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Required Reading: Gardens of Marrakesh

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Required Reading: Gardens of Marrakesh

March 1, 2017

An insider’s guide around the different garden quarters of Marrakesh, (including the city’s ancient heart—the Medina) Gardens of Marrakesh by Angelica Gray is brimming with design ideas to steal. For anyone with an urban garden, the enclosed peace of a riad is a good starting point.

This authoritative and beautifully photographed book deserves a closer look and we were struck by the following recurring themes in Moroccan garden design:

Photography by Alessio Mei.

Raised Walkways

The Riad Si Moussa at the Bahia Palace is an example of gentle chaos within a formal framework.
Above: The Riad Si Moussa at the Bahia Palace is an example of gentle chaos within a formal framework.

A riad exists as a tonic to the hustle and bustle of city life. Divided into quarters (and often divided again), these enclosed oases are hidden away from the streets, behind closed doors. Once out of the noise and glare, the sound of water is occasionally overtaken by noisy birds.

Shaping and coercing plants is not the done thing in a riad; they are allowed their own freedom of expression. When plants are contained within this kind of strict layout, it doesn’t matter if they are unruly. Author Angelica Gray compares the effect to “a bouquet of wild flowers in a vase.”

Contrasts: Color & Proportion

Potted bananas are interspersed with smaller Philodendron bipinnatifidum, at Riad Madani.
Above: Potted bananas are interspersed with smaller Philodendron bipinnatifidum, at Riad Madani.

The riads of Marrakesh have a strong visual code, with endless variations within that. A rectangular garden is never boring when every surface is forensically considered. Chalky walls are paired with shiny tiles. Saturated earth colors contrast with glossy sea green; tall is paired with squat. The most obvious sensory contrast is between light and shade.

Living Curtains

A floral fringe of Pink Trumpet Vine (Podranea ricasoliana) provides lunchtime shade at Riad Madani.
Above: A floral fringe of Pink Trumpet Vine (Podranea ricasoliana) provides lunchtime shade at Riad Madani.

Addressing the practical issues of life in a hot country, in an aesthetic way, is another lesson in this book. The Riad Madani is one of the largest in the Medina and owned by a Brazilian, who enjoys using plants in layers of shade. As he says, Marrakesh life is “a war against hotness.” To this end, protective plants soar up or dangle over any structure that will support them.

Layers of Pattern

On the loggia at Riad Enija, a chair from the flea market has been reupholstered in vintage fabric.
Above: On the loggia at Riad Enija, a chair from the flea market has been reupholstered in vintage fabric.

Complexity and simplicity are natural partners in these outdoor spaces. Busy mosaic tile covering horizontal and vertical surfaces is broken up with expanses of calm, just as dead-straight walkways cut across a jungle of planting. Here embroidered velvet is tempered with stripes, while mid-century modern sits well with traditional filigree lighting.

Plant Form

At Jardin Majorelle, away from applications of the garden&#8\2\17;s famous saturated blue, a bamboo grove is edged with low-lying Monstera deliciosa.
Above: At Jardin Majorelle, away from applications of the garden’s famous saturated blue, a bamboo grove is edged with low-lying Monstera deliciosa.

Away from the Medina and the riad idea, artist and plant collector Jacques Majorelle created a garden from scratch in the 1920s. With this irregular plot, plants take on a luxuriant formality (the garden was later overseen by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, whose ashes are scattered here). In this controlled arrangement, the shape of every plant is highlighted.

Culture Clash

The Grass Garden at the Beldi Country Club, with a giant agave.
Above: The Grass Garden at the Beldi Country Club, with a giant agave.

On the side of the city that faces the Atlas Mountains, the series of gardens around the Beldi Country Club are mainly dominated by roses. In this Grass Garden, a sense of seclusion is given to the “hideouts” that have been raised over fountain grasses with plumes that are accentuated by silver agave. It easily assimilates a mixup of styles, from French colonial Art Deco to western seating (specifically American) Adirondack chairs. Boldness in shapes and color draws the scene together.

Above: A paperback copy of Gardens of Marrakesh is 14.99 from Amazon UK. For US readers, a paperback copy is $15.17 from Amazon.
For more garden design ideas from Morocco, see:

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