In 2013, a good friend introduced me to a friend of hers, a garden writer and designer called Angelica Gray. She had just written the first book to explore the gardening heritage of Marrakesh, and the book was a beauty. Simply entitled ‘The Gardens of Marrakesh’, it has superb photographs by Alessio Mei (the link takes you to a selection) and a thorough and entrancing text by Angelica which have probably doubled flight bookings to Marrakesh from garden enthusiasts! It got me through a wintry Xmas with ease, and a lot of pleasure.
Fes is a different city from Marrakesh. Older, prouder of its religious history and leadership of the country, it has scholarly madrassas, and buildings dating back to the eighth century. Fes has a more restrained and thoughtful feel than the brilliance of colour and dash that is Marrakesh. Some good and thoughtful restoration work is being done by UNESCO now, and the King, Mohammed the sixth, has also personally sponsored restoration of parts of the medina.
The gardens of Jnane Sbil have also been restored in the last four years, re-opening to the public in 2011. Originally planned and built in the seventeenth century by the Sultan Moulay Abdellah, the garden can now show us the water canals, lake and irrigation systems that Moulay Abdellah originally planned, as well as some spectacular planting. Using the scarce resource of water was an especial feature of gardens across the Islamic world from Persia to Spain.
Although it was wintry the day that we visited, there were some spectacular coral-red flowering aloes in the native plants garden, and there must have been sun a few days before as bright yellow leptospermum were braving the wind and rain.
At the Musee Batha, a secluded courtyard garden dating back to the construction of the Batha as a summer palace for Sultan Moulay al-Hassan 1 in the nineteenth century, has also been beautifully restored. This Andalucian style garden creates a sublimely tranquil and peaceful area in the courtyard of the Museum. Using the 4 quadrant shape that is so recognisable at the Generalife in Granada, the plantings of citrus fruits and palms are highly evocative of a luxurious past, even in winter.
And, tucked away in a medina side-street, I saw a tiny little hidden garden by a gateway, the garden of no-one splendid, but a personal green space all the same.