East meets west: RHS Chelsea Flower Show's first Emirati gardener Kamelia Zaal

It’s the first time an Emirati landscape designer has been chosen to create a show garden
The Chelsea Flower Show may be over 200 years old, but it still has the ability to surprise. The Horticultural Society’s most prestigious event is currently showing in the Royal Hospital’s grounds. For those who have missed out on a ticket, here’s a peek behind the scenes of the show’s first Islamic garden.
Entitled The Beauty of Islam, it’s also the first time an Emirati landscape designer, Kamelia Zaal, has been chosen to create a show garden. The opportunity came about while she found herself judging the Dubai International Garden Design alongside two British designers. She took them to see her work in the grounds of Al Barari – a residential development owned by her family – and they encouraged her to apply for the show.

Kamelia Zaal

“Although it was my dream to participate,” she says, “I never considered it due to the calibre of all the designers that take part every year. I am very grateful for meeting them both as they gave me the confidence to push myself and go for it.”
Growing up, Zaal says she often watched her father retreat to the garden for some peace and quiet and became intrigued by the introspective power of plants. She gave up her job working for the Dubai government to study garden design and established her own landcape architectural practice, Second Nature, in 2006. She wanted her garden to reflect the peaceful role nature plays in Islam and tell the story of the Spice Route through the world.
“With so much negativity around in the media and the world today, I felt this would be a good opportunity to share our values with the public through garden design. Historically, Islamic gardens, whether in Spain, Morocco or India, were places of contemplation and relaxation,” she says, “and reflected the link between humankind and the earth around us.”

Gardens in Arabic culture must have a practical function

So what goes into an Islamic garden? Well, gardens in Arabic culture must have a practical function, growing herbs and fruit, as well as a relaxing quality, and they are always made up of light and shade. Zaal has created four rooms with water flowing through, using a combination of materials from countries touched by Arabic culture like Turkish white marble. It also showcases an impressively diverse number of plant species, including orange, olive, fig and pomegranate trees and cardamom, pepper, turmeric, jasmine and papyrus plants. Arabic calligraphy and poetry can also be found engraved throughout.
“I hope my garden resonates with the public and will have a positive effect on people’s perception of our religion and culture,” she says, “to show how we also celebrate diversity, peace and harmony as all religions do.”
The Chelsea Flower Show at the Royal Hospital Chelsea closes tomorrow. For more information, visit rhs.org.uk.
For more on Al Barari, Dubai, visit albarari.com

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