With landscaping fast catching up in the metro, gardens have become showpieces. T.KRITHIKA REDDY treads the verdant terrain and writes....
A ROOM open to the sky. That is how contemporary residential gardens can be described. Designed and manicured to perfection by professional preeners, gardens have become an extension of the living space, offering hedonistic delight and an active interface with Nature.
Traditional courtyards with a sprinkling of tulsi plants and thoroughly functional gardens with the staple mango and coconut trees and jasmine creepers of the past have today evolved into showpieces. Perhaps, a part of the craze for ornamentation that is palpable now. Landscape architects have transformed gardens into a roofless room with the same human needs for privacy and peace as indoors. Pool parties and lawn get-togethers have further given gardens the status of glitzy entertainment centres.
"Yes. Landscaping is fast catching up in the metro. A tendency to show-off is more pronounced now than it was a few decades ago. Earlier, it would take time to convince clients about novelty. But now, the awareness and adventurous spirit of clients are great," says Mr. Shekar James (Master Plan) one of the pioneers in the field.
"Landscaping for residences is a mixture of pain and pleasure. It involves creating an outdoor living space that suits the tastes, lifestyle and pocket of the client," adds Shekar, who has been offering consultancy for the past 25 years.
True. Landscaping is actually 'outside architecture' which involves meticulous planning to design aesthetic, eco-friendly homes. Physical character of the land - topography, temperature, building character, soil-conditioning etc. besides client- specific needs such as kennel, play yard, swimming pool, rock garden, storage space and upkeep capability play a vital role. Value additions such as automated irrigation with pop-up sprinklers, rain water recharge, artificial rain etc. are also offered for the asking.
"Calculated naturalism" comes from creative manipulation of colour, form and textures, the subtle intangibles that gardens imply. Poetic composition of space and light can be attained with imaginative arrangement of plants in designs strictly conceived for show. Big telling masses of plants can be grouped at the background for character, contrasts and privacy. Steps and pavements could offer interesting grade changes. Vibrant flowers could be placed in raised beds for visual appeal. Multi-level gardens generally tend to display plants better. Planned shadow play is sure to fetch your garden a second look. Lamps and garden furniture besides adding ornamental touches are also functional. Plants clipped into geometry could give those much desired clean lines, while those sculpted to specific forms add glamour.
Lush bushes, vibrant flowers, pergolas with snaking creepers, cool fountains and monotony-breaking pools may be part of everyone's dreamscape. But in a teeming metro, where verdance and water are scarce what do landscape architects and horticulturalists have to offer? "Space and water are limitations in the minds of the clients. It is a challenge to the professional", says Mr. Shekar, who has "taken ground to the ceiling" in several terrace gardens and penthouses. "We are also in the process of introducing non-fussy exotic plants that survive in arid conditions with half the requirement of water."
Mr. T. N. Ramesh of Tropics, expresses a similar view : "There is no point in complaining about space crunch and water shortage. Apartment o owners must take a common initiative to pool in resources to create terrace gardens. While providing a quiet retreat amidst the concrete jungle, such green spots are also a sensory delight. They help control temperature too if properly maintained."
Professionals like Ramesh now offer consultancy on a host of services such as water-proofing, designing terrace and balcony gardens, waterscaping, cascades etc. Caladium (bleeding heart), dracaena, alamandas, ixora, plumbaga, pentas, hibiscus and bougainvillaea are some of the varieties suited for Chennai. When it comes to grass, without which no landscape is complete, the sturdy, rich Korean variety and G2 are much sought-after. As for soil, a right mixture of red earth, sand and vermicomposed manure do the trick in Chennai. "Manure can also be generated at home with vegetable wastes and throw-away foliage," suggests Ramesh.
"Another interesting feature is the readymade lawns, for which grass is transplanted in a jiffy. Due to stiff competition in the field, turf -laying charges have come down drastically, muses Mr. B.Ilango of Jeyam Landscape Consultants, which has its own nursery. Maintenance of lawns and gardens is also offered on contract basis.
Rock gardens, a raised mound with rocks, pebbles and a fair sprinkling of climate-hardy cacti that stands up to the Chennai heat are ideal as they require watering only once in three days. Water bodies such as miniature lily pond, fountain and cascade that offer a wonderland retreat are also a welcome feature. According to Mr. Shekar James, "There is more life to indoor pools now than decades ago when it was the prerogative of the affluent. Now walk-in ultramarine pools can be created right in the courtyard and space is absolutely no constraint. Counter pools ( 12/9 ft) with jets that propel water ( you could actually do spot swimming with the illusion of movement) and jacuzzis have come a long way in adding colour to residential landscapes. Master Plan is to introduce a novel pre-fabricated, dismantable swimming pool shortly. These pools that are being imported from Australia come in various sizes, shapes and depth. It can be dismantled and tucked away when not in use or easily transported when shifting residences. With pool parties fast catching up in the metro, accent on pool design is gaining importance. Mini islands in pools, parallel pools for children, pools surrounded by palms and ferns for an oasis touch .... the creative options are limitless, chips in Mr. Zhayynn James, landscape architect and son of Mr. Shekar.
