Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The Secret Garden - The Islamic Garden

 The Palace has two courtyards and their gardens have been restored to a design by the English Garden Designer, Tom Stuart-Smith. The larger courtyard has been restored as an Islamic garden.
Islamic gardens, or chahar bagh, are based on the description of the garden of paradise in the Q'ran. They are enclosed gardens divided into 4 quarters separated by canals or rills fed by a central fountain. This represents the four rivers of paradise, water,milk,honey and wine. The gardens are for looking at from shaded pavilions on the outside with paths along the divides into quarters. The planting is at lower levels to the paths and rills partly to allow gravity irrigation. The planting areas would be filled with aromatic plants particularly fruit trees. The sunken base to the garden would allow the tree canopies to be at  the same height as people on the paths so that they were best able to see the blossoms, pick a fruit and smell the perfume.

To me the secret garden version seems very English. The quarters are only slightly sunken and are penetrated by paths leading to seating within the quarters. 

The planted areas are separated from the paths by clipped rosemary hedges. 

The garden is planted with fruit trees. Care has been taken to use plants which have been available in Morocco for the past 600 years so the main trees are citrus, fig, olive and pomegranate planted in rows and clipped and date palms interspersed in odd clumps as they are in the Agdal.

 Other aromatics are planted sometimes in pots such as Artemisia.

I have some problems with the rosemary hedging. Original chahar bagh would not have  had hedging because of the height separation but is is usual in modern gardens to separate areas with hedging . This is usually hibiscus but other plants are used. However rosemary is not a common plant in Southern Morocco. I have seen rosmarinus repans used as a potted plant in Riad Hida in Ouled Berhil but rosemary in general is uncommon. It is not used in cooking, nor generally obtainable in the souk, and can be difficult to source even in the hypermarket, so I assume it is only used in more northern parts.
I think, because visitors penetrate the garden in a western manner, the designer has not been content to leave bare earth between trees and has sought to provide ground cover. He takes his inspiration for this from the persian concept of a bustan which he understands to be a flowery meadow, a bit like the medieval concept of a flowery mead. However an internet search shows only references to an enclosed orchard  so something may be being lost in translation.

 Here he departs from the rigours of using only native plants and uses stipa tenuissima an ornamental grass native to Texas and Mexico as the  basis of his meadow.It is clipped every 6 weeks so it ranges from short and clumpy to long and waving.

Within this are planted closely clipped lavender and a range of plants each flowering over a short period such as Iris, Turkish Sage, Society Garlic and Californian Poppies so that the picture is constantly changing.

The  hydraulics are restored  and fed by the  the original basin

The elaborate central fountain is circular in shape as are all the fountains in the garden. This one is set into a square pool. In Islamic iconography a circle represents heaven and a square the earth so the paradise fount of heaven is giving abundant water to the earth.

This has been used to feed fountains only 4cm lower in the different quadrants. 

Overall the impression is of a garden designed to a brief for Chelsea. I am somewhat surprised a version did not turn up there as I am sure it would have been successful.

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