With the paucity of space in high-rise apartments, there’s been a rise in the demand for vertical landscaping.
The Maximum City with minimum space has been constantly battling rapid urbanisation and the loss in green cover. With block sizes shrinking and a shift to apartment living, the desire for greener spaces is drawing Mumbaikars towards their terrace gardens—big or small. As a result, there’s been a rise in vertical gardens that use the limited space available, especially in urban settings. “There’s been an increase in the number of people taking an interest in residential landscaping over the past few years. They are looking for different ways to incorporate nature into their lives and living space,” says David Corrie, Director of Nature Nurturer. Especially, in a city like Mumbai with space constraints, David points out that the awareness of not necessarily having a large space or sprawling gardens to be able to afford a green space in homes is increasing. As a result, there has been a rise in high-rise residential gardens over the last five years.
Horticulturist and director of Vriksha Nursery Pvt Ltd, Shaan Lalwani, who has been setting up home and terrace gardens for over a decade, explains the two types of clientele he gets. “Some want to grow their own food or herbs while others want to improve the quality of air. There is a huge wave of people wanting to have plants, herbs or mosquito repellent plants in their houses. The retail market has gone through the roof in the city. When talking about wholesale market, builders also want to include as much green space as possible,” adds Shaan. With the space crush and lack of privacy, people are opting for natural plant panel as a screen for their walls. Others want to grow lemons or other vegetables in their balcony. The horticulturalist reveals that many are even opting for feature plants (a large single plant) as a statement piece.
The Wall of Green
Be it covering the wall receiving maximum sunlight or wanting to have a vertical kitchen garden, the craving for hanging green panels is on a rise too.
In a bid to optimise the balcony space, many are even doing away with pots and planters that occupy premium real estate. “Firstly, space is precious and if occupied by pots, it is no good. Secondly, placing pots means manual watering. But with vertical garden it is just a matter of a switch,” says Prateek Tiwari, CEO, Living Greens Organic who also specialises in a portable organic farming panel.
In the last few years, the number of people wanting to grow vegetables at home has doubled every year. And there has been a rise in the number of people opting for green walls. But one of the major problems in many residential spaces is the lack of direct sunlight, which leaves the residents with little option of opting for shaded plants inside the house. “Vertical gardens are in huge demand because it fits anywhere, one doesn’t have to worry about the space or the sunlight,” says Swati Khandekar, a landscape architect with Garden Craft.
According to the experts, one of the advantages of a vertical garden is that it even cuts back the electricity bill as every single drop of water is recycled in a vertical set-up, a reason why architects and interior designers are advocating for green walls in residential complexes.
The specifications of vertical gardens range from setting it up typically in the balcony with specific flowers and colours adorning the walls. Prateek specialising in a portable organic farming system—a modular 10ft long and 4ft wide farming unit inbuilt with a drainage system, automatic timer, organic fertiliser, and sprays— says the biggest hurdle was changing the mindset of people. “People were under the assumption that growing vegetables requires a lot of effort, specialised knowledge and a lot of time. It has taken us seven years to keep hammering at the base of these assumptions and bring them crumbling down,” he adds. And today people appreciate the fact that spending 20 minutes on the portable farm can get them abundant vegetables.
While the desire for a green blanket has captured people’s imagination, the wish to utilise the space with too many varieties makes the job of these urban landscapers challenging. Swati reveals that clients often ask for many things in a small space. “So, the initial task is to see if all the requirements can be adjusted in the space at their disposal,” she says adding that in a small space if there are more benches than plants, it is an injustice to the space.
"We either visit the space to see the light conditions before giving our suggestions or clients come down to the nursery with images of their space," adds Shaan. Recalling setting up a Bollywood director's terrace in Bandra, he says they carried eight massive 20 feet tress onto the terrace via a staircase. The horticulturalist has also done a terrace in Juhu that now grows cocoa, guava, cherries, mango and tamarind.
It is also factors like the size of the space, amount of sunlight, elevation that plays an important role in the overall design and aesthetics of a space. "There is great potential in doing up a balcony, the possibilities are endless given the size of the space we have to work with. Terraces have the advantage of a larger area that allows us to be a bit more creative in how we utilise the space," says David.
Residential vs Commercial
While the size is an obvious factor, one basic difference between residential and commercial spaces is the price point. Prateek mentions that a commercial client will be investing more to make his space a head turner, whereas a domestic client looks to cut corners. "Questions like, 'can you get us cheaper walls? Or reduce the number of plants that will save the money on the bill or can you reduce the height of it' are thrown at us. We work with the spirit of an artist. Working for the residential client is painful for us," he rues. But for Swati, it's the other way round. For her, while commercial spaces are restricted and fixed on their specifications, there is flexibility is residential designing.
However, the biggest challenge is setting up a green zone in old buildings, which lack in water holding capacity. Another challenge, David points out is trying to find a balance between the client's wishes with something that is practical while being aesthetically pleasing at the same time.
"You have to be careful in plant selection, soil quality, and know how the clients are going to maintain the plants. You have to think of the client and not give them something, which is too complicated. We give plants that can help them in the longer run, not those which will take 60 per cent of their time. You also have to be careful if someone has a breathing problem in the family which requires one to avoid certain plants," lists Shaan.
While David advises clients on the day-to-day upkeep of plants to ensure they're in bloom all year round, they also provide maintenance service allowing them with timely fertilisations, aeration of the soil, trimming of leaves, pruning, pest control, etc.
Shaan, however, generally gives care sheets with proper care and maintenance guidance. Prateek further informs that with IOT operated sensors one can water their walls in the city while sitting in an office or perhaps another country.
All this, some regular water, love, and care can add wonders to your balcony. And as they say, gardening can be both, a rewarding and pleasurable experience, so sit back and take the time to enjoy your private garden.