When Aviva Global Services CEO Rajnish Virmani and wife Neelam had to relocate to Pune a couple of years ago, they knew they would miss the tranquil surroundings of their expansive Gurgaon house. In Pune, they picked a bungalow at Clover Hills—a sprawling gated community set on rolling hills just on the outskirts of the city—over other options.
The Virmanis were won over by the vast expanse of planned greenery, thickly wooded avenues and walking paths, and an abundance of flowering trees and the fact that when they looked out of their window, no matter what the season, there would always be some greenery and flowers.
“Both of us have always lived in proximity to nature, and given the demanding nature of Rajnish’s work, it is always nice to stay in a place where we can cherish the few hours that we do get to see each other,” says Neelam, a former schoolteacher who now spends hours in the family’s personal garden, which she says is a bonus over the community’s landscaped vistas.
Others in the community, too, love the way the project has been designed. For instance, tucked away in one corner of the community is a Japanese garden with temple flowers blooming all around and a gurgling stream running through it. While residents don’t use it often, there are some who take time off from their hectic lifestyles to meditate in the calm of the place. A few months ago, some families got together and had an impromptu picnic at the Japanese garden, where everybody had a good time catching up with each other, enjoying the great weather and some good potluck.
“Home buyers are increasingly aware of the possibilities and are demanding a certain quality of life style and developers have been quick to catch up with the expectations,” says Kruti Kumar Jain, executive director, Kumar Builders. The company is setting up several such residential projects in Pune that cater to the needs of the upscale buyer in search of a global lifestyle.
For instance, Kumar Kruti—a cluster of seven high-rise residential complexes in the heart of the city—will have 10 different kinds of speciality gardens including aroma herbs, bamboo, a Koi pond (type of Japanese garden) and orchards, among others.
With 750 apartments and its residents sharing the space, Jain says the attempt by Singaporean company, Site Concepts, has been to create small niches where people can have an area of tranquillity. Half the eight-acre project is devoted to landscaping.
“We roped in Singaporean landscape architects since they are exposed to global lifestyles and are attuned to keeping their work to befit their reputation as an international tourist hotspot,” says Jain, who points out that as Indians travel widely, their aspirations are becoming more global.
It is not surprising, then, that real estate developers are loosening their purse strings to invest in premium landscaping details for their upcomingprojects. Developers say landscaped grounds are a selling point that new residents actually look out for.
Mantri Developers Pvt. Ltd, a Bangalore-based realty firm that typically has 80% green area and just 20% built-up area in all its projects, has hired the services of Singapore-based landscape specialist Belt Collins, as well as local landscape consultants, Master Plan.
“We maintain all properties for three years after completion of a project, so residents actually have a zero-maintenance period. After that, it is really up to the residents on how much they want to spend, says Hari Menon, vice-president, sales and marketing, Mantri Developers.
According to P.K. Magu, Unitech Ltd’s executive vice-president (planning & architecture), buyers now expect “the environment around their homes to be good so we try our best to give them the best. Nowadays, it’s a must-have.”
On an average, Unitech spends only 0.6% of the construction cost on landscaping but it adds immense perceived value. The company plans to spend Rs15 crore on landscaping at its Grande project in Greater Noida, the New Delhi suburb.
Projects are rushing to attract premium customers. At Frangipani, an apartment complex in the heart of Pune city, DS Kulkarni Developers Ltd has created an oasis (almost 50,000 sq. ft ) of greenery built around the famed beauty of the Frangipani flower. At more than Rs1 crore for an apartment, the developers have provided everything that residents can possibly think of, including 22 fountains, three water bodies including swimming pools for adults and children and a community jacuzzi that can be used by 8-10 people simultaneously. Singapore’s Site Concept has executed a pergola made out of eco-friendly Ferocrate, which resembles wood, and quaint bridges over the water bodies. Jogging tracks and terrace landscaping add to the charm of the place. “The attempt is to use sustainable architectural practices as much as possible and make the environment for residents as close to nature as possible,” says D.S. Kulkarni, chairman, DSK Developers.
Similarly, at Water Front, an upscale residential property set in a 500,000 sq. ft area in Pune by Panchshil Developers, fully grown trees and plants, some of them costing upwards of Rs40,000, were transplanted onto a 70,000 sq. ft landscaped area so that residents could enjoy it the moment they actually moved in, instead of having to wait for years for the garden to come up. “We typically spend Rs200 per sq. ft on landscaping and use a lot of water elements in our work,” says Atul Chordia, managing director of Panchshil Realty, who has set up a number of premium projects in Pune. Among those who own Panchshil homes is writer Shobhaa Dé. The Water Front property will have fully-grown 30-40ft tall trees placed all over so that residents are surrounded by greenery.
However, it all comes at a price for the residents and not all are happy about it. In Bangalore, the monthly maintenance that residents pay for their apartments can go up by at least Rs600 for a 1,200 sq. ft apartment depending on the quantum of green space.
Vasanth Shetty, 60, bought a two-bedroom flat in Purva Heights on the upscale Bannerghatta Road in south Bangalore in 2003. The complex has wide lawns in the central recreation area and green cover all round the building that includes shrub-lined pathways. Developer Purvankara Projects Ltd, which built the complex, maintained it for the first two years. Over the last two years, however, monthly maintenance that Shetty pays has inched up to Rs2,240, with further revisions on the cards. It is a steep amount for a retired person to pay, he says.
Typically, maintenance cost per sq. ft of landscaping is estimated to be around Rs30. Hard landscaping—interlocking ti-les with strips of grass in between—requires less maintenance than open green space that is more costly to trim and keep clean in the long run. At least a quarter of the average monthly maintenance of Rs2,000 paid by each resident is spent on keeping the green landscaped areas neat.
But there are enough takers and planned landscaping hasn’t escaped even hill stations that already boast of an enviable ambience. At Kumar Builder’s exclusive bungalow society at Panchgani, a beautiful town in western Maharashtra, residents can look forward to living in harmony with the undulating hills of the region without concrete walls to demarcate individual properties. Instead, a variety of plants and trees will do the job. Residents will have the privilege of a personal waterfall—sustained by harvested rainwater—and facilities for rock climbing and a replica of the famed Shalimar gardens. “The beauty of landscaping is that utility services such as stormwater drains can be hidden; everything is camouflaged,” Jain points out.
Archana Rai in Bangalore and Shabana Hussain in New Delhi contributed to this story.