Moroccan gardens are famous all over the world for their cooling fountains and rills, reflective pools, decorative tiling, covered walkways, potted citrus, palms and brightly coloured flowers.
There are many different types of gardens to see and visit in Morocco, including jnane, or paradise gardens, arsat (orchard) gardens and riad (or riyad) courtyards. Many gardens are of the Andalusian style divided into four quadrants, with tiled paths and fountains.
Garden Travel Guide to Morocco
Getting to Morocco and getting around while you’re there
Traveling by train in Morocco is the most efficient and comfortable way to get around. There is the start of a Tangier to Casablanca high-speed rail link which is the first part of a wider high speed network but currently the train network in Morocco is not very extensive, although it does cover most of the major tourist destinations. Trains including overnight trains with sleeper carriages connect Marrakech, Fes, Casablanca, Rabat, Oujda, Tangier and Meknes.
To get further afield in the Atlas Mountains, to Agadir or Essaouira on the coast, you’ll have to get a bus.
Although Arabic and Berber are the official languages, French is widely spoken and also English among those involved in the travel industry.
Morocco’s climate is generally dry tropical.
The coast has a warm, Mediterranean climate tempered on the western coast by southwest trade winds. Summer daily temperature ranges are from 18C to 29C in Casablanca and in winter drops to a range of 7C to 18C. Rainfall is about 580mm pa but most of it falls in the winter months of November to March.
Inland areas have a hotter, drier climate. Fez, which is still on the coastal plain, has similar rainfall to the coast but more extreme temperatures with daily summer averages in the range 19C to 36C and winter ranges 4C overnight to 15C.
In higher elevations the climate is humid and temperate with sufficient moisture to allow for the growth of different species of moss carpets, Atlantic fir (a conifer tree endemic to Morocco), oaks and junipers. In the valleys of the Atlas there are thick and lush forests. There are even cloud forests in the Middle Atlas Mountains.
Beyond the Atlas and in the south it is dry and hot. The Marrakesh region has only about 250mm of rainfall a year and further east it drops to as little as 100mm in the arid and desert lands.
Topography and Natural Vegetation of Morocco
Morocco is located on the northwest corner of Africa, bordered by Algeria, Mauritania and the disputed territory of Western Sahara over which Morocco claims sovereignty.
Morocco is dominated by the Atlas Mountains, which run north/south and separate the fertile coastal regions from the harsh Sahara. The Middle Atlas range is over 3,000m high and is covered with woodlands of pine, oak and cedar, open pastureland and small lakes. The Rif Mountains run along the north coast. The high mountains helped keep Morocco independent until 1912 but both Spanish and French controlled parts of Morocco until 1956 and Spain still has two small territories in Ceuta and Melilla.
Between the Atlantic ocean and the Atlas mountains is the wide fertile coastal plain and behind the Atlas is the vast Sahara desert.
Although the high Atlas mountains are the traditional home of the indigenous Berber people, most Moroccans now live in cities such as Fez, Casablanca and Marrakech on the coastal plain.
Best time to visit Morocco’s gardens
Much of the Moroccan climate is tempered by the presence of the Atlantic currents and breezes. Although it can have occasional unseasonably hot winds off the desert from the east or unseasonably cold winds from the north west, these events generally only last a couple of days. It makes Morocco an all year round destination as there are relatively high winter temperatures, and summers that are dry rather than humid. If you need to avoid the heat, especially in the south, the best time to visit is during the shoulder seasons of April to May, and September to November.
Moroccan garden style
The gardens of Morocco are typically Islamic or Moorish gardens, named for the empire which stretched from northern Africa through Andalusia in southern Spain and Portugal from the 8th to the 15th centuries. The Moors created paradise gardens in the Persian style, predominantly private enclosed courtyards divided into quadrants, each with a water rill emptying into a central pool or basin. These were symbolic of the four rivers of paradise – water, milk, wine and honey – as described in the Qur’an:
“The similitude of Paradise which is promised to the pious, in it are rivers of water without corruption, and rivers of milk, the taste whereof changes not, and rivers of wine delicious to those who drink; and rivers of honey clarified; and there shall they have all kinds of fruit and forgiveness from their Lord!”
From a more practical point of view, the gardens made more comfortable microclimates within the natural environment, by excluing hot, dry and dusty winds, enabling evaporative cooling from shallow but wide pools of water, and creating deep shade from covered walkways and open-sided pavilions.
Elaborate tiling patterns known as zellij and wall mosaics follow the Islamic tradition of not depicting any life form, but instead showcase an amazing array of intricate geometric designs.
