The Epic Story of a Moroccan Garden
I first came here, to this patch of dusty land 40 miles south of Tangier, 18 years ago. Tired after a long walk, I fell asleep under a fig tree and had a strange dream, full of words whose relation to one another I didn’t understand: mouth, nasturtium, exedra, unicorn.
At the time, I didn’t know that the jinn, the local spirits, possess those who fall asleep under trees in the middle of nowhere. What I did know was that I was going to build a garden here. I told my Moroccan friend who was traveling with me that I wanted to buy the land. There were 20 or so owners to negotiate with, but after about 100 meetings with the adouls, Muslim notaries, the deal was done. In the meantime, I’d already set myself up in a shack made out of reeds and palm leaves, built with help from Rachid, the obsidian-eyed child who had popped out from behind a bramble one day, a huge smile on his face. Today, he is Rohuna’s head gardener.
To live in this Arcadia is a great privilege. Here, the lives of people are intertwined with the lives of plants and of the animals, and the rhythms of nature itself. This is the Morocco that I love more than anything else in the world, the noble and rustic Morocco for which I live. I am grateful to the men who work with me — and to the jinn that possesses me still.
From “Savage Beauty” by writer & horticulturalist Umberto Pasti in The New York Times T Magazine, 2016; Photo by Ngoc Minh Ngo (@minh_ngoc)
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