It’s a given that M.V. Nair, chairman and managing director of the Union Bank of India (UBI), is a busy man. But he’s found a way to cope. He often escapes from his wood-panelled office and “numbers, which can be drab stuff”, into his personal oasis on the 15th floor of Union Bank Bhavan at Nariman Point.
The high-rise oasis in question is a rooftop garden, currently blooming over with dieffenbachia, lantanas, Nephrolepis ferns and ribbon grass. When Nair’s in this space, he feels like “I’m back at Priyadarshini Park, where I take my morning walks. It clears my mind.”
Three years ago, the concrete terrace on the Bhavan’s top floor was converted into a garden by then executive director, K. Ratnakar Hegde. And life was never the same again for the top brass of Mumbai’s UBI, whose offices are on that floor. Visitors don’t mind waiting long, either. The floor-to-ceiling windows of the waiting area let in light and a lush view of the garden. Pale blue wrought iron benches, terracotta jars and a garden umbrella are the accessories. “We now invite clients over instead of having meetings at the Cricket Club of India or a five-star hotel. Everyone’s refreshed when they see it,” Nair says.
Like UBI, there are an increasing number of organizations that feel the need to have a calming space in the middle of frenetic activity. “It’s become such a trend that it’s almost like every CEO needs to have a view of a garden from his window,” says Amitabh Teaotia, a Gandhinagar-based landscape artist, whose firm, LPHC Pvt. Ltd, designs and maintains gardens all over the country.
The need to have a view was what prompted Mumbai-based Shivanand Shetty to innovatively design the building where he has his office. The 60-year-old chairman of The Shirt Company India Ltd, an export house, sat down with architect Brinda Somaya and came up with a plan to make greenery the focus of the building, right from the construction stage.
The result is a garden at each level—the three floors, as well as the basement and parking level. When Shetty or his employees need a break, they can enjoy the two waterfalls, lawns, palm trees and trailing bougainvilleas. The cost of Shetty’s love for green came to a crore of rupees, seven years ago, just for the gardens. “It was worth the money and the effort. I love sitting on the spiral staircase and watching the garden,” he says.
Architect Hafeez Contractor partially credits this boom in rooftop gardens to concern for the environment. “People are realizing it’s so much more environmentally beneficial to have a garden than leave the rooftop to be a leftover, wasted space,” he says. Contractor has recently constructed green spaces for the Mumbai office of US-based agricultural biotechnology firm, Monsanto, and British Gas India.
“Rooftop or terrace gardens have many benefits: They’re mostly constructed in space that’s virtually unused, they are higher than ground level and there’s a much larger visual space to play with, so the garden looks better, and it’s free from dust and fumes,” he says.
Contractor says the only precautions to be kept in mind are to ensure that the slab is strong enough, or is reinforced to take the load of earth and water, and to waterproof the area well.
The increased demand from companies to construct terrace gardens was one of the reasons Ahmedabad-based architect Manish Fozdar—who works with his father-in-law, architect Devendra Shah—decided to build one on the 10th floor of their office. “We were fond of having breakfast and tea in our garden at home and we wanted that to continue in the office,” says Fozdar. The 200sq. ft garden has a China mosaic floor, a wooden roof, a marble table with Irani chairs, and palms, ixoras, adeniums, champa and a money plant. It’s perfect for winter meetings, something his clients look forward to, says Fozdar.
The Union Bank garden gets a makeover almost every six months. In January, floral designer and landscape artist Aditi Shroff planted seasonals such as petunias, ornamental cabbage, marigolds and gardenias. “The garden was lush then and there were flowers everywhere,” she says. A month ago, the seasonals were replaced by non-flowering plants such as dieffenbachia and lantanas. “It’s a continuous process,” says Nair. “The change helps bring in newness and freshness.”
Shroff also helped make the garden easy to maintain by filling the beds with hydroton balls—an organic ground cover that doesn’t allow weeds to grow. Despite that, the UBI garden requires a supervisor and two gardeners, who water it daily, while Shetty’s gardens are tended to by a team of seven people. “We use a fertilizer every three months and mow the grass regularly,” says UBI’s maintenance manager Bhupendra Patel. But they all think it’s worth it when the petunias bloom.
Hire the same architect who designed the building to guide you about the load-carrying capacity of the terrace. The weight of wet soil, pots and raw material has to be calculated.
Check the waterproofing. If it’s not perfect, redo it. Two things your landscape planner should ensure: The drainage of the area should be up to the mark, and the waterproofing layer should not be damaged while laying the garden.
The flooring can be of stone, slate, terracotta tiles or any other natural material which gels with green surroundings. The material for flooring under the grassy areas doesn’t matter, as layers of soil, manure and brickbat will cover it.
The grass can be of any variety, but a locally available one is preferable. Try American Blue or Mexican grass. The plant and tree varieties should be chosen carefully—they will be bearing a lot of heat. Try to keep all plants potted. Vegetables and fruit varieties also keep the garden interesting.
You can opt for lightweight weather-proof furniture, wrought iron benches or light metal furniture. Gazebos, pergolas and small water bodies add character, if the structure can handle the load. Also try umbrellas, swings, barbecue and bar counters.