The walled city of Taroudant lies in the Sous Valley in South West of Morocco. Overlooked by both the Atlas and Anti Atlas mountains, this ancient city is often compared to Marrakesh. We were in the area to take a look around some of the private gardens in Taroudant, many of them designed by French garden designers Eric Ossart and Arnaud Maurières.
The pair first began designing gardens in Morocco in 2003 taking inspiration from Moroccan culture and the paradise gardens of Persia. Their work blends the rich rammed earth walls of Morocco with plantings that echo the native vegetation.
We stayed at Dar al Hossoun, an eco-hotel on the outskirts of Taroudant. With gardens designed by Ossart and Maurières, there was much to see and enjoy in the tranquil surroundings. The mature gardens contain over 900 species of trees and plants all of which are fed from the hotel’s own well. I’m not going to lie, there were a huge number of plants that I didn’t recognise!
Cloaked in bougainvillea, the gated entrance opens into a gravelled courtyard planted with Pennisetum setaceum and white iceberg roses – a combination that has been copied and repeated throughout other Moroccan gardens. Luscious scented Datura droops from a wall and the visitor is guided through an enclosed entrance that leads into the main garden and hotel conclave.
The majority of the hotel rooms are on the ground floor, arranged in three courtyard formations. The main courtyard is centred around the magnificent canal pool, some 60 feet long and planted to either side with super-sized tropical and succulent plants.
Islamic gardens are designed for rest, reflection, and contemplation and include water and textured plants to provide a sensory experience. The tranquillity of this garden belies the fact that it is actually an hotel. From the main courtyard with its traditionally built Moroccan crazy-paved terrace and pathways you can walk beneath towering date palms, bananas and olives. Tall dome shaped Moroccan terracotta lanterns are tucked in amongst the foliage which included aloes with yellow flowers (resembling those of Kniphofia) and flowering trees – some familiar, such as wisteria but others I had not seen before.
Four further gardens await; a grassed garden dotted with citrus trees, another similar one featuring a heated canal pool and quiet seating areas which leads through to a dry garden planted with cacti.
The final garden, created from the space left following the hotel’s construction is approached via paved steps planted terrace-like with dry-loving plants. A gravel path circumnavigates the garden where towering bananas and enormous fan-shaped palms form the upper layer, with lower planting making a denser camouflage for the many tortoises that live here, rescued by owner Ollivier, who also rescued the numerous cats that roam around the gardens.
Ollivier kindly took us to several other privately owned gardens, all designed by Ossart and Maurieres. Similarly planted to the gardens at Dar al Hossoun the recurring theme was that of tranquility and peace. All featured water in the form of a canal shaped swimming pool and each garden enjoyed quiet contemplative spaces to sit. At one garden we visited, Dar Igdad, we were shown the ‘nursery’ area where Eric Ossart and Arnaud Maurieres grow the many plants used in their Moroccan gardens. One of the key features of their gardens in this country is that the plants are either native to the area or able to adapt to the climate. Many species have been sourced overseas, for example, Mexico where the similar climate ensures they have the best chance of survival.