Nestled in the mountainous countryside of Northwest Morocco is a city painted entirely in shades of blue. In Chefchaouen, called Chaouen by locals, the unique, chromatic tradition originated in the 15th century, when several waves of Jewish refugees from Europe settled in the town. They painted their dwellings and shops to emulate the shades of the sky as a reminder of their relationship with God.1
The blue hues of Chefchaouen's Medina—or old city—by night.
Chefchaouen has been a magnet for travelers for decades, and has enjoyed some status as an aesthetic inspiration for everyone from backpackers to Giorgio Armani.2
A number of distinct elements constitute the charm of the city. Lining the azure-hued alleyways are wall-mounted ceramic containers in bold, eye-catching colors, and shops offering regional handicrafts, including pounded brass and copper wares, handwoven Berber rugs, leather works and all types of traditional ceramics.
Market stalls in Chefchaouen display metal, ceramic and textile handicrafts.
But it's not simply the blue shades of the backdrop, the exotic ceramics with pops of color and pattern, nor the rustic, handmade feel of elemental and natural copper or textile handicrafts that make the place unique; it's also the combination and contrast of all three that creates a truly dazzling visual experience for the tourists and locals that walk the winding backstreets of this medieval-meets-modern Moroccan settlement.
Bringing a taste of Chefchaouen's North African charm to your garden begins with a pop of primary color that isn't actually found often in nature: blue.
Very few plants produce a true blue pigment. Instead, flowers and foliage that are seen as blue are a trick of red anthocyanin pigments and pH.3 Natural blue pigments are not found in the soil, either, and mineral sources of the colors azurite, cobalt and lapis lazuli are uncommon. It is perhaps this relative rarity that has given blue dimensions of regal symbolism across cultures.4
Blue features in the garden, then, stand in contrast to biotic life, referencing instead the soothing expanses of the sky and oceans. Blue ceramics, including containers, can make a visual statement in a sea of green foliage.
Warm tones more commonly found in nature, such as orange, pink, red and yellow, are especially vibrant when contrasted to cool, calming blues. Playful mixes of these tones line the streets of Chefchaouen's medina, creating a look that can be replicated in the garden with similarly bright and bold ceramic pieces placed strategically and in moderation.
Naturalistic or intricately patterned features can add further contrast to break up bright and solid blocks of color, whether through wrought metal fixtures, exotically embellished outdoor textiles or rough, natural accents.
Bringing the flair and charm of Chefchaouen to your home garden space is less about replicating the exact look of the city, and more about playing with a specific balance of colors and textures. With a few simple tricks and the right décor, you'll be on your way to transforming your garden.
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- Neubauer, Ian Lloyd, Chefchaouen: The electric beauty of Morocco's incredible blue city, CNN, November 7, 2016.
- Morgan, Jamie, La Ville Bleue, Armani, February 23, 2011.
- Oder, Tom, The science of blue flowers, Mother Nature Network, February 8, 2014.
- Angier, Natalie, "Blue Through the Centuries: Sacred and Sought After," The New York Times, October 22, 2012.