marrakesh.

There is a strong use of colour in the garden. Actually that is a huge understatement.  There is a MASSIVE use of colour in the garden.  From the red paths to the blue ponds, and bright yellow, red and (Majorelle) blue pots that line the pathways.  All the buildings are brightly painted (mostly blue) and decorated with contrasting features. The shade of bold cobalt blue used extensively in the garden and its buildings is named Majorelle blue after the artist who designed the gardens. The blue and the use of water gives a coolness within the garden, which is welcome in the scorching heat of Marrakesh.

Why I love Majorelle gardens

The brilliance of this garden is that it works on so many levels.  The hard landscaping within the garden is Islamic in it is design, with rills and water punctuating through the garden.  Water is a common theme, from the cool fountain garden at the entrance to the large rills that dissect the garden; and finally the cooling, milk coloured pools.

The gardens are truly awe inspiring.  The cacti are flawless. The level of horticultural expertise in maintaining and preserving these plants is first class, better than any RHS or Kew maintained gardens.  I did not see a leaf out of place or a single dead plant.  The plants looked well fed and healthy.  The continuity of the garden is brilliantly executed.  New, young plants were planted in beds where plants had been replaced prior to maturing.  The movement of planting in the garden meant it still felt young, and fresh.  It had an air of new and exciting planting, that could be changed at any moment. I cannot wait until I go back again.  

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