Aside from a handful of ghaf trees, this large suburban garden started out as an empty, sandy piece of land begging for a transformation. Kamelia Bin Zaal, creative landscape director at Second Nature, took up the challenge of landscaping the garden, owned by her mother, interior designer Lesley Zaal. She tells InsideOut about the project...
Tell us a little about the garden.
It was quite a personal project as the garden belongs to my mother. The thing she was most adamant about was that the garden be very green with the only colour being in the form of white flowers.
Was it difficult designing something for your mother?
Not at all. I love her style and we got on great so it was probably the easiest design I’ve ever done. My mother was clear as to what elements she wanted and what she didn’t want, which helped a lot, so I just ran with it. We went through the design once, tweaked it and that was that. My mother was actually my perfect client.
Did you landscape the garden from scratch or was there something to work with?
Aside from two beautiful ghaf trees sitting snugly together in the middle of the garden it was pretty much a sandpit. I made sure the ghaf trees, which are endangered indigenous evergreen desert trees, remained on the property. It took me about three months to design and finish the whole landscape.
What sort of look was your mother going for?
She is an interior designer and prefers modern aesthetics with a soft touch. She loves to entertain outside during the winter months so I developed different areas where she could socialise, either over dinner or just with a few friends.
I knew she’d want areas to fill up with beautiful outdoor furniture that she had sourced, so I created these different spaces using materials to reflect a variety of moods. These came in the form of a tiled terrace for the dining area, a decking area for lounging around the pool and another deck under the ghaf trees for my mother to sit back and read a good book.
How did you create texture in the garden?
I always use a mix of natural materials in my landscapes. For this garden’s terrace areas, however, I used ceramic tiles for the first time. These were chosen by my mother and have a stunning colour, so they don’t look like ceramic tiles at all. The outdoor shower features bamboo and natural stone that gives it a beautiful finish.
I also brought colour and texture into the space using silver and grey mosaic tiles in the water features alongside the dining area and my mother chose lovely sea-green turquoise tiles for the pool and the ghaf deck water feature. My main contrast to the materials is always in the texture of the planting and playing with different foliage to really bring everything together.
The garden seems to be divided up into sections. Why is that?
I wanted to give each area its own individual style, not only its function but also in the planting. In the front entrance I kept the look modern and clean by using yuccas and contrasting them with the softness of white bougainvillea. There is also a lovely green wall planted with asparagus sprengeri that really softens the entrance to the villa.
In the main garden, to break up the large grass areas and to make the open-plan decking with the ghaf trees surrounded by water feel more intimate and cosy, I placed large planters filled with pennisetum grasses. They add softness to the landscape’s sharp lines and look gorgeous swaying in the wind.
Tell us more about the water features.
The look and sound of water can be calming, which is why I’ve placed water features close to seating areas. They also helped to create focal points in the garden, and help to distinguish the different areas. The swimming pool was a standard Al Barari pool but my mother was very specific about the colour she wanted so we replaced the original tiles with sea-green turquoise mosaic. The water surrounding the ghaf trees gives the impression that the deck is floating. It’s an area in which my mother enjoys relaxing.
The area surrounding the swimming pool has a spa-like feel. Was this intentional?
Yes. I created a private area around the outdoor shower using a day bed and planting that gives this space an opulent feel. Which part of the garden do you enjoy relaxing in? The sunken seating area. While this is a standard element in all Al Barari gardens, we gave it a twist by creating a modern-style pergola structure and painting it white to match the house. It overlooks the pool and is a stunning place to sit and chat in the evening. My mother’s choice of colour and texture in the fabrics makes it feel really cosy.
Will you be adding any more elements to the garden?
My mother and I love the idea of combining fire and water so I’m going to install a fire feature between the large pots in the middle of the water feature soon. Fire is so hypnotising to look at and I think it will totally transform the landscape at night.
What advice can you give people who have gardens in the UAE?
Consult an expert before buying plants. Some plants can be badly affected by poor positioning, so make sure you know whether they should be planted in full sun, semi-sun or full shade. Also, different species of plants have different needs to survive, so ask what food and water they need.