Le Jardin Secret: an Islamic garden in the heart of Marrakech
In a space once hidden from the public, Le Jardin Secret, in Marrakech, has been transformed by Tom Stuart-Smith into two distinctive tranquil gardens. Photos by Claire Takacs
Le Jardin Secret is two contrasting courtyard gardens in Marrakech, Morocco. One acre of light and loamy soil, it has sizzling hot summers (regularly 50°C) and low rainfall. Hardiness zone USDA 10.
The medina or old walled city in Marrakech, Morocco, must be one of the most atmospheric urban environments anywhere, so it’s not surprising that Tom Stuart-Smith jumped at the opportunity when he was asked to create a large new garden on an historic site in the heart of this maze of streets and bazaars. Le Jardin Secret is made up of a pair of courtyard gardens that originally belonged to separate properties. Restored using private money, it opened daily to the public in 2016.
It is hard to believe that these immaculately maintained courtyards were, in 2000, unrecognisable as gardens: the entire space was covered in rubble, rubbish and a variety of small dwellings, reflecting the fact that the land was owned by more than 130 people.
The central rill and pathway of the Islamic garden, lined with clipped rosemary hedges. The central canopied structure is a recent addition by the owners to use during events.
A tranquil corner of the exotic garden shaded by the fern-like leaves of a jacaranda. The benches create a contemporary note amid the palms and succulents.
Planting in the exotic garden
Much of the pleasure in this garden derives from carefully engineered contrasts – for example between floppy Kalanchoe, cactus-like Euphorbia ingens and Agave attenuata, and the spiky crowns of Yucca rostrata. The serrated leaves and greyish tone of Melianthus major plays off the foliage of various euphorbia species, including E. dendroides and E. tirucalli. But this is not a jungle – each plant is given its space. Most plants grow to head height and no higher, so that the underlying garden structure remains apparent throughout. A large specimen of Jacaranda mimosifolia forms a centrepiece. At a lower level, a wide range of succulents and bromeliads, including six species of aloe, contrast with grasses such as Pennisetum villosum, soft mounds of sage, and the sea lavender Limonium perezii. The evening garden is perfumed with the night-scented jasmine, Jasminum azoricum.
In the Islamic garden, rows of citrus trees help create the effect of the bustan, or scented orchard garden, with grass invoked by Stipa tenuissima.
Le Jardin Secret plants
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Garden critic and landscape historian, Tim Richardson is also founder-director of the Chelsea Fringe Festival.
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