Less Is Moor in a Sunny Retreat; Tap into a Mediterranean Culture for a Glimpse of a Lush Paradise

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), August 14, 2005 | Go to article overview

Less Is Moor in a Sunny Retreat; Tap into a Mediterranean Culture for a Glimpse of a Lush Paradise


Byline: ALI WARD

Spanish gardens have been a huge influence on my own garden designs and an understanding of their history has helped me to incorporate some of the elements of their style into my own planting schemes.

Paradise gardens enclosed by high walls were commonplace throughout Moorish territory in North Africa. These inner oases were made possible through the use of intricate irrigation systems, with narrow channels of water flowing under beautifully shaded trees.

After the Moors moved through the Mediterranean, the Spanish Moors developed their own garden culture, using the key elements of enclosure, water and lush vegetation.

The most important element in a Spanish garden is creating the enclosure and protection, which is easy enough in an urban space.

You'll need to enclose your garden on at least three sides. Most Moorish gardens are walled in on all four sides but you can get away with opening the boundary on one side with a vista to another part of your garden.

Enclosure has many benefits. On a spiritual level, it can give you a feeling of immense wellbeing and comfort. As well as protecting the gardener, walls act as a barrier for less hardy Spanish plants, creating an area with little wind-chill.

So you get a lovely warm microclimate where sun can ricochet off the walls.

This may allow you to leave delicates such as citrus trees outside all year.

However, just to be sure, I would give them a light blanket of fleece in the depths of winter, as losing one could be an expensive mistake.

The next essential feature is water, the life-giving element of the garden.

You can incorporate this in two crucial ways. First, there is a rill, a narrow canal sometimes only 30cm wide and deep, through which flows a shallow river.

Second, water can spout out of small, tinkling fountains. Often these run into the rill or flow from a wall-mounted sculpture into a trough.

It is most important to hear as well as see the water. The sound of the stream provides a calming element and also cools the air.

The one thing you notice about Spanish gardens is their formal lay-out, so you will need to design with a disciplined hand. They are not about letting nature run riot and although the planting can appear lush and bountiful, it actually employs strict symmetrical precision.

So when planning your design, keep the path straight with rightangle turns and make the terraces

square or oblong, with surrounding borders that match on all sides. …

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