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Moroccan paradise teems with plants and art

The eight acre site is open to visitors who come to wander through the paths of this eccentric attraction   -  
Copyright © africanews
Albina Bauer -

Morocco

Dragon trees, cacti, flowers, and many others all are growing in the same garden, 27 kilometres (17 miles) away from Marrakech, Morocco, in the Ourika Valley.

But the star of this garden is not just nature: it's also art.

Flowers, trees and other plants are surrounded by artworks scattered throughout the park.

Austrian artist André Heller, 75, is the mastermind behind this place.

A regular Marrakech visitor since the 1970s, he now lives between Morocco and Austria.

In 2008, he started to build this garden from scratch. Eight years later, the Anima garden was born.

"I make many gardens in the world, since 30, 40 years, because I think it is the only thing that becomes more and more and more beautiful every day, and in the times we are living, it is everything that we need. It is beauty, it is spirituality, it is shadow, it is coolness, it is inspiration," says Heller.

In this garden, there are no fences, nor labels for the artworks or the plants. The objective is to let the visitors walk around freely.

Over eight hectares (20 acres), the garden houses more than 50 types of trees like bamboo, olive and palm trees, in addition to more than 150 types of plants like bougainvillaea, cacti, aloe vera but also flowers from all over the world.

"It is a lot of plants we need for cooking, for medicine, all I do is I give them sun, I give them water in an ecological system that we have, I give them love, I talk to them, I tell them you are my friends, if you have a problem tell me and I will take care of your problem," says Heller.

More than 50 artworks are displayed in Anima - most are sculptures.

An avid art collector, Heller put up three pieces made by Pablo Picasso, artworks by the Polish artist Igor Mitoraj, and also one of Auguste Rodin's famous 'The Thinker'.

Works by African artists are also on show - Heller wanted to give them part of the spotlight to recognise African art's influence on European art.

Some of them were collected or even made by Heller.

There is a giant head sending a mist of water, a mirror house next to an olive tree, a ship, and huge eyes hanging in the trees.

More than 200 people visit the garden every day, most are foreign tourists.

"I love the mix of the art and the plants and flowers, trees, it is beautiful," says Linda, visiting from Australia.

The garden features a hidden gem: its soil.

Below the surface, each tree and plant benefits from soil specifically made for it to thrive.

At an altitude of 800 metres (half a mile), the air is dry and it rains a lot, far from the pollution of the city.

A team of more than 20 gardeners are looking after this corner of "paradise" as Heller calls it.

Mohamed Ait Tiguert is the head gardener at Anima.

"The garden has many diverse plants that need special care, such as treatment, removal of dry leaves, as well as regular watering," he says.

A lot of effort which makes the difference, according to Heller.

"The people write in our guest books, when the come, they are like this...and when they get out, they get a lift, I love it, I go there everyday, three or four times and it is loading me up and I don't need gasoline or anything, I just need my eyes, my ears, I listen to the birds, I smell the fantastic smells that we have," he says.

Heller has owned another garden in Italy since 1988 which follows the same concept of nature and art.

Admission to Anima costs €12 ($12) for foreign visitors and includes a free shuttle service from Marrakech.