I’ve seen photos of Jardin Majorelle many times. It’s always struck me as an interesting garden, but not a ‘me’ garden. Too cactusy, too loud with its hard landscaping colours, not soft enough for me.
But when you happen to be in Marrakech and find that something is the number one attraction on TripAdvisor, what can you do?
As I’m sure you can imagine (you are much smarter than I am), I fell for it. In fact, Paul and I debated whether it was the best warm climate garden we had ever seen. After living in hot countries for eight years and with my appetite for garden visiting, this was clearly quite something.
It’s one of those gardens that just works. As soon as you walk in you feel yourself relax and know that you are looking at a true work of art. A real expert has curated this garden.
It all began in the 1920s, when the French painter, Jacques Majorelle, commenced his forty year project. A passionate amateur botanist, he created a luxuriant garden which is often regarded as his most ‘dazzling’ work of all.
In 1980, when the garden was threatened by developers, Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, purchased the property. They were equally dedicated to the garden, maintaining the cacti that Majorelle so loved but adding their own touches. Yves Saint Laurent said that he was able to find an unlimited source of inspiration in the Jardin Majorelle, something I can quite imagine. When he passed away in 2008, Bergé donated the garden to a Foundation, such that others could enjoy the garden indefinitely.
I’m in danger of writing the world’s longest blog here. It was just an endlessly fascinating garden. But I’ve managed to filter my thoughts down to five areas:
1. Plant selection
The first surprise was that the majority of plants are plants you commonly see in Sydney. Clivia, Xanadu, Agave, Crassula, bamboo. Really, really common ones. And yet Marrakech has an average annual rainfall of 281mm, verses 1,213mm in Sydney and when you consider how absolutely desert-like the surrounding land is, flying into Marrakech, it’s hard to believe it could possibly have the same plant palette.
I think we often get misled in Sydney. We know we get generous rainfall and so convince ourselves the lush, green look is sensible. Yet for most, the soil is sand-dominant, meaning that rain goes straight through it without passing ‘Go’. Jardin Majorelle showed that a lot of our common plants are sensible, but many others aren’t. It shows that beautiful, beautiful planting combinations can be achieved that don’t need total reliance on their owner. I continually wonder why this style of garden is still so rare.
Succulents are a major feature in the garden, with cacti (a sub group of succulents that have areoles, such as spines) being particularly dominant. I’ve grown to love some succulents over the years, but cacti were never on my Christmas list. In a city with 281mm of rain though, how magnificent they look!
Actually taking time to study them properly, I was amazed to see some were gloriously spotted, some had amazingly lush flowers, some textures out of a science fiction film and almost all forms you could think of. By mixing them with contrasting plant types, they just looked perfect. Which leads me to point 3:
3. Sense of Place
I know I go on about sense of place, but could there be a better example of this? The first Moroccan garden I have visited in my life and yet it was clear as mud, Moroccan. It perfectly oozed Moroccan-ness. And it was this that made the garden work so well. I’d always thought that locations need time to find their sense of place, that English gardens were more English than Australian ones Australian, largely due to centuries of time. But this garden told me that when extremely talented artists set their mind to something, sense of place can be achieved instantaneously.
The bold colours had always jumped out at me in photos of this garden. Just too much. But seeing the garden in person, they were spot on. They enhanced the sense of place; ‘Majorelle blue’ (a unique shade) reflecting the colour of the sky, and reds and yellows, the colour of Moroccan spices. All primary colours, forming a unified look and warming up the harshness of the succulents tremendously. They toned with the bright shades of the Bougainvillea and Aloe flowers and lifted the mood of the garden.
5. Enveloping foliage
Dry climate gardens are often low to the ground. Taller trees need too much water and short, shrubby plants dominate. Most succulents are great examples. The magic of this garden was due to its enveloping foliage. Through the use of pergolas and clever plant selection, foliage wrapped around you on all sides and overhead.
Not only does this allow you to leave the busy city behind you, but it creates a cool atmosphere and beautiful dappled light. It slows you down as you duck underneath trailing Jasmine and Bougainvillea. It feels like a complete oasis.
And so I wonder. Why did I not like the garden in photos? Have I grown up or is it just one of those gardens that will always be much better to experience in real life? Perhaps you have the answer for me, seeing these photos today.