Thursday 22 February 2018

Bloomin' Marvellous... garden designer Leonie Cornelius

We celebrate blossoming style with garden designer and Bloom gold medallist Leonie Cornelius. Photography by Mark Nixon with styling from Bairbre Power

Leonie Cornelius: Dolce & Gabbana rose print dress, €1,575, Brown Thomas, Grafton Street, Dublin;; Boxwood double ball tree, €97.56, Outdoor Scene, Goatstown, Co. Dublin,
Leonie Cornelius: Dolce & Gabbana rose print dress, €1,575, Brown Thomas, Grafton Street, Dublin;; Boxwood double ball tree, €97.56, Outdoor Scene, Goatstown, Co. Dublin,
Leonie Cornelius in vintage chiffon dress, €168, Miss Daisy Blue, Market Lane, Cork,; flowers and basket from Appassionata Flowers, Drury Street,; grass hedge from Woodie's, Coolock
Leonie Cornelius in Dolce & Gabbana 'Wisteria' dress, €950, Brown Thomas, Grafton Street; Vivien Walsh violet jade drop earrings, €45, Kilkenny, Nassau Street,; Wisteria tree, €137.40, Outdoor Scene,
Leonie Cornelius in purple floral maxi skirt, €75, Om Diva, Drury Street, Dublin 2,; white shirt, Leonie's own.

Few people want to be reminded of work when they're off duty, so when garden designer Leonie Cornelius is getting dressed up for a night out, you'd have to wonder whether she's drawn to floral prints or perhaps put off by them? "I love floral prints - of course I do!" she laughs. "I have a few really nice dresses that pick up on this. I wear a lot of scarves and Cork designer Belinda Northcote's floral and nature-based designs are stunning. I love getting dressed up to go out too. I tend to keep it simple and wear a shirt with trousers or a skirt and some gorgeous heels."

Gorgeous would be something of an understatement for the rose print Dolce & Gabbana dress that Leonie is wearing today for our photoshoot - celebrating the floral print in high fashion - however, the Sligo-based gardener is usually to be found in a pair of sturdy boots.

"My favourite thing in my wardrobe is my Dubarry boots," she says. "I simply couldn't do without them in my line of work. They are stylish and comfortable. When I am on site, I wear a uniform of the boots and The North Face jackets which keep me warm and dry. I wear a lot of cashmere jumpers. My favourite brand is sphere one by Lucy Downes - her jumpers look fabulous and feel amazing."

Though she's proved a natural model for our shoot, 34-year-old Leonie is best known as a gardening columnist with Weekend and as the host of RTÉ's Super Garden. The series, now in its sixth year, sees designers compete for the chance to win a coveted show garden at Bloom in the Park, which is taking place this weekend. Leonie is a previous winner of the TV competition, not to mention a gold medal winner at the prestigious festival.

Born in Mönchengladbach, in north-west Germany, her family came to Ireland on holiday when Leonie was five and fell in love with the country. In 1987, they relocated to Leitrim.

"I have always had a big love for the outdoors and the beauty of plants. My parents had a fabulous fruit and vegetable garden in Germany and my mother is a talented plants woman," Leonie says. "She has a massive collection of succulents and cacti in her glasshouse, and a cottage-style garden. I have also always been interested in architecture and design - my father is a town planner - and I have an honours degree in interior architecture. In 2009, I felt that I wanted to combine architecture with planting and enrolled in the garden design course at KLC School of Design in London."

After graduation in 2011, Leonie returned to Sligo and set up her own garden design firm, Blume. It seemed fitting, then, when she came across a TV competition to exhibit at the Bloom festival.

"I wanted to create awareness for my business so when I saw the Super Garden call-out on Twitter, I thought: 'Why not?' The experience was incredible - a whirlwind of mad planning, building and filming. Winning the show was very rewarding. Knowing that all the hard work paid off felt amazing - and then I had to do it again for the show garden at Bloom in the Park which was a serious challenge."

The work paid off, however, when Leonie's garden was among the top prizewinners at the festival. "When Gary Graham, the show manager at Bloom - who's also a Super Garden judge - handed me my gold medal, I was stunned. When he pulled out another one for best in category, I burst into tears!"

As well as winning more medals at Bloom in the following years, Leonie joined the Super Garden team as mentor and host. On Thursday, she was at Dublin's Phoenix Park to announce this year's winner, Brian Burke.

His design was for a family in Monasterevin with a young son who has spina bifida and is a wheelchair user. A recreation of the finished garden can be seen at Bloom in the Park, which runs until Monday.

For tickets, see

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