Comeback kids…

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Unknown rose, Tostat, April 2017

One of the joys of wandering round the garden at this time of year is discovering the ‘comeback kids’- those plants that may already be in the last chance saloon or who may have had a rough year last year.  This unknown climbing rose growing on an arch has always lived dangerously.  It is one of those early flowering roses that, normally, can easily be completely decimated and reduced to sodden rags by a wet Spring.  And it has also fallen victim, I think, to some slightly over the top path weedkilling (yes, we do do this a couple of times a year- sorry.) which must have just nipped it.  So, a couple of years ago, it was back to twig size entirely due to our sloppiness.  But this year, a dry Spring, lots of sunshine and not too much wind, has taken it back to pole position on top of and covering the arch, and it is looking glorious.  It always pays to wait.

Another plant that has pulled through is Deinanthe caerulea ‘Blue Wonder’. I bought it on a whim a couple of years ago and have been seriously underwhelmed- till now.  I loved it for the strange, pointy leaves, and have always found the weird flowers odd, firstly they barely qualify as ‘blue’ and are certainly not wondrous.

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Deinanthe caerulea ‘Blue Wonder’, Tostat, April 2017

Bu this morning, I was really reminded about why I bought it.  The vibrant lime-green leaves are flaunting their point-iness, and it is looking luminous in the morning sunshine. Here is a photograph of the underwhelming flower from last year.  It has a lovely structure, but the wishy washy colouring is not much cop.  But, if you like the foliage, I would recommend it in a pot, as so far growth is very slow, and it measures about 40cms x 40cms, so it would easily get drowned out in a boistrous border situation.  It likes semi-shade and moisture- which is the main reason for it being in a pot with us.

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Deinanthe caerulea ‘Blue Wonder’, Tostat, July 2016

Now for a tiny sensation, Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Light’.  I am not one for tiny plants, but I love red, and this one really packs a punch, even though it is even tinier than Dianthus cruentus.  One of the bargain basement purchases at the beginning of winter last year that I can easily fall prey to, this very small dianthus is very pretty and very tiny.   The sparkling red, not shown well in my photograph, makes it like Barbie jewellery in the hot, dry border. Only in it’s first year, I am hoping it will like us and get going next year.

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Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Light’, Tostat, April 2017

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Choisiya x dewitteana ‘Aztec Pearl’, Tostat, April 2017

Bright like toothpaste, this Choisiya x dewitteana ‘Aztec Pearl’ is blooming fit to bust this Spring-Summer.  This was a refugee from the hotter, drier border about 5 years ago, where it had toiled as a twig for 3 years while I frowned at it.  Not surprisingly, I wasn’t listening to it but since I finally did, and moved it to a more moist position, it has galloped away.  The fragrance is lovely and so are the flowers close-up.  Just shows what you can encourage if you abandon stubbornness and listen to what your plants are saying.  Note to self.

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‘Aztec Pearl’ close-up, Tostat, April 2017

I adore this little Auricula.  At Chelsea in 2015, I risked buying a set of five plug Auriculas from sheer sentimentality.  I had some which had travelled with us across Scotland when we lived in Linlithgow, and they loved a rocky wall, with good soil, cool temperatures and moisture.  None of which I have here in Tostat.  So, for a couple of years they have hung on, planted out in a wide bowl in semi-shade and watered regularly.  This year, after almost caving-in in the winter, two of them have flowered for the first time.   I am so thrilled.  And surprised that it is the cool beauty of ‘Jungfrau’ that I prefer to the more bling-y ‘Crimson Glow’.  There you go.

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Primula auricula ‘Crimson Glow’, Tostat, April 2017



Such strange times….

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Cistus x purpureus, Tostat, April 2017

Never mind the politics on either side of the Channel, at the moment, we have hurtled from mid-Spring to high summer with barely a heartbeat between.  The last 3 weeks have been so warm and sunny that everything in the garden is straining at the leash, but, at the same time, short and depleted as we have had no rain to combat the sudden warmth.  I have never had to seriously water tulips in pots before.   So bizarre and a bit worrying, all out of joint somehow.  But, on the positive side, it is rather wonderful to see almost all the roses in the garden out together, rather than the Banksiae rose being a solo turn for at least a month.

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, April 2017

The downside is that the normally tall and wafty Thalictrum aquilegifolium (usually 1.5-2m high) is under a metre high, still, from a photography point of view, it is amazing to be so close to the powderpuff flowers, and on a sunny day against the dark stream bank, it looks almost spectral.

