Judge Interview: Leonie Cornelius

Super Garden has just come to a dramatic end with the final of the five gardens being revealed. The countdown is now on to Bloom 2016 and the winner of Super Garden being announced. We chatted with Roisin’s fellow Judge Leonie Cornelius about her love of garden design and the latest series of Super Garden.

What is your own background and how did Super Garden come about for you?

I have always been fascinated by nature and design, even from a young age I have always appreciated well placed objects and had an appreciation of beauty. My career in design started with my studies in Interior Architecture which I have an Honours Degree in. I decided to study Garden Design with KLC in London because I was fascinated with how the interior and the exteriors connect and how, in cleverly designed spaces, they can seamlessly blend to create one living space. Now I see design everywhere, from plants to shells to graffiti walls, it’s hard to switch it off once you become aware of it!


What appeals to you about gardens and garden design?

Gardens are fascinating to me, they are ever changing and evolving-never stationary. I love how the plants create a perfect theatrical moving display and how they are such a fantastic juxtaposition to the solid forms of structure and hard landscaping. I am also fascinated with clients and how every person, brand or company I design for has a different dream and idea of what their personal space should be, it makes my job really fascinating and never boring!


What are you looking for from this year’s contestants?

I am a firm believer that a strong concept makes for the best garden.

Good concepts take the clients dreams, combine them with the knowledge and talent of the designer and create a new synthesis which is unique and personalised. Show gardens are fantastic examples of concepts condensed to become incredibly strong and impactful. I hope that the winner of this year’s show will take an approach that creates an exciting and fresh concept which will work for the homeowners but also as a stunning show garden at Bloom.


What criteria makes a garden worthy of a spot at bloom?

I think a lot of the above applies here-a strong concept is one people will recognise walking past a garden. It will allow the garden to speak for itself. Also, people come to Bloom to get inspired and take ideas from the show for their own gardens. I remember when I won the show in 2012 and my garden went to Bloom a lot of people commented on the fact that they liked that the garden was a real, usable garden. That always stayed with me.


If you had to pick one stand out favourite garden over the entire series of Super Garden, what would it be?

Oh there are so many! I liked Ken Byrnes Container garden in 2011, that was pretty cool and last year’s winner Brian Burke had such a strong concept and really delivered for the family. I think Super Garden is so great because there is something for everyone – all tastes, all styles.

How would you describe your own garden and gardening style?

My background in Architecture and Garden Design really informs my designs and my gardens aim to blend structure and nature. I am fascinated by how architecture and planting create a whole new feel and  I think they work so elegantly and wonderfully together. My planting style  is blend of soft, subtle meadow style and modern clean lines too. It seems to seep in everywhere!


What’s your favourite aspect of your own garden?

I love the way my own garden changes through the seasons. The greens of the trees right now are amazingly zingy lime green and the plants coming up always surprise me even though I planted them. I also have many associated memories with many of the plants – I have Irises and Lupins from my Bloom garden in 2013 and the grasses, Achillea and Lavender from my garden in 2012. I also love my glazed pergola, it looks out over a lake and means I can sit out whatever the weather!

What are your favourite plants to see in a garden?

That’s so hard to answer…I am a designer so I’m always changing my mind! There are however staples that I do end up using in many designs simply because they are so stunning. I love Iris siberica, there’s nothing better than that striking blue against the sword like leaves! I also love grasses such as the Hakonechloa macra and Stipa tenuissima which bring softness and texture into a scheme and I adore Foxgloves!



Why do you think gardens are an important space?

Gardens are places where we can really relax and let go. They are spaces that connect us to the ‘real’ and basic side of life, organically growing, green and calm. They can therefore be spaces that really give our minds the space they need to rejuvenate and switch off, like meditation or doing Yoga, they can help us focus and feel at ease. I think that’s very important particularly in current times where many of us spend a lot of time indoors or at the computer.


Across the world, where are your favourite gardens to visit?

My absolute favourite garden is the Alhambra palace and Generalife gardens in Granada, Andalucia, Spain. The gardens are breathtaking and so incredibly sophisticated. The builders of the palaces were so talented it’s hard to understand, so intricate and simply stunning. I’ve been so many times and always want to go back.

Another one I love is the haven of Central Park in New York. When I first visited it I couldn’t believe that such a gem is smack bang in the middle of Manhattan.

I also love the annual garden festival of Chaumont sur Loire in the Loire valley in France which is a more experimental festival of gardens. Here there are also show gardens but not how we know them from Bloom or Chelsea but rather conceptual spaces echoing a common concept such as ‘Deadly sins’ or this year it is  “Gardens for the coming century”. It’s a fascinating display of creative ideas from cross collaborative teams of designers, architects artists and more set amid the grounds of the most incredible castle once owned by Catherine de Medicis. Heaven!