Beyond design to making the space your own….Grendon Court

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Dazzling Eremurus spearing through Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’ (I think), Grendon Court, June 2017

Grendon Court was the last of our ‘Gardens in the Wild’ bonanza weekend.  And it was really worth the visit in so many ways- warm welcome from the owner, interesting and beguiling features in the design of Tom Stuart-Smith, and some breakthrough moments.  The best of which came about during a casual conversation with the owner, who strode out to meet every visitor personally and was very good at being around whilst leaving the garden entirely to you.

I asked her something I have always wanted to ask a garden design client who has hired a big name like Tom Stuart-Smith.  I asked her how long it was before the garden felt as if it was really hers- and her reply was just brilliant.  She said that the garden had been an immense responsibility and that it had probably taken her about seven years to feel ready to add to and change any elements of the planting design.  And when she did, one of the plants she added was this fabulous golden Eremurus- and she said she added it because the planting was a bit sombre and restrained.  Look at what she did.

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Double take on the Eremurus, Grendon Court, June 2017
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Longer view on the Eremurus, Grendon Court, June 2017

Stunning.  Stunning because she has lit up the entire planting, linked it along the length of this massive, deep border, and it is utterly captivating.  I kept walking around and looking at it from different vantage points, and it was fabulous from everywhere.  I loved her straightforwardness and honesty, as well as her great choice of the spot-on plant for her border.  Just one addition.  Brilliant.

I really enjoyed the wavy box planting- luckily no blight or caterpillars- which made such a big and also slightly surreal statement at the entrance to the garden.  I don’t know if the chickens were original to the design, but they are a lovey wacky addition at the top of the deep box planting.

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The wavy box planting, Grendon Court, June 2017
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The chickens, or maybe not, Grendon Court, June 2017

In front of the house, a wide open lawn sits square which creates the space and proportion that Russell Page always liked, so that the deep borders to left and right completely flank the house and open out the view towards it.  Large shaped evergreens hold the loose planting of the left hand border.

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The left hand border, simply planted with repeats of Phlomis russelliana, Allium and alchemilla, and touches of the same purple-blue Salvia, Grendon Court, June 2017
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Rounded cubes of box link the garden to the borrowed landscape beyond, Grendon Court, June 2017

Nearer to the house, immense rounded box cubes punctuate the wall looking into the borrowed landscape beyond.  The land around the house has been landscaped to create almost a platform on which the house sits, proud of the rolling landscape and not dwarfed by it.  This means that the garden now wraps around the house and almost displays the house- whereas before the garden renovation, the house would have been almost sunk into the landscape.

To the side of the house and up the hill, the garden changes tone.  From displaying and framing the house, steps and a path lead up and away from the house, through a massive Miscanthus planting, interspersed with other tall perennials and roses, to a hidden swimming pool completely immersed in the waving fronds of Miscanthus.  On that windy day,  the grasses moved as if they were a raging sea.

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The swimming pool, framed by the sea of Miscanthus, Grendon Court, June 2017
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Massed plantings of tall perennials combined with the grasses, Grendon Court, June 2017
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Looking back down the steps from the pool area to the left hand border and the large shaped evergreens that hold the planting together, Grendon Court, June 2017

Coming back towards the house, and staying at the height of the chicken statue group, the steepness of the original hillside can really be appreciated- and Tom Stuart Smith has worked with it, whilst at the same time losing it in the apron of the wrap-around garden that sits the house at the centre.  Repeats in the planting, a simple plant palette, and imaginative use of green and good, architectural elements all combine- and are brought alive by the owner’s own imagination and choice.  I loved it.

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The wavy box holds its own against the steep hillside allowed to grass naturally, Grendon Court, June 2017


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!