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Thalictrum aquilegifolium, Tostat, April 2017

It isn’t possible to do any weeding at all as the soil has baked dry, and so the weed friends are having a great, if slightly dwarf, experience, and there are parts of the garden that I haven’t made it round to yet.  The penalties of being away, having lovely friends to stay and the weather- never mind.  I am currently enjoying, though she can be quite tart (!), ‘The Deckchair Gardener’ by Anne Wareham, which reassures my dutiful-daughter persona that nothing will be lost by weeding later or not at all!

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Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’, Tostat, April 2017

Sticking with the roses briefly, here they are, looking the best that they have for years. For them, I suspect, the drought is not too problematic as they are really well-established, but the warmth has been accompanied by cool, refreshing nights and so this may be really suiting them down to ground.

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Rosa ‘Crepuscule’, I think, Tostat, April 2017

I adore this blousy old rose, which I think is ‘Crepuscule’.  It has gorgeous, warm, coppery colouring which fades to a creamy yellow and apricot- and a sweet, deep scent.  It doesn’t produce many flowers but they are all worth the wait.

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Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pré’, Tostat, April 2017


‘Jacqueline du Pré’ is a rose that I once attempted to smuggle back from the UK in hand luggage, but gave it up as a bad idea.  It now lives happily in Shropshire with my friend, Jane.  But last year, it appeared in France and so that was the green light.  It is only an infant but even now, has four beautiful flowers, which are probably going to be smashed by the heavy rain that we are finally promised this afternoon. So I dashed out to take it’s portrait whilst intact.

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Rosa ‘Pierre Ronsard’, Tostat, April 2017

‘Pierre Ronsard’ opens to a dark pink, tightly furled centre, with pale outer petals and then settles into domesticity as above, looking, well, pink.  But it is a lovely shape and I adore the tightness of the furled petals.  Useless for insects unless they had mining equipment, but lovely all the same.

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Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’, Tostat, April 2017

MAC is curently flowering amongst the euphorbias, and other remnants of Spring, in a dry and sandy location- but it is looking fabulous, hurling itself over a wall and shooting up in the air.  What an extraordinary athlete this rose is.  I can’t recommend it enough as totally trouble-free rose- and it flowers off and on all summer in spates.

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Rosa ‘Zephérine Drouhin’, Tostat, April 2017

Looking for a thornless, trouble-free climbing rose that needs a little support, but after that, will dig in forever- ‘Zephérine Drouhin’ is the one for you.  Lipstick pink is matched with bright green foliage and she now measures about 4m x 3m with me, and is still going up, draping herself very nicely over the end of the house and the covered barn. She is a showstopper when in full flow, which is expected to be next week once the rain passes over.

And at the other end of the scale,  Begonia grandis evansiana is making a start in a massive pot.  By the middle of June, the pot will be filled by it, reaching 1.5m high and wide, and it is such a good doer that I forgive it for being a begonia.  Waiting now for the rain…

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Begonia grandis evansiana, Tostat, April 2017

Bulbs in the sun…

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Narcissus ‘Sinopel’, Tostat, April 2017

As Gloria Swanson says to Cecil B. de Mille at the end of ‘Sunset Boulevard’,

‘I am ready for my close-up now, Mr de Mille’

which is exactly what the bulbs were saying today in the bright Spring sunshine.  This year, having for some strange reason, drawn a blank with mis-firing bulbs of all kinds last year, I didn’t buy very many, and what I did buy were right at the end of the planting season, so I didn’t have very high hopes really.  I had also attempted to keep some dry over the summer and had re-planted them, but again, with not a lot of hope. But, as opposed to last year and maybe a drier Spring helped, I am enjoying some good things in the pots by the back door.

Narcissus ‘Sinopel’ is one of them.  When it is caught in the light, it is really special, with lovely lemon tints at the ends of the petals, and a curious greeny-yellow trumpet which is prettily frilled, but not blousy. It also has a delicate perfume, but you do need to get your nose right in- and have a good nose in the first place.  But I really like it. And I have even written the name down, which augurs well for later in the year when I will have forgotten completely what I bought.

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Tulipa ‘Ballerina’, a returning tulip, Tostat, April 2017

I love the lily shaped tulips and am a sucker for Tulipa ‘Ballerina’.  This Ballerina is doing a serious plié in the sun, and sometimes the lily shape is better seen on cloudier days when the tulip stays shut.  But I have had some luck with ‘Ballerina’ returning for a second year- not many, but some re-appear after I have planted them out just in case.

