If gardening books should inspire or inform, then Gardens of Marrakesh succeeds on both fronts.
Part history lesson, part traveller’s guide, it opens the door on a place rooted in its gardens.
Marrakesh was, author Angelica Gray tells us, planned as a garden city “with orchards, market gardens and pleasure gardens as part of its urban model”.
Today, the majority of historic sites are beloved as much for their gardens as their ancient buildings, several hotels have notable grounds and throughout the city high walls shield lush courtyard spaces from public view.
Gray takes us on a journey through the three main areas of the city: The Medina, its historic centre; The New Town created by ex-pats in the early 20th century; The Palmery, a thick band of palm trees described by Gray as “one of the wonders of Marrakesh”.
The gardens themselves mainly fall into one of two types: riad and arsat. The former is an enclosed, inward-looking, urban garden, the later a productive, irrigated space that often doubled as a space for relaxation.
It is a journey into the unfamiliar for a Northern European gardener. Not only are the plants exotic – think cacti and citrus – the style is formal with blocks of planting offset against brightly coloured tiles, fountains and columns far removed from English herbaceous borders and rolling lawns.
While many of the gardens explored are centuries old, some are more modern and not all have been created by locals; Brazil, Sweden, Swiss and France are among the countries represented by designers of notable gardens.
Among the most memorable is The Jardin Majorelle, made by painter Jacques Majorelle. It first opened to the public in 1947 and is known for the startling cobalt blue that is used throughout the garden. It was rescued from decline following Majorelle’s death by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé.
Gardens of Marrakesh is a paperback edition of the original hardback, published in 2013 and, if there is a fault, it’s that the text has not been revised or updated. So, we are told The Bahia Palace is undergoing restoration and due to reopen in 2013 while a restoration project is planned at The Agdal, Marrakesh’s most important garden and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The current state of either project is not clear.
That said, Gray’s deft weaving of historical fact and personal anecdote into the text make it an easy read while heat shimmers from the pages thanks to Alessio Mei’s atmospheric photographs.
Gardens of Marrakesh by Angelica Gray, photographs by Alessio Mei, is published by Frances Lincoln, priced at £14.99 RRP. Buy now. (If you buy via the link, I receive a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)
• Review copy supplied by Frances Lincoln.
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