Sliding and collapsible doors and indoor pools have blurred the divide between interior and exterior. Now you can walk out on the slightest impulse to enjoy the sounds and fragrances of Nature. This fusion of indoor and outdoor can also create an illusion of space in small homes. "Today, most of us spend our lives in airconditioned capsules. Greenery is becoming a rarity. It is against this backdrop that landscape architects step in to provide original solutions for aesthetic outdoor spaces and ultimately eco-friendly homes," says Aathi Chari, landscape architect, Arati Chari Associates, who has tried out various innovations in terms of water recharge, pollution control etc. while landscaping for industrial houses.
From a place for passive recreation like dozing in a hammock, reading a newspaper or simply day-dreaming, the garden has become a prime spot for active recreation. What is more? The spiritual dividends - the experience of seeing the miracle of life being enacted before you - are great.
Add vibrance to flat life
Indoor gardening is a rewarding hobby. It involves growing shade- loving foliage and flowering plants in pots, which will enliven the interiors. In addition to enhancing the beauty of the rooms, these living companions will also provide the much needed oxygen for the growers.
Scores of shade-tolerant foliage plants can be grown indoors, and they need to be periodically attended to. Besides regular watering, these plants should be kept in open or partial-shade for some time every week for maintaining the freshness and vigorous growth. Some plants will need to be brushed or dusted to keep their brilliant foliage in good sheen and lustre.
Several vegetables can be grown in pots lining the windowsill and in the balcony, where filtered sunlight is available for the lush and luxuriant growth of these plants. Many garden enthusiasts, especially those living in flats, have successfully raised different kinds of vegetables in the semi-shaded portions of their houses.
Almost all common vegetables such as tomato, bhendi, brinjal, chillies, capsicum, clusterbeans and a variety of greens can be raised in the pots of varying sizes. A good number of flowering plants such as roses, chrysanthemum, crossandra, marigold, ixora and even jasmine can be raised in pots to the delight of the amateur gardeners. Some hanging pots with ornamental plants and flowing orchids can be maintained to add charm to the living rooms.
Jewels in the crown
Flowering plants have a special place in any landscaping exercise. They are like jewels in the crown. The flowering plants lend the freshness and offer a visual treat. They help to break the monotony of large and dull landscapes.
In humid, sub-tropical plains, a number of hardy flowering plants can be grown. Starting several varieties of roses, fragrant jasmine and neriums of various hues, the list of flowering plants for this region is a fairly long one.
Several varieties of hibiscus, ixoras, special varieties of "nandhiyavattai", alamandas, Cannas, different varieties of crossandra, marigold, chrysanthemum, table-roses, balsams, adennium and several other indigenous flowering shrubs and annuals can be raised successfully.
Some hardy orchids, especially the hybrids of phalaenopsis, dendrobiums, vandas and catleyas and other exotic plants such as crab's claw and birds of paradise can be included in this list.
Several flowering climbers and creepers can be added to this. By creating a suitable micro-climate in the garden, many more fascinating flowering shrubs can be grown.
Paradise on roof tops
Terrace gardening or roof-top gardening is ideal for urban homes with flat roofs. This will not only enhance the beauty of the surroundings and provide the much needed oxygen in the otherwise polluted cityscape, but also bring down the temperature of the building substantially.
The green lawn and the plants (both the potted ones and grounded ones) are efficient harvesters of sun, and they protect the roof from the direct sun preventing the heating up of the building. Besides, the lawn provides a verdant base to cool off in the evening, and other plants can yield fragrant flowers and nutritive fresh vegetables. Inexpensive (Rs. 7 per sq.ft.) and elegant terrace gardens can be laid without endangering the structural strength of the building. What is needed is a good weather proofing of the roof-top with a high grade, quick-setting water-proof cement, and a thin layer of (2 cm to 3 cm) layer of powdered vermiculite and enriched coirpith compost. These light material provide an ideal substratum for the lawn.
Other plants can either be in pots or in heaps of composts laid over a cone of pebbles. The height of heaps is largely decided by the root system of the plants chosen for roof garden. For potted vegetables, suitable stakes and trellis (pandal) should be provided. Provision of adequate irrigation and good drainage is a must for maintaining an aesthetic and productive garden in the terrace.