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Tulipa ‘Arabian Mystery’, Tostat, April 2017

And I adore the raspberry-mivvi-ness of this one, ‘Arabian Mystery’.  This is the first time I have tried it, and it was a complete surprise when it popped open today, as, of course, I had no idea what it would look like.  The photos on most sites showed it as a purple with a white edge- well, mine is much more raspberries and custard- which is nicer in my book.  Bit on the small side, but that helps in the wind.

But maybe the stand-out tulip, and I only have a small patch of them that have come back for about five years, so that is not a bad R-O-I at all, is Tulipa ‘Carnaval de Nice’ which has placed itself ideally for the end of the afternoon sunshine.  Brilliant.

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Tulipa ‘Carnaval de Nice’, Tostat, April 2017

After the rain…

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Apple blossom, after the rain, Tostat, April 2017

The big snag about being away for nearly 5 weeks at this time of year?  It’s the weed world domination situation.  When we left there were, of course, small signs of the usual suspects breaking out all over the place- but 4 weeks plus of sun and rain, and whoopee, they are romping home in large numbers and are knee-high in some more pampered corners.  I am normally tranquil about weeding actually, as I take the view that I weed only a few times a year in the cooler months, and then rely on very tough plants to tower over any remaining weeds and basically smother them.  On the whole, this works, and it disturbs the soil less and I am not that garden-proud that cardiac arrest sets in if I see a dandelion.  Just as well, actually.  But I have to say that, right now, tranquility has evaporated.

Yes,  my spirit was a little shaken when I returned and met the reality of my absence face-on. What would have been a case of gradually getting on top of things early was now too little, too late- and what I needed was arm-to-arm combat.  So, that’s why I am sitting here, as it is bucketing outside, with soreness in the shoulders, wrists and the right hip- I am so right-handed in every way.  It’s been a unrelenting job for the last week and I have probably another 4-5 days to go, not to mention that one big area has a nesting blackbird with 3 babies in it, so it is on maternity leave for the moment.

But some things rise above the mundane.  Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’ is a lovely thing at the time of year, with arched branches weighed down by over-the-top custard yellow blossoms, a bit like a fuchsia on speed.   I have another one, much bigger, but it needs rescuing from a badly over-planted area by the front gate, and I need a bloke with a serious digger to move a palm tree at the same time- so this probably means next early Spring, not now. But the second Sophora, having started out as a 1 foot weakling 5 years ago is now as tall as me, and in very good shape.  It does nothing much for the rest of the year, but this Spring display is so sumptuous that it deserves a rest.

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Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’. after the rain, Tostat, April 2017

Last year, on a walk with friends, I came across a clump of the most gorgeous double, fringed anemone- and I spent months trying to find bulbs online, at vast expense- well, E30 for 3 teeny bulbs seemed a lot to me.  Once grown in many country gardens in France, Anemone x fulgens Multipetala is now really rare- probably because as it shows hardly any growth outwith the flowering season of March to end April approximately, it would be very easy to disturb and rip out thinking that nothing is there.   It is showstoppingly lovely- fringed and tousled in a brilliant red that shines.  So, I am really pleased to have a couple of flowers per bulb for the first year.  I have planted it near a Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’, whose emerging foliage is a deep plum colour- a happy accident as I had forgotten the spring Physocarpus colouring.

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Anemone x fulgens Multipetala, Tostat, April 2017

And, whilst our daffodils and tulips are splendid- there is something very entrancing about the tinyness and delicacy of an Epimedium.  I only have a couple of clumps in the dampest, shadiest bit of the garden.  I don’t cut the foliage to show the flowers better, it seems to me to be too much like hairdressing, and it is beguiling suddenly finding the flowers hiding themselves.  Here are the two that I have, somewhat abashed by the breeze and the heavy rain…

Le Jardin Champêtre…great nursery, great story…


Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’ backstaged by Berkheya purpurea ‘Zulu Warrior’ and fronted by Dorycnium ‘Frejorgues’, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, late March 2017 Photo credit and thanks: Le Jardin Champêtre

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Iris unguicularis ‘Mary Barnard’ nestling in amongst the grasses, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, February 2017


Tulipa clusiana ‘Cynthia’, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, late March 2017  Photo credit and thanks: Le Jardin Champêtre

If you are over in Minervois, this nursery should be on your list of places to visit.  I visited accidently last summer just as the nursery was opening for business, and since then, have been back again for a growingly-beautiful demonstration garden and evolving space with, this year, a new potager and more to come.  As well as that, Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton, are developing a growing range of beautiful and tough perennials, grasses and shrubs for people and wildlife in a Mediterranean climate. All in all, good reasons for heading over to Caunes-Minervois and finding out more.

