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Posts tagged ‘cacti’

From Napoli to Capri, Part 9: Peacocks and Prickles

Our last day in Ischia was upon us – the incredibly beautiful volcanic island which had brought us such scenes as the pastel-coloured wonders of Sant’Angelo, and the historical magnificence of the Castello Aragonese. We chose to spend these final hours in the area of our hotel, and the nearby port town of Forio where our boat had swept up onto the island a few days previously.

As we wondered down the winding hill to Forio and the sea beyond, we came upon a garden peculiarly loaded with succulents and prickles. Enticed by the collection that lay within, we ventured inside, finding that the gardens were not only open to the public, but entailed a magnificent assemblage of the world’s finest cacti. The name, we were to discover, was the Giardini Ravino, and within its walls grows the life’s work of one Signor Peppino, whose passion for cacti, succulents, and Mediterranean flora generated the amassed gardens we can enjoy today.


Wondering around the Giardini Ravino was quite a different experience from the lustrous tropicana provided by the Giardini La Mortella visited at the start of our trip. Rather, these gardens had an arid note, more typical of a scene from a Western movie, but the combination of cacti of every shape and size was equally as attractive, much like an abstract painting combining colours and textures quite beyond the imagination.

Despite the obviously hazardous surfaces of the cacti and their prickles, the gardens were home to a surprising number of furry and feathered residents, from rabbits and cats, to the beautiful peacocks who wandered about majestically, their feathers draped luxuriously behind them. Whether it be the weather or the time of year, there was some true flirtation in the air, and many a time we were treated to the true theatrical splendour of a peacock’s feathers in full open array, shaking and vibrating to entice the female. She didn’t look overly impressed, but we were – as the extent of peacock photos on this post probably shows.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Marrakech on Paper: The Majorelle Gardens with Majorelle Blue

The gift shop adjacent to the house of Jacques Majorelle was very chic. As touristic destinations go, it was very chic indeed – a true boutique – which exhibited all of the hallmarks of Yves Saint Laurent, the subsequent owner of this dazzling blue house and gardens. When, amongst the spectacular YSL pieces and beautifully crafted bottles of exotic Moroccan inspired perfumes I saw a pyramid formed from little cans of paint, my heart skipped a beat. It was Majorelle blue! And while the paint is clearly intended for outside use, I knew as soon as I saw it that with this actual authentic blue, I would paint a work dedicated to the garden: The Majorelle Gardens with Majorelle Blue!

The resulting work, posted here, focuses on the wonderful geometry of the 1920s construction at the heart of the gardens, whose cubist architecture reflects the trends of the time, while the arabesque and arches are truly Moroccan in character. But of course the real star is that ravishing colour, that blue so iconic amongst gardens. But as for the  diverse array of cacti which, in reality, almost hide the house, whose wavy, almost quivering shapes are like the hattifatteners of Tove Jansson, vibrating in the moonlight… these I confined to illustration in shadow, hinting at their presence, but not allowing it to dominate. It was a controversial choice for a garden so famous for its abundance, but in this painting I wanted the house, and the colour to shine. Not the plants.

Majorelle FINAL

The Majorelle Gardens in Majorelle Blue (© 2017 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache and Majorelle blue on paper)

I have no idea whether the idea for painting garden walls this resplendent shade of blue came first from Majorelle or is more deeply imbedded into Arabic culture, but it’s funny to observe how entrenched this colour has become into the idea of the Moroccan garden. For me, the place was a true highlight of our Morocco trip, and this painting a highpoint of my Marrakech collection.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit 

The Colours of Marrakech, Part 5: Majorelle Blue

This post commences with a warning: You are about to be bombarded by blue. An intense, electric, ultramarine blue which defies the senses and energises the mind. And when the more natural colours of citrus and verdant green are set against it, they too become alive, as though infected by the sonic grove to which this blue vibrates. The result is a panoply of vivid colour, a palette so strong that these photos should not be viewed with a hangover. But rather, with a clear head, get ready to revel in this most glorious colour of Marrakech, a shade which has defined the idea of the avant-garde garden paradise, ever since it was first used in the Moroccan garden of French artist, Jacques Majorelle and later the home of one Yves Saint Laurent. This is a post dedicated to the colour so synonymous with its creator and his lavish Marrakech garden that it was named after him: Majorelle Blue.


