Grafted plants have bloomed in the garden of the Belgian Embassy in Morocco, symbolising the intimate connection between North and South

Patrick Van Damme is not only one of the leading experts on tropical agriculture and ethnobotany, but he is also one of the few foreign scientists to head a Czech academic institution, as Dean of the Faculty of Tropical AgriSciences at the Czech University of Life Sciences where his mandate started in April 2021. During his time at Ghent University, he and his then-assistant Emiel were asked by the well-known Belgian artist Eric van Hove to collaborate on the decoration of the garden of the new Belgian embassy in Morocco.  


The unique concept symbolizes the place of contact of two different worlds  


Morocco is home to the only physical border between Africa and Europe, while Brussels is the capital of both Belgium and Europe. In this sense, the Belgian embassy in Rabat has a deep symbolic role as representing overlapping political territories. While the embassy has historically been a point of contact between two different communities and symbolizes the will to live together despite differences, it can also be an administrative and civic labyrinth. 


Designed in the classical Roman style, the Charbagh Diplomatic Labyrinth refers to the quadrangular layout of an Islamic Garden and is composed of geometric tiles used since Moorish Andalusia. It is meant to symbolize the journey from foreignness to citizenship, from a life of separation to a life of community, from apatride to citizenship. It is unique in that it has only one path ending in the middle, where there is usually a fountain - a representation of paradise.  


"This installation combines two references from the Maghreb: the quadrangular concept of the Charbagh - a Persian, Indo-Persian and Islamic arrangement of gardens based on the four gardens of paradise mentioned in the Qur'an, and the concept of the mono-rectangular Roman labyrinth as seen in Volubilis. These have only one path that leads inexorably from the entrance to the destination, albeit often along the most complex and circuitous routes," explains Eric van Hove. 


It was also Eric's idea to graft Moroccan and Belgian/European plant species on top of each other to illustrate the complex connection between North and South, so he approached Professor Van Damme and his assistant Emiel De Meyer to provide both the plant materials, and the technical skills to execute the grafting.  


"We gathered and provided Belgian plant material and set out to collect Moroccan," Professor Van Damme explains the preparation of the plants. "And then, in a greenhouse environment in Marrakech, we grafted Belgian Prunus, oak and poplar species onto rooted Moroccan materials," he elaborates.“ The successfully grafted plants were then replanted on the embassy grounds. The grafting was successful because now, after some 3 years, the grafts are flowering!” 


The garden also includes four grafted plum trees. Each of the four plum trees was created by grafting species from the Maghreb onto species from Belgium and symbolises the bilateral diplomatic purpose of this political territory and the hope of strengthening mutual relations. 


This 'diplomatic labyrinth' is a cross between several building traditions. In the labyrinth of tiles, whose tradition dates back to the Romans, there are trees (gardens), fountains and zelliges. Through the reflections in the windows, the labyrinth continues and reflects the embassy as a "maze" but also as a meeting place where solutions are sought. 


More details about The Charbagh Diplomatic Labyrinth 

Permanent installation commissioned by the Belgian state for its new embassy building in Rabat. 


Eric Van Hove, 2021 


12400 terracotta zellige tiles, 4 grafted plum trees and a fountain - 100 m2 


Craftsmen/Mâalems: Ali Sahdane & Lahbib Sellak  

Engineers: Jean-Louis Van Hove & Genevieve De Vriendt  

Bio-engineers: Prof. Patrick Van Damme & Emiel De Meyer  

Production: Samya Abid (Fenduq/Marrakech)  


Photo of the The Charbagh Diplomatic Labyrinth by Alessio Mei. Source:

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