The Jardin Majorelle, or Majorelle Garden, is a botanical and artist’s landscape garden in Marrakech. Originally created by the French artist Jacques Majorelle over a period of 40 years, and later restored by Yves Saint-Laurent, it is one of the most beautiful gardens in Morocco.
Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) was the son of the renowned Art Nouveau furniture designer Louis Majorelle. The Frenchman was a man of many talents and interests, but was best known as an Orientalist painter. Until, that is, he built the Jardin Majorelle, a labor of love 40 years in the making, and for which he is most widely recognized today.
Majorelle arrived in Morocco in 1917, first to Casablanca and then to Marrakech. He fell in love with the colorful city, and in 1923 purchased a plot of land near a palm grove. As he became more established, he slowly began to develop and expand his property. He built himself a house in the Moorish style, and a Berber-style building with a tall adobe tower, which he called the Borj.
In 1931, Majorelle commissioned the architect Paul Sinoir to design and build a Cubist villa near his first house. He used the ground floor as his workshop, and the second floor as his studio and while he continued to paint, Majorelle also dove headlong into one of his other passions, that of an amateur botanist.
For almost 40 years, he carefully cultivated 135 plant species from five continents, turning his property into an enchanting landscape garden of cactus, yucca, jasmine, bougainvillea, palms, coconut trees, banana trees, white water lilies, bamboo and more. He also used his own color to paint the buildings dotted around the property, a clear and intense blue that he trademarked as bleu Majorelle, or Majorelle Blue.
The garden became an expensive passion for Majorelle, a fact he didn’t hide: “This garden is a momentous task, to which I give myself entirely. It will take my last years from me and I will fall, exhausted, under its branches, after having given it all my love.”
In 1947, he decided to open it to the public to help with the maintenance costs. Not long after, things started to go wrong for Jacques Majorelle. He divorced from his wife, Andrée Longueville, in 1956, which forced him to split up the property. He then suffered a serious car accident, eventually leading to the amputation of his left leg. The operations drained his finances and he was forced to sell off his share of the villa and gardens. He was sent to Paris for treatment, where he died of complications from his injuries on October 14, 1962.
The Jardin Majorelle fell into disrepair during this period. But four years after the death of Jacques Majorelle, hope arrived in the shape of French fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and his lifelong business partner (and, at the time, lover) Pierre Bergé. They discovered the Jardin Majorelle in 1966 and immediately fell in love with it. In 1980, when they heard the property was likely to be bulldozed and turned into a hotel complex, they promptly purchased the Jardin Majorelle and set about restoring it.
Careful to maintain the original vision of Jacques Majorelle, Saint-Laurent and Bergé oversaw a restoration project that not only revived the garden but expanded upon it. Automatic irrigation systems were installed; a team of 20 gardeners was put in place, and the number of plant species was increased from 135 to 300.
Yves Saint-Laurent died in 2008, and his ashes were scattered in the rose garden at Jardin Majorelle. Two years later, the street in front of the Jardin Majorelle was renamed the Rue Yves Saint Laurent in his honor. In 2010, ownership of the property passed to the Foundation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, a French not-for-profit organization. In 2011, the Berber Museum was inaugurated on the garden grounds, offering a rich insight into the creativity of the Berber people, the most ancient of North Africa.