Pops of an intense electric cobalt blue peppered with accents of daffodil yellow offer a playful contrast. It is an otherworldly haven of tranquility, far from the frenetic pace of Marrakesh in Morocco. With green pools, shaded walkways, pergolas draped in wisteria, looking at the greenery with dappled light around, Jardin Majorelle looks like an impressionist painting.
In the heart of New Town, the 12-acre botanical garden offers a respite from the chaos of the rose-red city. It is a mix of architecture, fashion, art and design. Tall spiky cacti stand sentinel alongside yuccas and luscious coconut palms that line paths along with thickets of bamboo. Even the gargantuan clay planters are painted Majorelle blue, pumpkin orange or lemon yellow. An angular Art Déco style mansion in the same blue stands juxtaposed against the sky.
Despite being a small garden, it makes a dramatic visual statement because of its lively colour palette. It started when French artist Jacques Majorelle, the son of a famous furniture designer, built himself a simple studio and then planted a garden around it. He had studied architecture and fine arts from France. After travelling through Europe and Egypt, he finally settled in exotic Morocco. In 1937, he invented an Art Deco-inspired shade of blue (called Majorelle blue). He even had the recipe for the bold blue colour patented, which meant its reproduction became costly. Locals say the colour was inspired by a 15th century paint made from crushed semi-precious lapis lazuli stones.
Jacques was an amateur botanist with a passion for plants. He created a mystical world of plants. To make money, he opened it for public in 1947 by imposing an admission fee. This wasn’t enough, so he sold it, piecemeal. But misfortune hounded him—a divorce and two car accidents—and forced him back to France, and he died in Paris in 1962.
The property fell into disrepair. Later, the flamboyant French designer Yves Saint-Laurent, and his partner Pierre Berge who had visited the garden many times, acquired it in 1980 and restored it.
Saint-Laurent too had a love affair with Morocco—he was so inspired by the sights and smells of North Africa that he designed djellabas (gowns) and babouches (footwear) inspired from them. They later bought a property inside the ancient walled city, the medina, called the House of Snakes. After Saint-Laurent’s death in 2008, Berge donated the garden and villa to the Paris-based foundation named after both.
Today the garden has over 300 plant species from five continents, water lily ponds with goldfish and turtles. They even converted Jacques’ original Art Deco studio into a Berber Museum.
Worth a visit is the Berber Museum that has dimly lit rooms, and an LED-lit ceiling that portrays the night sky. Inside is a carefully curated collection of Islamic art and Berber artefacts. The best of all is the chunky Berber jewellery with silver chains, coins, and glass beads in red, green, yellow and black.
For Yves Saint-Laurent’s love for the place, his ashes were scattered in the rose garden after his death. Sitting under the shade of trees, the cool breeze from the ponds and the overpowering explosion of colour transport you into another world, where you are happy to idle.