The Garden That Jacques Built
Photographs: Gerard Pampalone
On a recent trip to Marrakech, I made a discovery. In the northeast corner of Ville Nouvelle – the new town — on a quiet, residential street, I stumbled upon a paradise. The Moroccans call it Jardin Majorelle.
Named after its creator, Jacques Majorelle, the French born artist who fell in love with the intense light of this city and settled here in 1919 to continue his career as a painter as he recovered from heart problems.
Majorelle designed the luxuriant garden in 1923 and in 1931 had an art deco studio built on the property. That villa-studio, a modern two-story structure, is now the Berber Museum.
When you first step into the garden you enter a courtyard with a fountain. Beyond that, there are paths winding through tall shoots of bamboo and a mix of eclectic plants from five continents including vast collections of cacti, palms, and bamboo.
Its modern look and feeling is a stark contrast to the buildings and gardens you see in other parts of Marrakech.
The distinctive shade of cobalt blue that he used as an accent on the garden walls, fountains and buildings was named after him and trademarked by the artist as Majorelle Blue. It is a clear, intense, fresh shade of blue. He observed this color in Moroccan tiles, in Berber burnouses, around the windows of Kasbahs and native adobe homes. I also saw it in the courtyards of riads in Marrakech as well as the lush gardens of Le Meridien hotel.
Majorelle died in 1962 and the gardens fell into ruin. In 1980, plans were underway to demolish the garden to make way for a new hotel, when at the last moment, Pierre Bergé and Yves St. Laurent who had a house that abuts the garden, purchased the property. They not only saved the garden, they completely restored it.
The garden is now separated by four walkways that cross each other, creating parterres of brightly colored tropical flowers like birds of paradise, jasmine, yucca, bougainvillea, geranium, hibiscus and cypress. Water lilies grow in a pool bordered by papyrus. To date, there are 400 varieties of palm trees and 1800 species of cacti.
The water sounds of the pools, streams and fountains create a soothing effect as do the hums, peeps, chirps and strings of syllables made by the many species of sparrows, robins, warblers, grey wagtails and turtledoves that fly by and settle into the lush foliage and serenity of this soothing oasis.