The Jardins d’Essais: Rabat’s Historic Botanical Gardens, Part I

The city of Rabat, capital of Morocco, is a Unesco World Heritage site, and the Jardins d’Essai Botaniques, literally meaning Gardens of Botanical Trials, was classified a national heritage site in 1992.

These gardens were created between 1914 and 1919, under a joint initiative of the sultan  Moulay Hafid and the French Protectorate. They were designed by one of my favorite garden architects, Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, best known for the Rose Garden and the Iris Garden of Bagatelle outside Paris, but who created gardens in Spain and Morocco in addition to his city planning work as a French public servant, laying out the plans for the modern cities of Morocco.

The gardens were reopened by the current King in 2013, following extensive renovations after years of neglect. They include over 650 species of plants, including rare varieties of tropical, sub-tropical, and succulents, and an arboretum.

The Jardins d’Essais are separated by a road into two distinct gardens.  the western side includes the Moorish garden and museum, while the eastern garden is a bit larger and more formal, with distinct garden areas for various types of plants.

Jardins d'Essais, Botanical Gardens, Rabat, Morocco

Because there is a good bit to see here, I am dividing this into several posts, and this is the first post on the western gardens.

While inaugurated in 2013, much work remained to bring these gardens back to their former glory, and it is visible in particular in the western gardens were large areas remain to be cleaned up, and others have been planted or replanted in recent years so the specimens are still quite small. But while wandering down the alleys, Forestier’s signature style is unmistakable in the way he creates intimate garden spaces tucked away everywhere, and blends plantings and garden structures seamlessly for an element of surprise.

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A Rose Garden in Brittany, France with 100s of varieties

In northern Brittany, France, just outside of the small picturesque town of Le Faou is a nursery specializing in roses. I never featured a commercial establishment in one of my posts before, but in the middle of fields of roses is a lovely rose garden showcasing many of the species cultivated there, from shrub roses to climbing roses, to old fashioned roses, and a pleasure to browse for anyone who enjoys roses as I do.

I will be writing another post about this garden as well, showcasing some of the individual varieties of roses.

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The Hassan Tower Gardens in Rabat, Morocco

The city of Rabat, capital of Morocco, is a Unesco World Heritage site, One of the most famous and distinctive landmarks in the city is the Hassan Tower. Begun in the 12th century, it was at one time the second largest mosque in the the islamic world, but little remains of it besides the tower of minaret, reminiscent of the Koutoubia in Marrakech.

At the foot of the tower, are some pleasant gardens, typical of Moorish and Andalusian gardens, with landscaped terraces, meandering paths, and of course the ever present water features connecting multiple levels with canals, ponds and fountains.  While not extraordinary in any way, these are very pleasant gardens worth visiting on a trip to see the Hassan Tower.

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Castle of Trevarez: The Italian Garden

The castle of Trevarez near Chateauneuf du Faou in northern Brittany, France, is one of the last great castles built in France. Construction began in 1892 for a French politician and brought together all the faste and excess of the Belle Epoque, frescoes, carvings, marble, mosaics, ornate panels and fireplaces.

It is often referred to as the pink or red castle, because of the pink color it gets from the bricks used.  It was unfortunately bombed in the 1940s, and has not been occupied since, but it is being renovated by the government who purchased it in the 70s.

The gardens were neglected as well for many years and have been slowly brought back to their original glory, one area at a time. The grounds are extensive, with stables, a large wash house, theme gardens, formal gardens and much more.

In this post, I am featuring one of my favorites of the Trevarez gardens, the Italian garden. It features a pond and grotto, a row of unusual fountains, and a lawn all along the side with a small water canal leading to the stairs going to the Romantic Garden. The Italian Garden is just to the side of the castle.

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Castle of Trevarez in France: The Japanese Gardens

The castle of Trevarez near Chateauneuf du Faou in northern Brittany, France, is one of the last great castles built in France. Construction began in 1892 for a French politician and brought together all the faste and excess of the Belle Epoque, frescoes, carvings, marble, mosaics, ornate panels and fireplaces.

It is often referred to as the pink or red castle, because of the pink color it gets from the bricks used.  It was unfortunately bombed in the 1940s, and has not been occupied since, but it is being renovated by the government who purchased it in the 70s.

The gardens were neglected as well for many years and have been slowly brought back to their original glory, one area at a time. The grounds are extensive, with stables, a large wash house, theme gardens, formal gardens and much more.

In this post, I am featuring the Japanese gardens.There were originally two Japanese gardens: a smaller one nearer the main entrance and a larger one at the other end of the domain on the other side of the castle, but this latter has yet to be redone the way it used to be and after many years of neglect very little is left of it and the woods have reclaimed most of it.

At the entrance of the Japanese garden is a small pavilion; note the intricate paving, the bamboo, and water feature.

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Past the pavilion is the Japanese rock garden with plantings and rock river beds for the stream.

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Castle of Trevarez: Castle and Formal Gardens

The castle of Trevarez near Chateauneuf du Faou in northern Brittany, France, is one of the last great castles built in France. Construction began in 1892 for a French politician and brought together all the faste and excess of the Belle Epoque, frescoes, carvings, marble, mosaics, ornate panels and fireplaces.

It is often referred to as the pink or red castle, because of the pink color it gets from the bricks used.  It was unfortunately bombed in the 1940s, and has not been occupied since, but it is being renovated by the government who purchased it in the 70s.

The gardens were neglected as well for many years and have been slowly brought back to their original glory, one area at a time. The grounds are extensive, with stables, a large wash house, theme gardens, formal gardens and much more.

In this post, I am featuring the castle itself with the formal gardens in the front. The castle is sited so as to overlook the valley in the back and enjoy a stunning view of the gardens terraced below, including a large collection of azaleas and rhododendrons directly below which were unfortunately not in bloom at the time of my visit.

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Formal gardens with sundial and birdcage in axis
Formal gardens with sundial and birdcage in axis

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Front view of the castle
Front view of the castle

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The azaleas and rhododendrons below
The azaleas and rhododendrons below

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Ovelrooking the Italian garden to the side below
Ovelrooking the Italian garden to the side below
Alley of hydrangeas below
Alley of hydrangeas below

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Quimper Park: A Public Garden by the Riverfront

In the heart of old Quimper, near the cathedral and along other historic buildings on the waterfront, this lovely park provides a pleasant promenade by the river. It is lined with a colorful mix of banana trees, grasses, perennials and shrubs, as well as very old wisteria growing over arbors.

The lushness of the perennial borders and the choice of foliage give it an almost tropical feel, while the upcycled barrels used as planters give it a more modern edge.

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