Updated on April 23, 2023
“The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul.” –Thomas More
My love of gardens began in my grandmother’s backyard. She told me the names of heirloom flowers, shrubs, and trees transplanted from her childhood home and my grandparents’ farm, Mockingbird Hill. On weekends in Marrakesh, I play in secret gardens that I read about in fairy tales, Song of Solomon, and Arabian Nights. They hide behind walls from the Medina to the Palmeraie, and I seek. The way to my dream garden is through magical arches. The entrance of Jnane Tamsna is a portal to the garden paradise souls seek.
As with all things magic, our eyes must be open. If we’re not fully present, we may miss it. The first time I went to Jnane Tamsna, my sight was blurred with tears. My heart was elsewhere. My friend, Kate, made lunch reservations for Mother’s Day as a distraction because our kids were so far away. I was also weepy because I’d missed being with my daughter on her 25th birthday.
I could see her on her 5th birthday. She and her friends were wearing wide-brimmed hats at a garden tea party that I’d planned for her since she was born. I, the “Flower Fairy,” hid pearl necklaces in fifty rose bushes and left a note instructing the girls to find them. Under our oak tree dripping with ivy, a table was topped with a bouquet of purple hydrangeas big as soccer balls. Cole, my son, was sitting in the grass under the white table cloth playing with our kitten.
A couple of weeks ago, I entered that paradise again for a longer stay. I was ready to explore the passion project of Meryanne Loum-Martin and Dr. Gary Martin recognized by press from The New York Times to Architectural Digest to Gourmet. I was drawn back to the quiet of this Edenic place of sprawling size and biodiversity for which Gary, an ethnobotanist, received recognition last March. Janane Tamsna and Villa Oasis, Madison Cox’s creation, were the only two gardens chosen for private tours by the Botanical Symposium on the Mediterranean Flora of Jardin Majorelle. I was also eager to meet expats and tell them I appreciate their commitment to the local community.
I was led to my gorgeous room to drop off luggage, then to a poolside garden where Meryanne and Gary had just finished lunch with a guest.
They’d been talking awhile, so as they invited me to sit, we all shifted chairs into the shade. Quickly I knew what Laura Werner meant when she wrote in Forbes, “Staying at Jnane Tamsna in the Palmeraie is like being at an extended dinner/house party.” And by the time I left, I understood why Hugh Jackman, a regular, did the Happy Dance by one of the their five pools. Privacy and peace are premium here.
Advocates for culture and education, they’d hosted salons where authors, such as Esther Freud (I’d read her memoir of Marrakech a year ago upon moving to Morocco) and historian William Dalrymple, had read from their works. I learned their daughter had graduated from the school where I teach, and they’d just returned from Paris early to see Suddenly Last Summer performed for a fundraiser in Tangier — the city that inspired Tennessee Williams (my favorite southern dramatist) to write it. The murder in the play segued to another book set in Savannah and gardens there I love, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This literature lover and mother had found kindred spirits. When I told Meryanne I’d been there briefly on Mother’s Day, she completely understood. She, too, misses her children.
They headed to projects and I to the pool, where lounges like gentlemen in crisp, white dress coats joined me in saluting summer and bidding my last day of vacation goodbye.
Like smooth music, the afternoon soothed my soul. That night, the moon escorted me to dinner.
“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in–what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.” ― Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
The next morning I woke to wander the property and gardens.
“The Venus flytrap, a devouring organism, aptly named for the goddess of love.” — Tennessee Williams, Suddenly Last Summer
Though Gary doesn’t have a Venus flytrap…yet…he has over 230 varieties on a lush list hailing from the Chilean Andes to Madagascar, from Australia to Hong Kong that continues to spread on 8.5 acres. He has accomplished his “childhood dream of a botanical garden with signs giving the common English name, Latin name, botanical family and geographical origin of species.” A walk through it taught me a lot as did his address (excerpt below) to the Botanical Symposium:
Facing nearly nine acres of water-stressed palm grove, I first set out to create our own organic orchard garden (arsa) where the scent of orange blossoms and mint could waft around colorful aubergines, kale, tomatoes and many other vegetables. Then I put in a border of transplanted olive trees – part of the ‘rescue horticulture’ I practice, saving fruit trees from areas of urban sprawl elsewhere in Marrakech. This created a pathway to our bustan (Arabic for garden from a Persian word that means ‘a place of smell’), which is resplendent with angel trumpets, Japanese mock orange, white iceberg roses and climbing jasmine.
Every bustan needs its water feature, and ours is a zen swimming pool where guests can take a dip before enjoying lunch in the garden, shaded by prolific date palms and mulberry trees. Our two interior courtyard gardens (ryads) feature frangipani, gardenias and star jasmine as well as some rapidly growing olive trees with native viburnums and Mediterranean ruscus in their understory.
On that morning walk I heard in my memory my grandmother humming her favorite hymn: “I come to the garden alone. While the dew is still on the roses…” I thought of a favorite quote by Emma Goldman, “I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck,” and saw my daughter at five, plucking pearls from roses. And I realized that when I am present and thankful for now–even when missing my children on Mother’s Day–I can receive beauty and thus feel them there with me. And when I stop fretting about future plans and dwell in the now– of birds having breakfast with me or the moon looking down upon me and those I love a continent away, peace is no mirage. It’s an oasis in the desert.
Thank you to Jnane Tamsna for my stay. As always, opinions are my own.