Gardens which incorporate more Spanish influences, such as shade trees, potted citrus, flowering shrubs, annuals and colourful walls are often called ‘Andalusian’ gardens.
Many of Morocco’s best public gardens, such as the Exotic Gardens at Sidi Bouknadel, the Dar Batha in Fez and the Jardin D’essais in Rabat have been restored or reinterpreted under the supervision of landscape architect Carey Duncan.
Gardens to see and visit in Morocco
Many public-access gardens in Morocco surround either hotels or restaurants so to visit them you need to either dine-in or be a hotel guest. Traditional Moroccan guest accommodation is called a riad, many of which have internal courtyards featuring elaborately tiled raised garden beds, fountains and ponds, seating areas and outdoor dining. There are also some public parks and gardens around palaces, museums, wineries and date palm oases. The most famous open garden in Morocco is Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh.
Gardens to see and visit in Marrakech – the ‘Red City’ – the main garden city
• Arsat Moulay Abdeslam Cyber Park – 8 hectares (20 acres) at the foot of the Atlas Mountains that includes both a more traditional Islamic-style18th century garden of foutain, citrus and olives, and a newer French-built landscape park of lawn and trees from the 1920s. The Cyber Park refers to the available free outdoor wifi which makes it an attractive place for young people.
• La Mamounia hotel gardens
• Jardin Majorelle
• Le Jardin Secret – a new garden in Marrakech’s medina – 2 interconnected gardens, one Islamic and one exotic. Designed by Tom Stuart-Smith, reviewed here by Janna Schreier
• Oasis and date gardens at the Palmerie
• Al Bahia Palace Gardens
• Harti Gardens (Jardin el Harti)
• Al Badia Palace Gardens
• Jardins de l’Agdal – 12th century Agdal Gardens
• Jardins de Menara – FREE olive groves and touts 8am-7pm
• Casa Botanica – herb and ethnobotanical garden
• Ourika Gardens Hotel
• Jnane Tamsna hotel with 9 hectares of gardens at La Palmerie
• Es Saadi hotel gardens – 20 acres surounding villa-style rooms
• Medina Gardens hotel – large gardens with citrus, palms and green lawns
Gardens to see and visit in Fez
• Jardin Jnane Sbil (formerly Bou Jeloud Gardens) – 18 acres of flowers, palms and citrus
• Batha Andalusian Garden at Musee Dar el-Batha
• Palais Jamai Hotel gardens
• Bou Jeloud Gardens
• Jardin des Biehn – boutique hotel and restaurant in an Andalusian-style garden
• The Ruined Garden – cafe and spice garden in the Fez medina
• Roman Ruins at Volubilis – colourful mosaics surrounded by many flowering plants (90 mins drive from Fez)
Gardens to see and visit in Rabat – the ‘White City’
• Chella Gardens around the old necropolis paid 30 dirhams
• Kasbah Oudaia Garden (Andalusian style garden)
• Sidi Bouknadal Exotic Gardens – built by Marcel François featuring international gardens
• Volubilis (175km east of Rabat) – 1st century AD Roman ruins surrounded by colourful wildflowers in mid-May, like thyme, poppies, borage, convolvulus and roses
Gardens to see and visit in Casablanca
• Parc de La Ligue Arabe – palm avenues, topiary shrubs, cafe
Gardens to see and visit in the Ourika Valley
• Nectarome Medicinal, Herb and Aromatic Gardens
• Jardins du Safran – Saffron Gardens
Gardens to see and visit in Ouirgane
• La Roseraie – restaurant and hotel surrounded by rose gardens
Gardens to see and visit in Taroudant
• Kasbah Tamadot – Kanoun Restaurant and stunning gardens at this Virgin-owned exclusive hotel 45 mins drive from Marrakech
• Dar al Hossoun – dry gardens with more than 900 species of plants
• La Gazelle d’Or – hotel with extensive gardens
Gardens to see and visit in Essaouira
• Le Jardin des Douars – hotel with lovely gardens
As I mentioned in my last post there were only two gardens that I really wanted to visit in Morocco, Jardin Majorelle and Hotel La Mamounia, both of which are located in Marrakech. Due to a bout of traveller’s tummy I nearly missed them both which would have been a great disappointment. However, after 36hrs […]
There were only two gardens that I wanted to visit when we went to Morocco, Jardin Marjorelle and the gardens of the hotel La Mamounia, both in Marrakesh. I’ll do a separate post about them in the near future but in the meantime I’d like to share some observations about some of the plants and […]