riad means garden

It’s February, so thoughts naturally turn to travel, escape, adventure. But I’m not going anywhere at the moment, so I look harder, stare longer, at local scenes, hoping to squeeze something new and startling out of familiar sights. But walking or biking around town, craving some inspiration from a jewel-box of a front garden, is more often an exercise in frustration than inspiration. In low-rainfall climates like mine, where gardens are in use year-round, they are frequently concealed behind walls, hedges, fences. This is an ancient impulse, in thrall to instincts dating back to the first riad. (See The New York Times images of some of the riads of Taroudant.) Here at home we’ve gotten into the habit of referring to our house and garden as “the compound.” Not in a crazy sect sense, but in the sense of sanctuary. Like the ancient riads of Morocco. The word itself is Arabian for garden. So to everyone whose high walls prevent my enjoyment of your luscious gardens as I pass by, I get it. I really do. And I should, because I’m working on my own riad too.

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Dar al Hossoun, Taroudant, Morocco

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Simon Watson for The New York Times

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3 Responses to riad means garden

  1. David Feix says:

    It’s also a return to our early California roots of Spanish/Islamic influences, where shelter from drying winds and blinding sun helped moderate water use for water needy plantings. These days it seems more focused on attempting seclusion and privacy within small lots with close neighbors and screening out prying eyes from second story windows. I feel more your sense of frustration, as I’d enjoy seeing more of your takes on what’s hidden behind those walls myself. In my own designs, I usually try for an approach that does give privacy as needed, while also sharing some garden views with the neighborhood. I don’t particularly enjoy the Beverly Hills model of huge hedges right at the street with no glimpses of the garden, but somehow find a narrow cobblestone lane with high stucco walls and just some Bougainvilla draping over the tops as seen so often south of the border to be more interesting visually.

  2. Denise says:

    David, and in Venice too — all behind high enclosures. But as you say, this practice dates back centuries, whereas the wide open, front-lawn-and-house configuration viewable to passersby, is a relatively recent post-WWII practice, an anomaly built on ready access to cheap water. And now, due to the drought and the DWP’s program subsidizing lawn removal, those front lawns are being turned into gardens that I want to see, but when they become gardens they’re hidden by tall enclosures….oy!

  3. David Feix says:

    Denise, with your charm, perhaps leaving notes on the gates expressing interest, and referring them to your blog? Perhaps that will be the “Open Sesame!” to get you in.

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