I was very intrigued by what I saw- not only from a plant selection point of view, but also, in the year of Brexit, I was curious as to why two young Englishwomen would choose to make a life in South West France right now, and to find out more about their experience of setting up a business here.

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The taller spires of Miscanthus ‘Adagio’ glow, even on a dull day in February. Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, February 2017

Imogen and Kate are both professional horticulturalists with strong connections to France, but their journey to Caunes-Minervois has been one of happy accident and serendipity.  Kate says,

‘I studied French and used to work in Paris but hadn’t planned to live in France again. Imogen had always wanted to live in France, having visited Normandy at age 11 and loved everything French; no-one in the Midlands was wearing white trainers, skinny jeans and scarves, or having cous-cous parties! ‘

France drew them both to it.

‘We initially came to France on a sabbatical year. Imogen was Head Gardener at Pensthorpe in North Norfolk, quite a dry, bright climate, and wanted to learn more about Mediterranean plants. I had recently retrained in horticulture and wanted to expand my plant and gardening knowledge. Our first garden was just minutes from the Roscoff ferry, the Jardin exotique de Roscoff, but most of the year was spent going West to East along the South of France and just into Italy to work at the Hanbury Botanical Gardens.’

Travelling through France West to East led to them discovering Caunes-Minervois, and the garden and nursery, ‘La Petite Pepiniere’ which was established and run by Gill Pound.  Imogen and Kate had the chance to take over the specialist nursery business from Gill, who still lives next door, and they both decided not to return to the UK, but to commit to a life in Caunes-Minervois.  Planting up for the first time onsite in the Spring of 2016 was the beginning of ‘Le Jardin Champêtre’.

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Even in February, plants are shooting up, Le Jardin Champêtre, February 2017


And greening up only 5 weeks later, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, late March 2017 Photo credit and thanks: Le Jardin Champêtre

As Kate says,

‘The style of our garden is sort of Dutch new wave mixed with Mediterranean garrigue. The movement of grasses is key to the feel of the garden, which consists of layers of planting: low ground-covers, bulbs, medium height shrubs, tall perennials and trees. The taller grasses and other plants provide shade during the heat of summer, and we’ve dug out basins to capture rain water and watering, which allows us to grow a wider variety of plants. ‘

The demonstration garden and potager will continue to evolve, and they have already scheduled a range of events throughout the year, to introduce people to their style of gardening and their approach to gardening naturally without chemicals.   More about their approach and their passion for gardens as spaces for beauty, relaxation and the environment in a second part to this post.

Here they are: get down there and meet them….

19 bis avenue de la Montagne noire, 11160, Caunes-Minervois, France.Tel. 0780433262 (France) or email:

By appointment *all year* & every Saturday 10-5 from March to October.



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Imogen in action and Kate lifting Melianthus, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, February 2017



Anima: a wonder and a delight…


Andy walking along the deceptively gracious path to Anima, Ourika, March 2017

Walking along a shady path, lined with ivy-covered tall palm trees and fringed with Stipa tenuissima, Anima entices you in through the big gate at the end, into…a mad paradise, full of art and sculpture, surprise and frisson.  It is a total delight for people of all ages, an out of the normal experience and most of all, genuinely engaging and often funny.  It is a garden on hallucinogens, which grabs you with both hands.

Designed and planted in by the Austrian Renaissance-man artist, installationist, poet, musician, actor and writer that is André Heller, this garden didn’t exist at all in early 2010. In just 7 years and with the help of 70 local employees, the garden of 8 hectares is a show-stopper, it also has a lovely cafe, exhibition spaces and an artisanal craft shop to boot. There is no rhyme or reason, no tags on the plants, no signs on the artwork- there is nothing to come between you and the experience of walking amongst forms and plants whilst discovering what lies ahead of you down the many twisty paths.  So here is some of what I discovered.



A silent African group against the bamboo and the setting sun, Anima, Ourika, March 2017


A besuited horse welcomes you…


Jazz hand eyes decked in bougainvillea watch you…


Why not? Candy stripes on palm trees…


The serenity of the Andalucian garden with surreal walls…


The giant head that puffs water vapour every minute…creating tiny rainbows in the sun…


An evocation of Jardin Majorelle…


A stunning fountain filled with seasonal flowers…


The mystery of the jungle…


Contemplation or imprisonment…


The magical mirror house, now you see it, now you don’t…


A breeze disturbing the leaves, but not the face…


The 3 Picasso plates…


And suddenly.. there’s Noah and his Ark…

And there is much to love in the planting too.  There is an exuberant use of common or garden marguerites, daisies and chrysanthemums of all colours and sizes weaving in and out of more decorous planting, sinous paths lead between and through bamboo and palm, with creepers lacing the tops of the trees, and many roses in bud, ready to be enjoyed in a couple of weeks.

