The Cornish landscape is famed for a beautiful and varied coastline, however it was the discovery of Cornish hedges that remains for me one of the most remarkable aspects of this rugged place. Typically laid out in amoebic plots similar to that of a magnified cellular pattern, the hedges date back to the bronze and iron age with many more built during the Mediaeval period and subsequent centuries. A Cornish hedge is most commonly two skins of stone with soil in the centre. Some hedges have trees and shrubs planted along the top to raise their height as a means of windbreak. The soil between the two walls of stone plays host to an evolving tapestry of flora making the hedges an important contribution to the wildlife habitat of the Cornish landscape.
In September 2014 I visited the house and garden of Sadek Tazi the owner of the Casa Botanica nursery in Casablanca. The garden is two generations old and includes some beautiful old specimens. The climate in Casablanca is favourable for an incredibly diverse range of plants as evidenced in this garden.
In June 2015 Tom Stuart-Smith and I returned to Marrakech to set out the majority of the planting. A mix of grasses, aloes, agaves, and other xerophytic plants with flowering perennial and shrubs from similar climatic regions around the world (Australia, Sth Africa, Mediterranean, Nth Africa and California) were planted in the exotic garden. In the Islamic garden a mix of Tulbaghia, Lavander and Rosemary were set out through a mass planting of Stipa tenuissima. In January 2016 California poppy seeds will be sown through the Stipa also. The temperatures during the day would reach the mid 40's celcius. To help the establishment of the plants a shade cloth was erected over the entire garden, reducing the temperature by 15 degrees.
In January 2015 the tree planting began in both the exotic and Islamic gardens. The trees for the exotic garden had been selected in a Sicilian nursery called Piante Faro and driven to Marrakech in a container (see journal entry titled 'Sicilian nursery visit'). The Citrus and Olive trees had been lifted from fields at the base of the Atlas mountain range (see journal entry Le Jardin Secret - 3). Planting was largely a manual process due to the limited access through the narrow streets of the Medina. The trees would be taken by donkey and cart through the Medina between 1am and 6am, before the stalls in the souk would open and then man-handled into place once onsite.
In September 2014 I visited a number of nurseries in Casablanca and Marrakech to source plants for Le Jardin Secret, a public garden I have been making with Tom Stuart-Smith Limited. The garden located in the medina of Marrakech will be opened to the public in March 2016. We selected 16x Olives from fields in the foothills of the Atlas mountains. The Olives were between 80-100 years old and have been planted in the Islamic garden along the north and south walls. A selection of xerophytic plants, grasses and flowering shrubs were sourced at Casa Botanica nursery. Parts of the nursery look like an Henri Rousseau painting with field grown palms mixed in with tree aloes and Kalanchoe.
In September 2014 we planted the date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) and set out the grid lines for the Citrus and Olive tree planting in the Islamic garden. The palms were all moved and lifted by man power only, no machinery involved. The palms were inched up vertically using scaffolding planks, rope and timber poles. A team of twenty people were involved to plant the tallest 5m palm.
In January 2014 I began working with Tom Stuart-Smith on design proposals for a public garden in the Medina of Marrakech, Le Jardin Secret. The garden comprises two former courtyard gardens on the site of the 19th century Riad belonging to the Governor of the Medina. Both courtyards retain archaeology of the former gardens, the larger western courtyard has a traditional Islamic cruciform layout with a central water basin. The proposal is to create an exotic garden in the smaller eastern courtyard, filled with plants of similar climatic regions around the world. The western courtyard is to be restored as an Islamic garden with groves of orange and lemon trees planted on a grid underplanted with a simple matrix of plants within a mass planting of Stipa tenuissima to create a meadow effect.
During the same trip to Mumbai in 2011 Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai also took me to visit Tara House, another property located on the Arabian sea. This low lying building is set within tropical planting with the volume of the house concealed as it weaves around lush planting. A secret subterranean room is located under the main terrace. It is host to an underground pool that is filled with natural ground water with the depth of watering varying with the seasons. Shafts of light are brought into the space from portals in the floor of the terrace at ground level.
On a visit to Mumbai in January 2011 I was taken by Studio Mumbai to visit arguably their finest work, a private residence called Palmyra. The house, approached along a winding drive through a grove of coconut palms comprises two rectangular pavilions of equal size. The pavilions are clad in narrow slats hand crafted from the palmyra palm. Studio Mumbai designed and built the house including all fixtures and fittings as well as most of the furniture. Even the light switches and door handles were cast in the studio. Whilst the building is undeniably contemporary the hand crafted finish employing traditional building techniques makes for a subtle and textured building. The site is located outside Mumbai on the shores of the Arabian Sea. There is not a garden as such around the house, the buildings sit within a landscape characterised by coconut palms with stands of banana. A rectangular water basin sits between the two pavilions with minimal planting between the house and the drive. It remains one of the most influential pieces of architecture I have seen.
In June 2011 I visited the exceptional bamboo nursery called Pépiniéres de la Bambouseraie near Nimes in southern France to select plants for the Paris garden. The nursery includes a vast forest of various species of bamboo as well as a Japanese tea house located next to a river lined with Maple trees. I was looking for two varieties, Phyllostachys nigra with its characteristic black canes and the very erect Semiarundunaria fastuosa. Plants are dug up and containerised from field grown mother groups. The largest bamboo available for purchase were in the region of 12m height, the largest transportable by articulated lorry.
I visited Lanhydrock House as part of a tour of Cornish gardens in July 2010. The house is grade 1 listed and owned by the National trust. A formal garden is laid out in front of the house with large topiary punctuating the parterres. To the rear of the house a more rambling garden is planted with rare trees and shrubs. This 1,000 acre property of wooded parkland includes 30 acres of woodland and tree lined avenues.
In July 2010 as part of a west country garden tour I visited the intriguing Lost gardens of Heligan. A vast property extending across 200 acres, this garden has a unique history. Having been in th ownership of one family for 400 years the garden had evolved to its peak at the end of the nineteenth century, then covering some 1000 acres. The garden fell into a state of disrepair with the outbreak of World War 1. Lost and forgotten for decades the garden was rediscovered in 1990 and has be lovingly restored and opened to the public. The glasshouses alone make the garden worth visiting, so interesting to see how fruit and vegetable production was achieved during the Victorian age. There are many parts to this garden making for a great days exploration. http://heligan.com/