For the second year running, Jardin Majorelle hosted a Botanical Symposium at the advent of spring, spearheaded by Vice President of the Fondation Jardin Majorelle, Madison Cox. This year, Jnane Tamsna was honored to play a role in hosting a garden tour that explored native ornamental species, contemporary garden design, and the ancient irrigation system that laid the foundation for Marrakech almost a thousand years ago.
It’s quite simple, really,” says Rachid Jafaari, the founder of Terre d’Eveil. As your pores absorb nutrients, “you should only put on your skin things that you can eat.” He tells me this at his shop near Place des Épices, amidst shelves upon shelves of 100% natural products and vials of essential oils. At Jnane Tamsna, Rachid will begin leading workshops that teach you how to make your own moisturizers and balms that follow this basic guideline.
Apart from offering a spectacular garden visited by over 700,000 people a year, the Fondation Jardin Majorelle created a Berber Museum two years ago – a must see for visitors to Marrakech. Among its activities, the Museum hosts an annual colloquium focused on Berber culture, adding to Marrakech’s vibrant intellectual life, which is inspired by the city’s rich culture and history.
This year’s event, which took place yesterday at the French Cultural Institute, addressed Berber knowledge and know-how, including its transmission in places like Marrakech’s famed Jemaa el Fna main square.
My latest garden project is to cultivate a maquis – a Mediterranean shrub landscape – in front of the main entrance of Jnane House. Against a backdrop of Moorish arches, dwarf fan palms and majestic date palms, I had planted jasmine, lavender and rosemary, which made for a beautiful and fragrant combination for a number of years. Because the lavender and rosemary had become woody, and the jasmine invaded by weeds, I decided it was time for a spring cleaning and replanting.
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.
Our friend Dr. Tom Carlson, a pediatrician and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, sent us an article that just appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. Entitled ‘Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet” the paper notes that a traditional diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of heart attack and stroke.
At Jnane Tamsna we practice what of the Spanish authors of the paper preach: a regional cuisine “characterized by a high intake of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and wine in moderation, consumed with meals.”
Although our main purpose is not to prevent of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet, we are pleased that a stay at Jnane Tamsna could be good for your heart and soul. The olive oil we pressed last November is on offer daily at lunch and dinner, as are French and Moroccan wines (in moderation).
Our gardening workshops were inspired by citrus and Scandinavia. This may seem a curious combination, but it is really quite simple. When a Danish family visited Jnane Tamsna a few years ago, the father told me that his young daughter was dreaming of plucking tangerines directly from the tree. As I come from Michigan – and saw an orange on a tree for the first time when I was a teenager – I could relate to this.
We ventured into the garden, and the three-year-old – lifted by her father to the height of the fruits – harvested her first citrus. As Jnane Tamsna is popular with families, this experience inspired me to get visiting children involved in garden discovery, from planting seeds, to transplanting seedlings and gathering vegetables.
It has become a seed to compost experience, as we even show the kids where we throw the orange peels and other compostable garden refuse. This all makes the gardeners happy, as they like working with children, and are always happy to have their helping hands.
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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