Marrakesh (Marrakech), Morocco

June 26, 2019

Walking to the medina in Marrakesh that morning, Ki and I stumbled into its complete opposite. Our head space was already wired for the sensory overload of the packed and labyrinthine old quarter. The moment we stepped into the urban jardin called El Harti Gardens, though, a sense of serenity immediately washed over us and melted our guard down.

El Harti Gardens @ Marrakech
El Harti Gardens @ Marrakech

Just the day before, we relished the landscaped elegance of Jardin Majorelle, a private botanical garden once owned by a global fashion icon. Seriously, what could top that? True enough, El Harti Gardens never made an attempt, but it held its own. This public garden delivered the goods without the brand name. Dating back to the 1930s, it had apparently been rehabilitated of late, but its charm actually lay in its rather modest landscaping of desert and Mediterranean botanical themes. It seemed less geared to tourists than to the residents of gentrified Gueliz.

TTT and Opuntia microdasys (Bunny Ears Cactus) @ El Harti Gardens
Euphorbia ingens (Candelabra Tree) @ El Harti Gardens
Echinocactus grusonii (Golden Barrel Cactus) @ El Harti Gardens
Ki Among Echinocactus grusonii (Golden Barrel Cactus) @ El Harti Gardens

A network of paths wound through the cactus patch that most closely recreated the desert sands of Marrakesh. Miniature dunes were dotted with an assorted array of cacti that came in various shapes and sizes.

There were the strange and whimsical: the Disneyesque bunny ears cactus, the Hanukkah-worthy candelabra tree, and the stubby barrel cactus. And there were the tall and slender: the organ pipe cactus with hairy orange balls seemingly Velcroed on its prickly arms, the woolly cactus that could put Chewbacca’s mane to shame, the old man cactus with an Einstein head of messy gray hair, and the Madagascar palm which was a cactus in disguise with its spiny silver stem and long green leaves on top. Who knew there were many such ways for life to sprout and survive in the desert?

Stenocereus thurberi (Organ Pipe Cactus) @ El Harti Gardens
TTT Among Stenocereus thurberi (Organ Pipe Cactus) @ El Harti Gardens
Espostoa guentheri (Woolly Cactus) @ El Harti Gardens
TTT Among Cephalocereus senilis (Old Man Cactus) @ El Harti Gardens
Ki and Pachypodium lamerei (Madagascar Palm Tree) @ El Harti Gardens

Wooden and wrought iron benches invited park visitors to sit back and listen to birdsong. A tower of red clay stood in the middle of the gardens. Perhaps it was a minaret? But could it stand independent of a mosque? I would never know. There were hardly any people around; we only made friends with a cute furbaby who followed our footsteps.

A Tower of Clay @ El Harti Gardens
Ki and Furry Friend @ El Harti Gardens
Jacaranda mimosifolia (Blue Jacaranda) @ El Harti Gardens

The other half of the park was more lush and green. A jacaranda tree in bloom with purple panicles cast its shadow on a solitary bench. I could’ve sat there and spent the entire afternoon in such peace. A windmill palm tree showed off its collar of bright yellow flowers. A cluster of Mediterranean cypress stood out with their svelte, statuesque figures. Of course, the staples in Moroccan horticulture made their presence felt as they did on city sidewalks: the ubiquitous olive and bitter orange trees.

Trachycarpus fortunei (Chinese Windmill Palm) @ El Harti Gardens
Cupressus sempervirens (Mediterranean Cypress) @ El Harti Gardens
Olea europaea (European Olive) @ El Harti Gardens
Citrus × aurantium (Bitter Orange) @ El Harti Gardens

We exited at the opposite end of the park guarded by tall hollyhocks. The curtain of flowers separated this tranquil enclave of nature from the bustle of both modern and traditional urban life around it. This unplanned yet refreshing detour invigorated us to soldier on and get lost in the kinetic maze of the medina.

Alcea rosea (Hollyhock) @ El Harti Gardens

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