Eric Ossart and Arnaud Maurières' design in the Atlas Mountains
In the foothills of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, designers Eric Ossart and Arnaud Maurières have created a garden as stylish as the house it surrounds using only plants suited to the hot arid conditions. Words Jodie Jones, photographs Claire takacs
Silhouetted against the dramatic backdrop of the Atlas Mountains, the earth red pavilions of the Azaran complex have a strikingly sculptural quality that could have been harsh, were it not for the extraordinary planting that wraps around them on all sides. The work of renowned designers Eric Ossart and Arnaud Maurières, these gardens exemplify the French expat duo’s passion for creating landscapes that are both visually stunning and environmentally respectful.
“It was 2010 when we first saw this place,” says Arnaud. “The buildings were not yet complete, but it was already clear that there was no proper relationship between the various elements. The main house, three pavilions with bedrooms, and a swimming pool were all spread around the blank canvas of a sloping site. Our first and most important intervention was to establish a route that led from entrance to garage to house to pool. This formed the basic map. Then we put in a series of shallow terraces to deal with the slope and impose a structure on the site.”
In classic Ossart + Maurières style, the resulting network of paths forms a strict grid. “We don’t do winding paths,” says Arnaud. “Your routes must be direct although your planting should break out of this and conceal the way ahead.” And what a planting it is… Many key plants were selected by Eric between 2000 and 2005, when he undertook an extensive survey to find Moroccan natives worth cultivating, “We tried hundreds of different plants and only succeeded with around ten per cent,” says Arnaud. Agave sisalana was one such success story. This was traditionally only grown as a commercial crop for the sisal industry until Eric and Arnaud spotted its ornamental qualities. At Azaran it now grows in vast drifts that intermingle with other agave cultivars, selected cacti and waving oceans of ornamental grasses to create a stunning effect.
Read more about the garden below
This courtyard filled with succulents, cacti and shrubs marks the intersection of the paths that link the garden’s three pavilions to the main house. The jacaranda-shaded sunken area to the right is used for boules.
At the entrance to the main building, two ochre-coloured arches, designed by the house’s architect Imaad Rahmouni, rise up out of a sea of rich blue-green Agave americana and the purple-pink heads of Pennisetum x advena ‘Rubrum’.
On warm days this mix of Helichrysum italicum and topiarised lemon trees smells heavenly. Arnaud and Eric disapprove of topiary but to their dismay the head gardener here is a fiend with a pair of secateurs.
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The spiky Agave sisalana growing among the blue cactus Opuntia robusta on the side of the driveway was planted in Morocco in the 1930s for its sisal and is now subspontaneous in this area.
A pink-flowered bougainvillea grows among Jasminum grandiflorum, the flowers of which are harvested for cosmetic company Yves Saint Laurent Beauté. Both work well with the clone of Agave americana in the foreground.
Lantana camara ‘Avalanche’, the only truly white cultivar and yellow Lantana camara ‘Esperanta Lemon’ line the path to one of the pavilions. Beyond the spiky forms of Opuntia robusta and Agave americana contrast with the soft flowers.
Eight key plants from Azaran
The pomegranate is a classic oases tree; it’s resistant to extreme temperatures and its fruits taste sublime. 6m. RHS H3, USDA 8a-11.
Bougainvillea ‘Marie Blanc’
A robust cultivar that is highly floriferous and fast growing. 4-8m. USDA 9a-11.
Has attractive, long-lasting fruits that follow on from ephemeral, pale-yellow flowers. 1.5m.
Emblematic of southern Morocco, date palms grow slowly, and are often used by Eric and Arnaud as large subjects. 10-30m. USDA 9a-11.
A fast-growing cactus and an essential plant for arid gardens. 60cm. AGM. RHS H2.
Gaura lindheimeri red flowered
This purple-flowering cultivar was introduced by chance into the garden where it grows well. 1.5m. RHS H4, USDA 5a-9b.
Lantana camara ‘Esperanta Lemon’
Lantana camara is native to the arid areas of Mexico so resistant to drought while still flowering generously. 1.2m.RHS H1C, USDA 10a-11.
A cactus from Argentina that has a beautiful graphic effect. 4m.
USEFUL INFORMATION Find out more about Eric and Arnaud’s work at ossart-maurieres.com
Jodie Jones is a freelance garden writer, who works for titles that include Gardeners' World Magazine, The Daily Telegraph and Gardens Illustrated.
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