The Majorelle Garden is a twelve-acre botanical garden and artist’s landscape garden in Marrakech, Morocco.
An archaeological museum, it contains the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech. The edifice was designed by the expatriate French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s and 1930s.
Jacques Majorelle used to say:
“The painter has the modesty to regard this enclosure of floral verdure as his most beautiful work.” He referred to the garden as “the vast splendours whose harmony I have orchestrated… This garden is a momentous task, to which I give myself entirely. It will take my last years from me and I will fall, exhausted, under its branches after having given it all my love.”
The fame of Jacques Majorelle’s garden grew, and even surpassed that of his paintings.The more the artist travelled the more he enjoyed gardening and he began to bring plants from around the world and to communicate internationally with people who shared his passion for botany. He acquired hundreds of rare varieties of trees and plants: cacti, palm trees, bamboo, coconut palms, thujas, weeping willows, carob trees, jasmine, agaves, white water lilies, datura, cypress, bougainvilleas, ferns. As in the artist’s compositions in his paintings, the species were arranged between light and shadow around a long central basin and along irregular, meandering walkways with curved and painted walls.
The colours that Jacques Majorelle began to use in 1937 transformed this garden into an even more fascinating masterpiece. He first painted the facade of his studio, then all of his property including gates, pergolas, pots and the various buildings in a scheme of bold and brilliant primary colors, one of which would later be known as “Majorelle blue”, an ultramarine, cobalt blue, “evoking Africa”. Strong, deep, intense, it brings out the green of the leaves and makes them sing.
Such luminous images are accompanied by an enchanting and soothing acoustic universe far from the rumble of the outside world. As the evening draws in, the croaking of the frogs is relaxing when mixed with the subtle chirping of the thousand and one birds that have settled in the garden, such as the bulbuls or oriental nightingales, Eurasian collared doves, the murmur of the fountains and the rustling of the leaves in the lightest breeze… When the Jardin Majorelle opened to the public in 1947, its fame was already well-established. At the end of his life, after having been forced to share out parts of it on several occasions, Jacques Majorelle had to sell what remained. The garden, abandoned, fell into disrepair.
Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé discovered Jardin Majorelle in 1966, during their first stay in Marrakech.
“We quickly became very familiar with this garden, and went there everyday. It was open to the public but was almost empty. We were seduced by this oasis where the colors used by Matisse were mixed with those of nature. » … « And when we heard that the garden was to be sold and replaced by a hotel, we did everything we could to stop that project from happening. This is how we eventually became owners of the garden and of the villa. And we have brought life back to the garden through the years.”
Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé bought the Jardin Majorelle in 1980 and saved it from falling victim to a hotel complex. The new owners decided to live in the Villa Bou Saf Saf, which they renamed Villa Oasis, and undertook the restoration of the garden in order to “make the Jardin Majorelle become the most beautiful garden – by respecting the vision of Jacques Majorelle.”
Automatic irrigation systems, which adjust the distribution of water according to hours during the day and to the specific needs of each plant were installed and new species of flowers have been added since 1999, rising from 135 to 300. A team of 20 gardeners once again began working to maintain the garden, its ponds and fountains.The studio of the painter has been transformed into a museum open to the public, dedicated to the Berber culture, housing the personal Berber collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Yves Saint Laurent used to say that he was able to find an unlimited source of inspiration because of the Jardin Majorelle, and that he dreamt many times about its unique colours. He passed away on June 1, 2008, in Paris. His ashes were scattered in the rose garden of the Villa Oasis; a memorial, made of a Roman pillar which was brought from Tangier and set on a pedestal with a plate bearing his name, was built in the garden so that visitors can remember him and his work. “It is a way for artists to live on… ”
“After Yves died, I donated the Jardin Majorelle and the Villa Oasis to the foundation in Paris which bears both our names.”
Photography by © Nicolas Mathéus