This garden is easily reached from Marrakesh.  From the Kouttoubia Mosque carpark, a shuttle bus goes at various times in the morning or afternoon, so first book your tickets online and then book your seats on the shuttle bus of your choice for free.   It’s a pretty 40 minute ride out of Marrakesh into the countryside.  And there the joy of Anima awaits.


Le Jardin Secret: simplicity and elegance matched with drama and boldness

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Kalanchoe beharensis, gold and velvet, feels like cloth, Le Jardin Secret, Exotic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017


A lone Tulbaghia violacea floats in a sea of Stipa tenuissima, Le Jardin Secret, The Islamic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017

Le Jardin Secret is a magnificent addition to all that Marrakesh offers, opened only a year ago.  Right in the heart of the Medina on an historic site, an Italian investor wisely chose not to build a hotel, but instead, to create a magical evocation of the Islamic Garden, and an accompanying Exotic Garden.  What a man. I take my hat off to him.  Using skilled local artisans and an international team of archaeological surveyors and historians, as well as the contemporary botanical, architectural and design skills of Tom Stuart-Smith,  Andy Hamilton, Sante Giovanni Albonetti and Karim el Achak– they have all created something quite stunning. Given the people-squash that was Jardin Majorelle, by contrast, Le Jardin Secret was calm and quiet- and therefore, a double delight.

These two plantings above capture the essence of the 2 gardens at Le Jardin Secret.  The first garden you come to is an explosion, an eruption of drama, shape and colour using exotic plants from all over the world.  It soars, surprises, creeps at your feet and draws gasps.  Beautifully brought together for maximum impact and contrast, the planting uses surprisingly few varieties, but creates a rollercoaster of a picture, from a four-trunked palm at least 200 years old to splashes of limonium at your feet.  This garden had no archaeological heritage to honour, there were no traces of what may have once been here at the height of the Riad’s fame in the nineteenth century- and this gave a design free hand.  Fully used, in planting terms.

The Islamic Garden, which sits at an angle to the Exotic Garden, with a dogleg through a new pavilion as the bridge between one and the other, had lots of archaeology which presented itself to the team.  More was discovered as the clearing and excavation went on preceding the build.  This gave the team a classic Islamic Chahar Bagh to work with.  The team took the decision to honour that tradition fully in the choice of plants and trees, with one concession to water preservation and contemporary dislike of bare soil.

Where the traditional Islamic Garden would have preserved bare earth between plants, Le Jardin Secret has chosen boldly to go with a flowing sea of Stipa tenuissima, into which lavenders and other aromatics are inserted.  This grass is a delight. The movement, the way light hits it, the tousled look of it, all create dynamism and flow, but yet no sense of effort or forced energy.

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In the brilliant sun, Stipa tenuissima and lavender, Le Jardin Secret, The Islamic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017


Rosemary hedges hold the sea of Stipa, but the Stipa fringes the raised, classically tiled and paved paths that lead to elegant seating and small, bulbous, fountains.  Le Jardin Secret, The Islamic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017

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View down onto The Islamic Garden.  The central rill divides the 4 squares feeding a fountain at the far end (out of view).  Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017


Looking down the central rill to the lotus fountain, The Islamic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

How do you feel in this garden?  It creates simplicity and unity from a limited, traditional palette of planting- but the star of the piece is the humble Stipa which, as water would do, subtly changes the look and the feel of the garden without disturbing.  It was a truly tranquil moment in the rush and bustle that is Marrakesh.  Stunning.


Looking through the dogleg, the traditional staggered entrance, from The Islamic Garden back into The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

They are a brilliant complement to one another.  The Islamic Garden is a class act, simple, elegant, restrained and cool, whilst the Exotic Garden bursts on the scene like a contemporary firework.  A tour de force.

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Intense light and shade on a hot day, with surprise and stature to match, The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

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Brick red Aloe ferox gives a shot in the arm, The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017


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In the shade, Euphorbia dendroides, Aloe ferox (yellow) and Melianthus major, The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017


Socking purple, the bee heaven that is Limonium perezii, The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

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Red-pink Aloe striata against the deep pink-red of the new pavilion creating the staggered entrance to the Islamic Garden, The Exotic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017

Book your tickets to Marrakesh now!