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    Le Jardin Secret, Morocco

    Five exotic gardens to discover abroad

    27 January 2020

    I may be trundling across a damp South London Park with a muddy dog but in my head I am strolling carefree amongst soaring palm trees and walls exuberantly cloaked with billowing plumbago, bougainvillea and dreamily scented jasmine. Here are five gardens to lift your winter spirits:

    La Casa de Pilatos, Seville

    The facade and gardens of Casa de Pilatos.

    The facade and gardens of Casa de Pilatos.

    The Casa de Pilatos in Seville is one of my favourite gardens in the world. Hidden away in the Santa Cruz district, Casa de Pilatos is a pale Renaissance mansion built around a spacious central patio in the lacy Mudejar style.  The mansion is a series of elegant, slightly faded gardens and open loggias and is breathtaking in its detail.  There are soaring palm trees and cascades of cerise bougainvillea glimpsed through archways radiantly decorated with 16th century Cuenca tiles.  Fragments of classical architecture sit against richly painted red and yellow walls half veiled by seductive trails of green foliage –  even the chalky terracotta floor tiles are embedded with jewel-like coats of arms.

    Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh

    Le Jardin Secret, Marrakech

    Le Jardin Secret, Marrakech

    In Marrakesh, you can step out of the noisy streets and bazaars of the Medina into the refreshing calm of Le Jardin Secret.  Exquisitely re-imagined  by British designer Tom Stuart-Smith within one of the largest riads in the medina, the 19th century home of the last sultan of Morocco. There are two courtyards: the first restored as an Islamic paradise garden, a contemporary take on a traditional geometric layout with an elegant central rill, gorgeous paths of glazed sea-blue tiles and steadying lines of perfect olive trees. The second garden is now a dreamy Exotic Garden where you can sit on a bench under the violet scented Jacaranda tree and marvel at a softly magical combination of plants from all over the world.

    Jardin de Cactus, Lanzarote

    Lanzarote, Volcano Island in black. Jardin de Cactus

    Plant from Jardin de Cactus, Lanzarote

    If you find yourself on Lanzarote the Jardin de Cactus – more than 10,000 cacti in a surreal volcanic landscape – will provide dazzling respite from a day of lounging by the pool with a book.  Brainchild of artist and architect César Manrique ( 1919-1992), this astounding sunken half acre is set amidst equally astounding fields of prickly pear which are still used to make cochineal.   The almost lunar landscape is delightfully strange and the cacti themselves are mesmerising: quirky, angular, architectural, playful – impossible.  Visit in the morning or early evening to avoid the crowds. The garden is further populated with designs by Manrique – spirited cactus-shaped gates and the popular restaurant with its signature curved wooden bar.

    The Giardino di Ninfa, near Rome

    Ninfa Garden and Medieval Town (Lazio, Italy)

    Ninfa Garden and Medieval Town (Lazio, Italy)

    The Giardino di Ninfa – an hour or so south of Rome – has been described as the most romantic garden in the world, a garden made from the ruins of an abandoned medieval town.  Left to crumble for centuries,  it was inherited in 1921 by war hero and politician, Prince Gelasio Caetani – his plans fortified, naturally, by his English mother. The next few decades saw a transformation: crumbling towers are draped with cascades of roses in summer and a surprisingly abundant river supplies and reflects a dreamy verdant space otherwise impossible in this Mediterranean climate.

    Le Jardin Plume, Rouen

    Le Jardin Plume, Rouen France

    Le Jardin Plume, Rouen France

    Closest to home Le Jardin Plume is an exhilarating impressionistic garden near Rouen in Normandy.  Created in 1996 by Patrick and Sylvie Quibel from seven acres of flat orchard, it is named after the feather-like quality of the atmospheric grasses which contribute to the garden’s heart-breaking ethereal quality in late summer.  Pairs of Adirondack chairs invite you to sit by the square pools set amongst the apple trees and gaze at the reflection of the sky. Best to come by car as the nursery is equally seductive.