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.
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.
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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