Le Jardin Secret is situated in the heart of Marrakech and in the second half of the 16th century was the site for the palace of the Saadian Sultan. In the 19th century, it was one of the largest riads in the medina of Marrakech. The garden opened its doors to the public in 2016 in a redesigned form worked on by Tom Stuart-Smith and today consists of an exotic garden and an Islamic garden, a sacred place laid out according to rigid geometrical rules.
As part of an exclusive reader holiday, Gardens Illustrated readers are being offered the chance to visit the garden alongside its designer, Tom Stuart Smith. Below Tom explains a little more about the process of creating this beautiful space.
Were there big challenges you faced with this garden?
I think the biggest challenge of all was the cultural challenge of working in a place where you don’t really know how things work, or what a garden means to people. For Muslims, an Islamic garden can mean something profoundly religious, which is different to our experience, where a garden may feel like something profound, but it’s more about their personal narrative.
Was it difficult to source the plants you needed?
Our client Lauro Milan had a lot of experience working in Marrakech so he was really both a client and a project manager. The process was also made easier because my assistant at the time, Andy Hamilton, worked very hard and went out a few days ahead of me to set things up.
What was your intention with the garden?
I was asked how I would respond to the space. I knew it was an extraordinary opportunity to do something that was culturally valuable to the city of Marrakech. I was also enough aware of Islamic gardens around the world to know that there wasn’t a good example of somewhere where both the structure and the planting reflected the Islamic tradition. But there was an opportunity to do that here.
You began with an archeological investigation, what did you find?
We discovered a lot about the water system, where it was, how it worked and where it came to in the garden. We discovered the dynamics of the water system from the mosque to the great water basin on the edge of the city, and from there up to the Atlas Mountains.
And the garden itself?
We began to understand about the layers of the garden. We knew it was present in the 19th century, but we found that there was a 16th century Saadian dynasty garden hidden under the remains. We knew that some of the walls were older than that and we were able to establish that there was a division between the two gardens and that there had been a building on the site. That gave us justification for redividing them and putting a pavilion in.
How long did it take to create it?
To compare, I was commissioned at the same time to do an Islamic garden in King’s Cross which won’t even start to be built until next year. The one in Marrakech took two and a half years from first contact to completion. Incredibly quick.
How do you feel about it when you look at it now?
I think it’s quite a cultural achievement. I think the city regards it as a real asset. In many ways it is one of the more remarkable projects that we’ve ever done. It’s also nice that we continue to be involved and go there twice a year.
What can people expect from the Gardens Illustrated holiday with you?
I am in no way an Islamic scholar, but I do know enough about it to have written the guidebook on it. I will be able to explain about the cultural background of it, how it came into being and the planting.