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Dreams in Majorelle Blue

Over the years, in my career in horticulture, I've become enamoured with the new perennial movement, its ideals and mechanisms seem to fall in line with my own. Especially when it comes to urban public spaces but there will always be a place for botanical collections with their own unique perspectives. I'd like to share one of those important gardens with you that helped me to heal and filled me with wonder in an artistic wash of brilliant blue.

I'd been ill for quite awhile (I've had rheumatoid arthritis since 2001, the year I turned 25). It is a rollercoaster of an experience and I felt like I'd lost a few things along the way: my fierce independence, my vibrance and most of my motivation. I knew that I needed to both test myself physically and replenish my soul before I could be confident returning to my normal life. So why not hop on a plane to Morocco? It possess a character that I have always admired. An amalgam of many cultures, religions and ancestries; it is resilient, intelligent and complicated, yet full of life and blazing with colour. Where better to test ones mettle and engage the spirit?

After weeks of trekking through souks, mountains and desert, I had endured. Feeling buoyed by my adventures along the way, I arrived in Marrakech for the grand finale. The city has a lot to offer: richly coloured textiles, sizzling tagine and tremendously beautiful jewelry provide plenty of stimulus for the senses. Dessert heat, chatty honking cars and a strong current of people pushing through the streets fill the city with a vibrance and magic that is unique to this region. But there was one place in particular that I knew I needed to visit to complete my journey.

I took a taxi to a rather nondescript bit of town that looked like a lot of places we had passed, nothing seemingly out of the ordinary, but then I had learned that Morocco likes to surprise. Undeterred, I paid my entrance fee and off I went camera in hand, leaving behind the bustle and chatter of the city. What met me beyond those gates was so much more than I could ever have expected.

The Jardin Majorelle (www.jardinmarjorelle.com) began in the early 1920's when the French painter, Jacques Majorelle travelled to Morocco to recover after an illness (sound familiar?). He fell in love with the colour and quality of the light (as only an artist can), purchased a plot of land and began building. Over some 40 years it was he and his wife's private villa and garden. Tucked behind walls (like many traditional riads and courtyards), he made it his life's work. Filling it with a botanical collection gathered on his travels, he coated it in bold primary colours including the famous Majorelle Blue (a particularly vibrant cobalt that bears his name, #majorelleblue). It is like Morocco itself a collection of influences all fit together in the best possible way.

At one point in its history the garden had sprawled out over nearly 10 acres. But as time wore on it became difficult to maintain and although the doors were opened to the public in 1947 it wasn't quite enough. Jacques was finally forced to let go of the remaining land including his studio, villa and the garden in 1961. Sadly, it then fell into disrepair, forgotten.

In the 80's, designers Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé purchased and subsequently saved the Majorelle from development. Today the gardens encompass 2 1/2 acres filled with their thoughtful restorations, upgrades and additions (including further plant collections and not one, but three beautiful museums housed in the original cubist villa and studios). Since 2010 the grounds have been run by non-profit organizations that continue this work.

On the day that I visited, the garden had a profound effect on me. It did what only the best in art and the best in plant design can do. I felt transported; I was filled with joy and wonder and yet I hadn't left Marrakech at all. Touches of yellow, deep terracotta and of course Majorelle blue lift you up while the massive cacti and towering bamboo ground the space. Water flows through it's heart and sculpture surrounds you. Every corner and nook has a different bold accent, a new texture and a unique view. There is a life and connection to the lively city around it and yet it is an enveloping oasis of shady leaves and trickling water. It encompasses all that is beautiful about Moroccan people and their culture: warm and brilliant, lush and surprising. I could have spent weeks in that garden absorbing every bit of it and even now, years after that trip I still smile and dream of returning one day.

It reminded me of the impact that a truly great garden with a unique artistic vision can have and why I became a horticulturalist in the first place. It has an alchemy that evokes an immediate response. Energizes and calms, engages the senses and most importantly transports you to a totally unique world without losing its sense of place. The Jardin Majorelle is one of the great gardens of the world and for those lucky enough to experience it, its plant magic is something truly special to behold.

Sara-Jane & Alicia at simpleleafdesign.com, visit us on instagram at simpleleafdesign2 or say hello at simpleleafdesign@gmail.com

Images above (not owned by authors): Jacques Majorelle, a painting by J.Majorelle and Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé at the garden gate.

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