It is late spring verging on summer in Marrakech, and this is the time of year when gardens are especially vibrant. Citrus trees have already shared the fragrance of their abundant white blossoms, and the less conspicuous olive flowers have come and gone, promising a rich harvest in the autumn. Now we have an explosion of flowers in our notably zen gardens: larkspurs blooming like wildflowers across ornamental beds, native honeysuckle matching the beauty of exotic climbing bauhinia, and a new garden of ornamental shrubs adding a variety of forms and colors. A personal favourite is the ‘flor del mar’ (Caesalpinia exostemma), a native of Mexico and Central America that is quite rarely cultivated. Its abundant red and yellow flowers appear before the leaves, providing a distinctive floral display.
Marrakech is surrounded by stunning regions easily accessible by road. One we visited this month is Bine El Ouidane. After a three-hour drive on backcountry roads that expose the breathtaking landscapes of central Morocco we arrived to our destination.
The region has a large water reservoir set in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, surrounded by rolling hills and lush vegetation. After settling down we took three of the kayaks offered by the hotel to explore the lake in front of us. For dinner we enjoyed a delicious chicken tajine prepared with fresh local produce.
The next day we visited the Cascades d’Ouzoud, an area that has a gorgeous waterfall and caves that we unfortunately did not have time to visit. This area of Morocco has some of the most beautiful landscapes we have seen in the country. We highly recommended to anyone wishing to go on a one or two day trip from Jnane Tamsna, our boutique hotel in the Marrakech Palmeraie.
It’s thinning time of the year in the Jnane Tamsna gardens. From seed sown in December, we are now pulling fingerling Chantenay red core carrots, hollow crown parsnips, Mantovano fennel and plump purple top turnips. Instead of thinning and throwing in the compost, we use these tender vegetables as a side dish, mixed with young fava beans.
Although it is a bit labor intensive to clean all these organic roots and shoots – and husk the favas – they are a hit with guests. Our chef Bahija Lafridi has just the right touch: she poaches the carrots, fennel, parsnips and turnips in salted water for three minutes, and then blends in the green faba beans and lightly stir-fries the mix in Jnane Tamsna’s own olive oil. Fresh from the garden, they keep their color, flavor and crunchiness. Guess what’s on the menu tonight?
Although our garden is mostly zen - subtle variations on greens and whites - we have the occasional splash of color. As an Easter special, we are livening up our Facebook page with a series of pink and pinkish-red flowers currently on show in the nooks and crannies of our grounds. We began with Cercis siliquastrum, commonly known as Judas tree or European redbud, which we grew from seed in 1996 and then transplanted to Jnane Tamsna in 2001.
I know spring is in the air when the wild asparagus starts to sprout at Jnane Tamsna. It is now that time of the year, the season to enjoy our fresh arugula, salad greens, spinach and other spring vegetables. It is also the moment to plant seeds for our summer harvest of eggplants, peppers and tomatoes.
Among the other organic vegetables I am cultivating this year are two cultivated heirloom asparagus varieties, ‘Argenteuil’, from France and ‘Mary Washington’, developed in California. With both cultivated and wild asparagus on the Jnane Tamsna grounds, we will have a consistent supply of tender stalks in season, from late January until early March. When the season ends, we leave the remaining sprouts to grow and flower, strengthening the rhizomes to produce an even better crop the following year.
Inspired by North African traditions of horticulture, I had my heart set on creating edible landscapes around our emerging boutique guesthouse. As Meryanne was seeing to foundations, walls and interiors, I set about designing the gardens.
After the earthen wall went up around our property, and the wells were dug, my first step was to create an arsat. This is a quintessential orchard garden, with date palms forming the upper canopy, fruit trees filling the middle space, and beds of culinary herbs and vegetable gardens on the ground. The sunken beds are selectively watered through gravity flow irrigation, and the date palms and fruit trees – citrus, figs and pomegranates – benefit from the soaking.
Some people found it daring that we would have arsat instead of grassy lawns – the expected emblem of Marrakech luxury hotels. I didn’t hesitate a second. Jnane Tamsna was built to reflect our lifestyle and ideals, and I don’t spend my days lounging on grass looking at geraniums. I prefer to be in my arsat, harvesting leeks, oranges and rocket, to the sound of water flowing along the irrigation canals.
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