Kamelia ZaalMy landscape design work in Dubai

I think I am truly lucky to be as passionate about my profession as I am. I found my dream job in landscape design 11 years ago and it’s been a whirlwind ever since. When I chose to go into landscape design it was around the same time that my father was developing his idea for Al Barari, which is now the most sustainable high-end development in the Middle East, so we were often talking about his plans for a green heart in Dubai.

Design Kamelia Zaal Albarari 2

Al Barari Contemporary Garden. Design Kamelia Zaal/Second Nature

I had been working in the Dubai Government and, although I loved it, I simply felt something was missing, and knew I had to get back to being more creative. With the combination of my father constantly talking about a plant nursery and maybe even a horticultural college, it triggered my light bulb moment and within a month I found myself studying at the Inchbald School of Design under the watchful eyes of my tutor and mentor, Andrew Wilson.

With a Diploma under my belt I came home to the UAE and although I knew how to design a beautiful garden I had no idea how to build one, and as fate would have it a job fell in my lap. So I pretty much learnt all the real in and outs of actually creating a garden from concept to completion from day one.

I still love to be on site at every stage. It’s fascinating watching lines that you once drew on paper and your vision for a garden come to life. There really is nothing like it, bar watching my son grow and develop every second of every day.

Design Kamelia Zaal

Al Barari Garden. Design Kamelia Zaal/Second Nature

After a year of working freelance I decided to set up a landscape design firm, Second Nature, to cater for villa projects and larger commercial projects. With just a core team we began our first high-end residential landscape project, Al Barari. And as I mentioned before I seem to like throwing myself in the deep end and this was the beginning of the most exciting part of my career.

My design firm grew to 35 staff over the next few years, from senior landscape architects and irrigation engineers to quantity surveyors. It was tough at times, especially when all I really wanted to do was get outside and be planting a garden or arguing with a contractor, rather than sitting in a meeting with my accountant going over the numbers, or sitting in a huge meeting surrounded by consultants and project management companies (whom I term as the paper pushers of the development world)! I can’t lie – it could be extremely tedious at times. But the excitement of being part of a unique development project that was 80% landscape and 20% built up was so motivational. Especially when it’s your entire family involved.

Ashjar Show Garden Design Kamelia Zaal

Ashjar Show Garden Design Kamelia Zaal

Throughout all of this I remained, and still remain, true to my real area of expertise and passion, private villa gardens. I have been so lucky in that most of my clients have been great to work with and I really love to see the smile on their faces when I finally hand the garden to them finished.

Design Kamelia Zaal 2

Private Villa. Design Kamelia Zaal/Second Nature

For me a garden is like a gift you’re giving, and I love the relationship you develop with your clients to create their dream, and the smile on their face when it is finally done.

My most rewarding landscape creation was my Contemporary Garden in Al Barari. Although I was involved in every aspect of the landscape for the whole of the Al Barari, which involved 5 other themed gardens, common parkland areas, waterways and lakes, I really wanted this to be special.

Sleek lines, entertainment area

Entertainment area. Al Barari Garden. Design Kamelia Zaal/Second Nature

Al Barari has waterways running throughout the whole project, so I used this as the main feature of the garden rather than just an element of the garden. It’s the main artery running through the garden and by creating movement and sound not only does it have a life of its own but it draws you through. The waterway has different characteristics flowing from a naturalistic looking stream as it comes into the garden then breaking into a wider straight canal leading to wide shallow angular steps that lead into a reflective pool. The architectural feature I placed in the pool was my favorite majestic palm the silver Bizmarckia nobilis. It’s stunning!

Bismark Palms. Design by Kamelia Zaal at Albarari

Bismark palm centerpiece in the Al Barari Contemporary Garden. Design Kamelia Zaal/Second Nature

That summer I went to Paris and I hadn’t been for a long time, and there is something different that I feel when I’m there. Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but the character, history and gentleness on the eyes is unique for a city. It’s not heavy like London or New York – you can probably tell I’m not much of a city girl. It was as if I was looking at it with fresh eyes and I fell in love with the Promenade Plantée.

Contemporary Garden

Intersecting lines in the Al Barari Contemporary Garden. Design Kamelia Zaal/Second Nature

The very angular and linear design I created in the contemporary garden was inspired by the view of the streets of Paris that you can see from the top of the Arc de Triomph and how the streets cut across the city. So in the same way I used this idea to cut across the waterway. I accentuated these lines through box hedge and lines of silver conocarpus trees, trimmed just like the trees along the Champs-Elysees.

My mantra is to always keep it simple and this I did even in the planting. With a palette of purple, white, green and silver foliage or flowers. I used various textures like Zoysia grass, Juncus grass and Bambusa vulgaris. Each part of the garden has a slightly different character. I love creating rooms or atmospheres throughout a garden and this was no different.

This garden has been one of my proudest moments so far especially, as it was featured in “Garden Design Close Up” by Emma Reuss this year. I feel so humbled to be amongst some of the most inspirational garden designers. But I hope that I can push myself more and more and that one day my little boy will grow to be proud of his mothers achievements and reach for his dreams like I have.

STOP PRESS – just found out my design has been accepted for a main avenue show garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2015! Will write more about it all soon…..

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Kamelia Zaal

About Kamelia Zaal

After studying landscape garden design at London's renowned Inchbald School of Design, Kamelia returned to Dubai inspired to create intuitive and stylised outdoor living spaces. Shortly thereafter she began her career as a freelance garden designer working on residential villas until she established her own landscape architectural practice, Second Nature, in 2006, working on both large commercial projects and unique residential jobs. Kamelia later formed an association with her family's prestigious property development company, Al Barari, where Second Nature, now part of Greenworks, created the lush botanic surrounds and themed gardens that the address has become recognised for. In 2013, she was featured on the front cover of The UK Garden Design Journal for her work with Al Barari and several other projects. She is regularly cited as an expert in the garden landscape industry, having been featured in Inside Out, Garden and Landscape Designers Association Compass magazine, and Landscape Middle East. In her free time, Zaal goes trekking and mountain climbing for charity, and spends time with her son.

6 thoughts on “My landscape design work in Dubai

  1. Bonjour Kameila,
    I am with the Canadian Garden Council and will be in Dubai as of Sunday this week for a meeting of the International Garden Tourism Network, hosted by Miracle Garden. I love your Al Barari Contemporary Garden. Is it open to the public? Would love to see it. Michel

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