This garden has been analysed, hyperbolised and dissected in every imaginable way. A library has been written about every aspect of it, not to mention millions of photographs! What more can one possibly add? Maybe only my own ‘humble’ perspective for what it’s worth.
This is a garden I’ve wanted to visit since first hearing about it as a horticulture student, but being so far in so many ways from Australia I had no expectation I ever would. The story of its creation and re-creation still captivates me, undiminished by the reality of spending time there (which I did in November last)!
A little ‘mise en scene’. French painter Jacques Majorelle first visits Morocco in 1917. Bewitched by the country, he moves to Marrakech, and in 1923 buys the land where Jardin Majorelle stands. He spends 40 years creating the luxuriant garden, in between his day job as painter and decorative artist, and his many journeys south across the Atlas Mountains. Some say the garden is his most dazzling work – quite a tribute, as he painted some wonderful and highly regarded artworks. Regardless of this, it is truly a special place.
Majorelle opened the garden to the public in 1947 to fund its maintenance and its fame was established. Sadly, in the final years of his life needs forced him to sell the garden, and after his death in 1962 it fell into disrepair. Then along comes Yves St Laurent (French fashion designer) and partner Pierre Bergé who discover the garden on their first visit to Marrakech in 1960. They buy it in 1980, saving it from the proposed hotel complex development, and undertake restoration of the garden. Deep pockets, vision and passion.
They bring the garden back to life, always respecting the vision of Jacques Majorelle. The painter’s studio is transformed into the Berber Museum to house their very fine private collection of Berber art. After Yves St Laurent’s death in 2008, Pierre sells the property to the Jardin Majorelle Foundation which preserves the heritage and maintains the site for public visits.
Both incarnations of this garden are as an artist’s garden, born of artistic talent, dedication and love of gardens. It is like an artwork – and a unique masterpiece. That it is one of Marrakech’s long-running prime attractions attests to its near-universal appeal. On my way to the garden I wondered what effect it would have on me, the anticipation gave me butterflies. Nervous excitement? It must sound funny to say this about visiting a garden – especially amidst the cacophony that is the streets of Marrakech! As much as anything, I feared that I wouldn’t like it – but I really wanted to.
Would the ‘Majorelle’ blue be as exciting as it sounds? It is. What state of repair would it be in? It is immaculate. Would I actually like the garden? Yes, but not everything about it. Like an artwork, elements are subject to personal predispositions and mine are mostly colour-related. The colours are bold, and while the brilliant blue alongside the greenery made me happy, the reddish paths and bright pots felt overstated. Unlike a work of art, it can be, and I’m sure is, altered adjusted and slightly adapted to the whims of those entrusted with its appearance – and I have no doubt these are artistically gifted people with a brief to remain faithful to its creators’ visions.
Here are some of my impressions.
What I liked….
1. The arid garden with magnificent cactus and succulent plants. On their own, they are impeccable specimens and can be viewed as such, and in combination with the grass-like and palm textures and shapes, they create a truly breathtaking scene. I was transfixed!
2. Signs with graphics of the planting combination and corresponding plant names.
3. Little surprises along the way.
4. The long reflection pond in the bamboo grove. It’s elegant, and calming, and simply beautiful.
5. Bamboo grove and the pavilion with eastern influences.
6. Lily pond with reflection, and the palms.
7. Textural combinations – exciting, interesting, extremely satisfying.
8. Blue pots!
9. Green bench – sturdy, capacious and a most inviting colour.
10. Colour scenes.
11. Turning a corner to a scene like this.
12. The ‘fabulous’ shop where I looked, but didn’t dare touch.
What I didn’t like…
1. This must have been said before, surely? I don’t like blue and yellow together. I know, I know – it’s a classic combination, and in some shades I do like it (see 10 above). But not here. I think it’s mostly the yellow that jars me, because the blue without it is dazzling.
2. Blue, yellow and red. Again, I know, this is a classic combination of colours. The 3 primary colours triad. But I don’t find it appealing – here the greenery makes this photo better for me!
3. The blue, yellow and red combination again. I don’t find the combination of blues, with the pale blue, and the red at all appealing. Nor is the vivid yellow pot – drawing attention to itself big time.
4. I tend to agree with others I’ve read since that the main entrance doesn’t feel quite as fitting as warranted. The white fountain bowl appears to me too small in proportion to its surrounds; I’d prefer it a little larger and not white but a tonal colour. The plants and pots around the perimeter seem haphazard. The colours and organisation of this area I found underwhelming as a first impression – I wanted to be wowed.
5. My distaste for yellow was really tested.
6. The red paths were too harsh and dominant for my liking – I prefer a more neutral tone. The coloured pots to me are discordant with the bamboo grove.
The ‘white’ of the square pond is quite austere, and it’s a large area making it even more ‘in your face’. I think I’d prefer a colour when looking across the pond to the plants, but looking from the opposite direction towards the blue studio it’s better – the ‘white’ does look very crisp. Also, the scale of the fountain to the pond seems amiss, somehow disproportional to my eye (but that could be a problem with my eye!).
To finish on a positive note, one last image of a remarkable and wonderful garden, plus a tribute to the man who saved it.
Postscript: Since writing this I learned Pierre Berge passed away on 8 September 2017 at age 86, and that a state-of-the-art fashion museum will open on 19 October 2017, opposite Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, displaying thousands of Yves Saint Laurent designed clothes and accessories selected by Pierre Berge. This will be something to see!
Photographs by Louise McDaid and Tony Maher.