The Majorelle Garden is one of Marrakech’s most popular sites. No doubt the legacy of YSL –  who recovered the abandoned masterpiece of fellow ex-patriot Majorelle in the 1980s and returned it to its former glory – is a prime attraction. But beyond the YSL gloss, which adds understandable glamour to this secluded, leafy space, this is a garden which packs a punch from its entrance. The blue, a mix of cobalt and ultramarine, is so vivid that it cuts through the plants whose dense foliage attempts to cover it. In the garden, every possible type of prickly cactus and tubular bamboo fights to fill the light afforded by the dappled space, and yet they are a mere chorus to the protagonism of the blue. Yes, it allows the green of the plants to sing like a true maestro, but it does so complacently, knowing itself to be the true star.


While the walls of a waterlily pond (like Monet’s garden on acid) and an adjoining Arabic waterway are given over to this blue, it is the house itself, with its cubic form and intermittent splashes of vivid yellow, which really give the blue its stage, from where its monologue can be radiated throughout a lush garden punctuated with yet more splashes of prominent blue, yellow and orange. Pots and urns do not escape the paint treatment, so that the whole garden becomes unified in colour. It’s as though no plant nor path has been allowed to escape the treatment of a designer intent on creating a cohesive catwalk show. This is a garden choreographed to sing out, to impress. And it does so with aplomb.


Predictably the garden is always awash with visitors. Their backpacks and chattering inject the colour harmony with unwanted clashing tones and a strident cackling which punctuates the calm which ought to dominate this cultural space. For this reason my photographic dedication to the Majorelle Garden concentrates more on the details than the overall space. But in those details you can see the effect of colour and contrast, as that magnificent blue comes face to face with its colour wheel opposites. The result is a true spectacle of colour, rarely dared to be seen in so naturally abundant a green and thriving garden space.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Discovering Mallorca: Botanicactus

Botanicactus, on the outskirts of Mallorca’s quaint little town of Ses Salines, does what it says on the tin. That is, it’s a large botanical garden with an even greater collection of cacti, and was a true highlight of Easter’s recent weekend of new discoveries on this island of plenty. The collection of plants is indeed so great that it covers some 150,000 square metres of land and features some 12,000 incredible cacti with a staggering 1,000 different species.


Entering the cactus garden, ringed within an expansive Mexican style tiled-wall, made for an experience quite unlike any other I have had before. This shouldn’t be a surprise, for I have never before been surrounded by such a vast collection of these spiky species, and when cacti grow so huge and tall, and with such an eclectic mix of varieties, the overall effect is to wander into an alien like world, a planet unlike the earth we know so well. The extremes of shapes and colours, all covered by hostile spikes and poisonous looking flowers feels fictional, menacing, and yet immeasurably beautiful.


What struck me most of all was the beauty of the layering – the complex strata of different species set over and infant of rolling hills which had an overall effect of lavish abundance without equal. Seeing those cacti towering above us, I was unable to believe that these gardens had only been founded some 26 years ago. That just goes to show what some rich Mediterranean soil and a little Mallorcan sunshine can do. Fingers crossed it has the same effect on the cacti we installed on our terrace last autumn…

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Ocho Balcones (No. 7): Dominik’s Office

After a week’s break, it’s back to business as usual this week as I share the penultimate balcony from my new Ocho Balcones collection of gouaches, all of which feature one of the eight different views we enjoy from our old town apartment here in Palma de Mallorca.

This week, I feature the exclusive little office space which my partner Dominik occupied with such enthusiasm from the first days of our time in this apartment, filling this classic study space with his many books, a fancy glass desk, a whole host of my norm sketches, and best of all… a balcony full of cacti of every different shape and size. And in wanting to focus in on this verdant feature of the balcony, I used a small dose of artistic license to tone down the colours of the street outside in order to create a more uniform sepia backdrop, allowing the green of the cacti to pop.

Ocho Balcones No. 7: Dominik's Office (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Ocho Balcones No. 7: Dominik’s Office (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

But while the cacti may be the protagonists of this piece, Dominik’s simple desk lamp tends to take on its own staring role, its angular black structure contrasting perfectly with the curving wrought iron balconies and horizontal stripes of the electricity cables outside in the street.

7 down and 1 to go. The Ocho Balcones collection is nearing its close. See you soon, for the final instalment.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown 2000-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included on this website without express and written permission from Nicholas de Lacy-Brown is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at