The UAE's leading garden designer, Kamelia Bin Zaal, was one of just seven individuals invited to compete at the Gardening World Cup at Huis Ten Bosch, Nagasaki, Japan, this month. Bin Zaal's submission, The Seal of the Prophets, was awarded both silver-gilt and best lighting by judges at the World Cup, which runs until November 3. She talks us through the inspiration and challenges behind her most recent show garden.
It has been 18 months since you won silver-gilt at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Show gardens involve an incredible amount of work and commitment, so what was it about the Gardening World Cup in Japan that made you want to get involved?
The Gardening World Cup showcases some great international designers. There are designers from Jordan, Spain, the United States, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Australia. That is a lovely mix of talent and it is a great opportunity to see different styles of design in one place.
In terms of the other designers participating, who stands out for you?
I could talk about them all, but for me, the ones that stand out the most are British designer Adam Frost, who is a bit of a legend. He has an amazing talent for making a garden look effortless and as if it has been there for a lifetime. Malaysian designer Lim In Chong is another great one – his gardens are incredibly atmospheric. Lastly, Spanish designer Fernando Gonzalez, for his use of fibreglass structures in his gardens, which create something unique and contemporary.
You have said previously that for you to do a show garden it has to mean something to you personally. The Beauty of Islam showcased your culture, religion and country – is there a message that you hope The Seal of the Prophets will convey?
It is really a continuation of the same theme, which they wanted me to share and it’s why I was invited. However, although I always remain true to Islamic garden design principles, I wanted the garden to fit in a more urban space, as a sanctuary.
The fictional setting for this garden was very different to last year’s design for Chelsea. It is meant to be in a larger landscaped space and a sanctuary for the public to use between two buildings in an urban setting, rather than a private home setting like the show garden at Chelsea.
I wanted to create a very geometric design using contemporary materials. The khatim, the eight-pointed star, is one of the most widely known Islamic designs in the world, and I took its literal meaning, Seal of the Prophets, as my theme. However, although the design was very different from my design last year, I wanted to create the same atmosphere of peace, tranquillity and sanctuary, and a reminder of the link between nature and man – all fundamental principles of Islamic garden design.
Water was also a leading theme, with a body of water and a sculptural feature at its centre. Light, shade and fragrance are additional factors, with screens creating dappled geometrical patterns across the garden as the sun streams through the screens.
Planting was very soft in contrast to the architectural features and geometry of the design. Instead of creating typical quadrants, I created four planting beds, each with a slightly different feel, and because the garden was set in Japan, I got to use some beautiful plants.
Did you apply any important lessons that you took from your Chelsea experience?
Yes: not to be intimidated when you are surrounded by world-renowned designers who are pretty much veterans at show gardens. I just knuckled down and got stuck in with my amazing construction team. I also got some great tips from all the designers and tried to learn as much as possible. There really was a great team spirit between us all, especially when we were planting in the middle of a typhoon for two days. That was different.
Which are the dominant colour themes for your World Cup garden?
I used white and tones of purple. So a lot of salvia, lavender and astas.
Can you give details about the hard landscaping used in your design?
The screens were made from aluminium and laser-cut. I specifically chose the design because it was very contemporary-looking as well as an Islamic pattern. We used crystal inlay as the finish on the seats, which gave them a subtle blue tinge and created some colour. Flooring was concrete – white and grey.
The construction took about 18 days, and a similar garden would require a budget in the region of Dh2.2 million to build and plant.
The Seal of the Prophets appears to be a series of enclosures with a star, creating a series of reveals and different perspectives as you move through the space – what kind of journey do you want your visitors to have?
The garden is a sanctuary away from the hubbub of the city, an escape – so it was important to make it feel like a place you can unwind and relax in.