Morocco often finds itself alongside names like Yves Saint Laurent, Casablanca, perfume and boho. The North African country, renowned for its striking landscapes and colourful artisans, has inspired artists worldwide. The secret gardens of Marrakesh being no exception.
The harsh semi-desert climate is not unlike our own, yet they have found a way to make you smile even in such an unforgiving climate. So how did this gorgeous country inspire so many followers?
Morocco is often toted as the meeting point for European and African ideas, but long before the streets became a cosmopolitan meeting ground, it was the gathering place for artisans. The ceramicists, stone carvers, tanners, seamstresses, jewellers and craftsmen are the foundation of this charismatic landscapes.
Factsheet: Every symbol and colour used in mosaics have a meaning that tells a story of a rich past. Since its use in Ancient Mesopotamia, it has evolved to represent different things in different cultures.
Chefchaouen, Morocco. Photo by Randy Tarampi CC0 1.0
The use of colour as a form of symbolism is evident in cities like Chefchaouen, The Blue Pearl of Morocco. The sky blue colour of this mountainous cityscape reminds the inhabitants of heaven. It is a sort of call to live according to their religious principles. Such colours also make their way into mosaics that adorn temple complexes, each serving a purpose with hidden reliefs worked into the patterns. It is no wonder the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York decided to use local craftsmen rather than reproductions to design their new Moroccan wing.
It is the use of these intricate motifs and colours that set Moroccan designs apart from all others.
Menara Gardens. Photo by Alexey Komarov. CC BY 2.0
Many of Morocco’s famous gardens were originally inspired by local customs, but are rather contemporary in that they originate from the 19th and 20th century. Nonetheless, both traditional Riads and modern Art Deco gardens have something to teach a gardener. Here are some examples of inspirational gardens:
In the Medinas (old walled part of a town or city), the houses hug the street hiding its gardens behind tall modest walls. The Riads, as they are referred to, have a mysterious air about them as they hide an oasis of water and plants from the general public. The reasoning behind this is multifold and deeply rooted in religion.
For more on courtyard designs, dig into the article below:
Jardin Majorelle (Marrakesh)
The Yves Saint Laurent garden, as it is sometimes referred to, is an Art Deco reimagining of Moroccan culture. Its namesake used bold colour created specifically for the purpose of designing an impressionistic garden. It flaunts elements of Art Deco design, with bold clean lines and structural plants.
Design: Art Deco, Impressionistic
Design element: Ultramarine blue ‘Majorelle’ Blue
Plants: Palms, Bamboo, cacti
Jardin Majorelle. CC0 1.0
Menara Gardens (Marrakesh)
Standing at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, the Menara is a traditional (functional) garden commissioned by the caliphate ruler in 1130. The Sadiaan pavilion built, later on, is one of its most striking features. Framed by an artificial lake, the juxtaposed garden and sky are mirrored in the reflective waters. At dusk, the whitewashed red clay blends into the bright flaming sunset to frame the palms and orchards that make up the garden.
Design elements: Green pyramid roof (Menzeh)
Plants: Olive groves, Palms, orchards
When designing a Moroccan-inspired garden, there are a few key elements. You might be fascinated by the use of intricate woodwork or flamboyant colour, but it is good to pinpoint the mastery of elements before you start. You will find yourself often designing around a key feature that incorporates one of the following:
- Red Clay
- Colourful paints
- Mosaic/detailed woodwork/plasterwork
- Steal doorways
- Water features
Once you have selected your key feature, the plants are placed to accentuate the water bath, seating area, mosaic avenue or arch. This is where artisanal pieces such as handmade Moroccan ceramics or punch needle lamps provide highlights. Selecting primary colours such as blue, red or yellow (and various shades thereof) will play off the green landscaping.
It is possible to adapt any garden to a Morrocan style, be it succulent or tropical. It is all in the hardscaping. You can therefore be free when selecting plants. There are a select number of Moroccan staples that you can consider. Be it the Argan tree that has taken the perfume industry by storm or the Olive groves that line palatial residences. Each proves to either be functional or aesthetically pleasing.
Here are our suggestions based on famous gardens:
If you find yourself thirsting for more choices, you can always read more on the plants that shaped the perfume industry in Fragrant botanicals or hop over to the Ancient Gardens series for more ideas.
The best ideas will often come with a bit of experimentation so grab onto that inspiration and remember there is a style for every type of gardener!
Fleisher, E. (2013). The Riads of Marrakech. Suffolk, England: Acc Editions.
Stein, A. B. (2007). Morocco: Courtyards and gardens. New York: The Monacelli Press.