If your heart aches for a piece of green, landscaping can be of help

The lush greenery makes cities in Kerala far more liveable than those outside, but is the fast pace of construction threatening to tarnish that reputation? As nature gets overlaid with bricks and concrete, the lushness, in many cases, becomes nothing more than a figment of imagination. Hence, in the cities in the State, green-starved households are desperately feeling the need for landscaping.

So the work of architects now starts at the gate as they try to create landscaped spaces for people looking for green and peace.

A western idea seeping into the imagination of many clients here is that of the patio, essentially a living room outside the house, cocooned in a natural space.

“Right from the aesthetics of how we make that space in relation to other elements in the garden and the specifications of the structure, all takes time to form,” Suresh Thampi of Thanal Landscapers in the city says. A patio could be just a simple sitting area with sparse furniture or be a grand “Mandapam” or an arched granite structure.

“It seems to be a reflection of a return to a more traditional sensibility in how we perceive spaces. Older structures celebrate the outdoors, and clients now are willing to spend that much extra to make the outside as striking as possible,” Mr. Thampi says. He has renovated old houses whose owners now increasingly say no to covering old wells or such elements but want to leave them more conspicuous.

While landscaping augments a natural ambience, hard structures are an integral component in achieving that end. They could be in the form of pathways, rockeries and miniature hillocks with the counterpoint of a water feature. “We convince clients to avoid using interlocking tiles and concrete paving since it contradicts the philosophy behind natural landscaping. There is no point in having ponds and wells if you pave most of the land since it would decrease the amount of rainwater that could percolate through and recharge them,” Mr. Thampi says.

Themes

K. Unnikrishnan, who runs Ullas Landscape Designers based in Kayamkulam, gives landscaping themes — Mughal, Japanese, English Season and so on.

“For instance, a Japanese garden is equated with peace. It could be informal in placement of objects in an undulating area, lending a more wild and easy coexistence of both natural and artificial elements. Symmetry defines the Mughal theme, with ponds and fountains placed to geometric perfection on level land, and a characteristic of an English garden is the smooth lawn, fringed by large trees,” he says.

It is imperative that an architect studies the land from different angles and holds long discussions with the client to reach the ideal solution even if it means going through several blueprints. Mr. Unnikrishnan does not believe that any theme unaltered would fit a particular area, as, he says, everything is in relation to the house structure, an insight of how it would fare in the future and the client’s wishes.

There is thought that goes into every single aspect right from the kind of plant and lawn. For instance, for a Baker-style or a traditional structure, bamboo, oleander (Arali) and hibiscus are the more suited vegetation.

“Setting up the garden is actually the easy part. It’s the maintenance that is demanding, but most landscaping companies, including Thanal, have a separate wing that offers such services. But this is mostly to do with lawns,” Mr. Thampi says.

There are clients who even ask for terrace lawns and here, a whole different set of techniques come into play — an internal pipeline, drainage network and more labour go into elaborate landscaping above the ground level.

From an architect’s point of view, devoting so much focus to landscaping is an extension of the “green era” that the realm of architecture has woken up to. The structure, components and design of buildings underline energy efficiency and sustainability and architects tend to define landscaping as a careful, studied science and art. One of the challenges is posed by confined spaces and how designers must be able to work from areas spanning 50-sq.ft to acres.