A slice of Paradise.

Published: Monday, September 19, 2016    

Emirati Kamelia Bin Zaal is the first ever Arab landscape designer to participate at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. She tells OL how being connected to nature offers humans wellbeing

By Emma Procter

The world of landscape design is a serious place these days, with major international competitions turning the winners into horticultural stars.

In particular, events such as the famous RH Chelsea Flower show in England attract the leading names. The event has been held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, London every year since 1913, and is still considered to be the most prestigious.

In 2015, the show welcomed its first ever Arab landscape designer participant – the UAE’s very own Kamelia Bin Zaal, the owner of Kamelia Landscape Design in Dubai. She went on to win a silver gilt medal for her garden "The Beauty of Islam" and as a result was featured in esteemed publications such as British Vogue, GQ magazine, The Telegraph, The Sunday Times, amongst others.

This year, she has her sights firmly fixed on the Gardening World Cup in Japan. This annual event takes place in Nagasaki and brings together garden designers and enthusiasts from across the globe. It is held in Huis Ten Bosch, an incredible venue modelled on gardens in Holland.

Zaal told OL she is keen to once again showcase an Islamic Garden overseas. "When I exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show last year a friend approached me to replicate my garden in Japan for the Gardening World Cup," she said. "I met the team involved and immediately said yes. It is an incredible honour and privilege to be invited to participate – and this time I have a new design to share."

Her landscape composition for the Japan show is called ‘The Seal of the Prophets’ and is based on the Khatim – the eight pointed star literally meaning the seal of the prophets.

"The design uses contemporary materials such as concrete and crystal inlay, however, it is simple and elegant, along with the planting – so it keeps the essence of an Islamic garden," explained Zaal. "An Islamic garden is a sanctuary, somewhere to contemplate and relax while enjoying the sound of water and the fragrances of nature."

So, what motivated her to become so deeply involved in the world of landscaping – particularly as an Arab woman?

"Both my grandfather on my mother’s side, and my father, always loved being in the garden, and I think I have just always had an appreciation for gardens and their design as I spent my childhood mucking around in them. I love the outdoors too, so it is a perfect partnership," she said.

Before moving into the field professionally, Zaal worked in the government for four years, but said she felt something was missing for her creatively. Therefore, when the opportunity arose to take a new path she grabbed it and went to the UK to study garden design at the Inchbald School of Design. And she has never looked back.
"An Islamic garden is a sanctuary, somewhere to contemplate and relax while enjoying the sound of water and the fragrances of nature."

"The highest point in my career was definitely the entire experience of participating at Chelsea Flower Show," she said. "The process itself is amazing, and the people who are involved in every aspect are great to be around. The time after Chelsea was probably my lowest point, for exactly the same reason. It was a big shock to come down to earth after such a high."

She is clear about what motivates her to keep going. "Every garden and design is different and every client is different so it is never, ever boring. I love every aspect and element of the design, and find nothing more rewarding than making my clients a little piece of Paradise for their home.

She added: "As humans, without the landscape and environment around us we would not be here. A garden gives people that connection on a more personal basis and hopefully helps them understand its importance to our survival and therefore want to protect it."

World renowned garden designer, RHS Judge, and leading gardening tutor Andrew Fisher Tomlin highlights some current global garden trends

Sustainable materials

Design trends continue to develop on sustainable and cultural levels in terms of the development of new materials, sometimes referencing textiles such as PVC, denims, and recycled fabrics. Top tip: New materials coming through, such as flexible timber and sheet Accoya, will transform how we use timber in the garden


A growing interest in recycling is leading to immediate rather than processed recycling of some materials, such as breaking down old machinery into water features

Going down under

Subterranean rooms, including pools beneath gardens and actual subterranean office and garden rooms reminiscent of hobbit houses, are proving popular for those who see underground houses in the media and want to maintain the amount of garden

Craft work

Other design trends combine traditional crafts with new ideas such as contemporary bespoke dry stone sculpture and laser cut timber in traditional garden joinery. Top tip: Old techniques, such as Portuguese pavement, that use much smaller units of paving for more intricate patterns are making a strong return
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