Design/life: Leonie Cornelius, garden designer and interior architect

"If you’re going about a garden design, dream big and limit yourself later."

"Love letter to the West" from Bloom 2013 created by Leonie Cornelius.

What’s your background?

I studied Interior Architecture in Sligo. At the time I left in 2006, it was hard to find a job. I also had my son, so I decided to study garden design and combine the two disciplines.

I took part in Super Garden in 2012 and went on to win the show. We went on to Bloom with the garden, and I immediately had a huge amount of clients – that was how I launched my own business, in a fairly fast-track way.

It has been a really interesting arc, because I would have been a contestant, then I was brought back as a mentor, and then last year, Woodies were looking for a new judge and asked me. The designers are really good this year.

“Cookies and Cream” from 2012

What’s a typical work day like for you?

I get my son off to school and then I settle into answering emails. Generally, I take the dog for a little walk, after the emails, just to clear my head and then I launch into work and get some writing underway, or some designs done, or even some site visits before I collect my son.

Tell us about a recent project you have worked on?

That would be my book, Dream Gardens, which I released on 10 April, with Mercier Press in Cork. The book for me has been about trying to make good garden design accessible for people.

There is a chapter which is about stepping back from the practicality of designing the garden and saying ‘tell me what your dream space is’.

People often say: ‘I want a compost bin, and I want a patio and that kind of a chair’ and I say ‘hang on, zoom out and think: how do I want this garden to make me feel, and how can I use it on an everyday basis?’

What’s your design style?

I am always thinking about how people’s lives inside and outside connect – you can really combine those two. That features in a lot of the designs I do.

What inspires your work?

I always try to echo nature. I did a design for a client in Sligo – they’re just below Knocknarea Mountain – and they’re looking out at these amazing meadows and the idea of placing something structured would just fight with the view beyond, so we placed a meadow within a meadow.

It has more colour because it’s a garden, but it echoes what’s happening beyond – it has the same spires, shapes, and movement of the grasses. It’s amazing because you’re looking out towards that mountain, and it all blends into one.

What’s your favourite trend at the moment (if you have any)?

There is a lot of coral around at the moment, I like that. I was going to take that into my garden at Bloom this year but I adore colours that come from natural materials so I have opted for that instead, like when copper rusts and it goes turquoise. I love that.

Woodies are sponsoring my Bloom garden. It is called: Everybody has a Dream. Because I am using the copper, the patina takes a while to paint on – using different vinegars and salts – so we are doing samples at the moment. It is really interesting how you can use a chemical process to bring out more colours.

What’s your most treasured possession?

I love this Limoges mug that I bought at an antiques fair in France. It has a gold base inside so when I drink tea out of it, the tea looks golden. It’s so relaxing.

Who would be your favourite designer, or style inspiration?

A few people featured in Dream Gardens that I find incredibly inspiring– one was French garden designer James Basson. Another was the Sligo-based firm, Noji architects.

What would be a dream project for you to work on?

I would love to work on a range of accessories and furniture for the outdoors.

Have you any design tips for us?

If you’re going about a garden design, dream big and limit yourself later. There’s no reason why you should limit yourself at the start of a design. 

Dream Garden: Creating an outdoor space from an emotional perspective.

Mercier Press: €18.99 p/back.

If you’re going about a garden design, dream big and limit yourself later. There’s no reason why you should limit yourself at the start of a design

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