Atrium Landscaping....

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KBW
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Atrium Landscaping....

Post by KBW » April 6th, 2013, 12:27 am

Most of us have some place in our houses, no matter how small, which can be converted into a good lanscape. The purpose of this thread to share a similar experience in which I tried to convert an apparantly useless place into a lush green atrium, containing very cheap, low maintenance plants.


A friend of mine, who has a wonderful house, had an atrium designed in the centre of the house. It was a narrow gully in fact, about 8 ft wide and 40 ft long that divided the house in two parts. Windows of common rooms and bedrooms opened in the atrium, were kept of full size and had one way see-through glasses installed. That meant that the person in the room could see outside while looking from outside, the glass acted as a mirror and nothing would be visible. The roof of this atrium was made of fibre glass, allowing strong light inside but no direct sunlight.

The idea was excellent and the place was ideal for growing plants. My friend, who is very fond of plants but doesn’t have much knowledge about them, hired a professional landscaper who specialised in making rockeries. He installed a water circulation system, constructed a couple of water falls, left a 2.5 to 3 ft wide water way in the centre of the 8 ft wide atrium leaving hardly any space on the sides. The limited space on the sides had soil in it. After constructing rockeries and installing some expensive lights, he stuffed the sides with expensive plants which were of course supplied from his own nursery (most of these professional landscapers have their own nurseries or are commercially affiliated with some nursery). The pots were shabbily placed inside the soil, making them look as if the plants are growing in the soil. It looked good, as they say (I didn’t see it at that time). After that, the landscaper charged few hundred thousand rupees and went away. However, after few months plants started dying and within a year, it was a complete mess. The landscaper was called again who told them that they did not take care of the plants that’s why they died. He removed the dead plants, planted new plants and charged them another half a lack rupees. While leaving he offered that he can send a team every month or fortnight to take care of the plantation but my friend thought that the charges he demanded were too much. He therefore said thanks and requested the landscaper to give him the tips to maintain plants. The landscaper obliged. Despite following the tips religiously, the plants again started dying after few months and it was again a mess. My friend, rightly so, was very dejected on the whole episode.

During one of my visits, knowing my interest in gardening and landscaping, my friend requested me to put the atrium right but also said that now he does not have lacks of rupees to do it. He wanted a solution which was good looking, cheap and durable. Professional landscaper had told my friend that if he wants something good looking and durable, it can’t be cheap and he will have to spend money. I accepted the challenge and along with my friend, his sons, one mali and two other servants, started the job. My friend, seeing my passion, announced that he wouldn’t mind spending money again if it is going to be something good.

We worked mostly on weekends and during evening hours and it took us around a month to complete the project. I did following major things during this project.....

1. The rockeries and water circulation system were fine so nothing was done in that area and it was left as such. The waterfalls and water way were also working fine so nothing was done there also though the stones lying haphazardly were rearranged.

2. I saw that the soil was saline and nothing desirable would have grown well in that soil. Therefore, I prepared a soil mix with bhal and lot’s of leaf mould and replaced complete soil inside the atrium. Soil preparation is a basic thing which many of us overlook before plantation.

3. I observed that the area did not allow proper air circulation and it gets really hot in Okara in May, June and July hence a need for proper air circulation. Though the landscaper had installed two heavy duty exhaust fans to ensure air circulation; those exhaust fans, besides being heavy on electric bill, produced lot of noise and one felt as if he is sitting inside a factory. I therefore removed two panels of fibre glass sheets on the roof and raised them one feet by adding four pillars. The openings were covered with wire gauze to stop entry of insects. This was done at two places and ensured that the hot and less moist air which rises up being light, goes out of the opening and is replaced by heavier cool air which will immediately settles down. Water in the rockeries will maintain the desirable humidity.

4. Most of the old lights were reused. A few spot lights were added in the required areas.

5. Now the plantation. I decided to go for good quality, beautiful looking, low maintenance and robust plants. Fortunately in Pakistan, such plants are normally quite cheap. They are cheap because either they are local or very well acclimatised in our areas. They survive all weathers, propagate easily and are therefore in abundance in our nurseries; hence cheap. They are beautiful because they grow well and maintain a lush green state most of the time. They are low maintenance because they are well acclimatised and are robust. Most of the plants bought therefore were the cheapest available in the nursery. Only few expensive plants were purchased. They were expensive not because they were rare but because they were of large size. I wanted few plants to create an immediate effect hence large size plants.

6. THE WHOLE FINESSE DEPENDED ON CORRECT PLANT ARRANGEMENT. These cheap plants were to be arranged in a manner that collectively, they present a lush green scenery. The window mirrors provided me an opportunity to multiply the effect, ie, by planting less plants and making using of their reflection through the mirror, I could make it look as if lot of plants have been planted. However, the location of plant was critical to ensure reflection through multiple window glass mirrors. That was done by arranging plants here and there and finally, we were able to achieve a setting in which every plant could be seen at least twice and from certain angles, three or four times, through its reflection in the window glasses. In simple words, if we were to plant 50 plants, 100 to 150 plants would be visible at one time, when seen through different angles, due to their reflection in the mirrors.

7. Last thing was permanent water arrangement. My friend had a motor installed at his house which was probably at 100 feet. He also had the proper water, commonly called sarkari pani or committee wala pani, which comes through tube wells at over 400 ft, though the supply was not reliable. We made use of the water tank already available and created a source for watering the plants through sarkari pani. Water from 100 ft in Okara is still quite saline and contains many undesirable minerals which keep getting accumulated in the soil and make it saline over a period of time. That is why it was important to use water from 400 ft which is much cleaner. Mali was strictly instructed never to use the water from motor and only to use sarkari pani for watering the plants.

8. Most of the plants were planted in soil and it was ensured that they all should have similar water requirement as it is impractical to have plants with different water requirements at one place and then trust mali’s wisdom on this account that every day he will only water a plant that much which is needed. And if the plants are closely planted, osmosis process in the soil will ensure that water is spread all around, even if one is watering a particular plant more and another one less, depending on their need.

9. Those plants which had different water requirement or it was intended to keep the size of those plants under control, were not removed from the pots and whole pot was dug inside the soil. They were however less in number and most of the plants were planted in the soil.

In the end, after a month’s work, we came up with something which looked quite nice. The best thing was that the whole plantation was worth 12000 Rs only, far less than what my friend was expecting. The total number of plants in the atrium was around 250.

To my satisfaction, atrium is doing well and in the next episode, I will share a few pics too.

Sorry for a long writeup..... :oops:

Munir
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Re: Atrium Landscaping....

Post by Munir » April 6th, 2013, 1:46 am

Great job done. It will be nice if you could list the plants you used.

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Re: Atrium Landscaping....

Post by KBW » April 6th, 2013, 2:21 am

Sharing a few pics of the atrium described in above post....

Image
The atrium as seen at night. An effort has been made that the area should not be over lit and spot lights should just provide enough light to illuminate the intended plants, not all the plants. The plants used are very common ferns (only one expensive fern), cheap palms, syngoniums, dracaenas, Ixoras and few crotons. Some of the plants from the house were also used, mostly palms / Philodendron. Most plants are of small size (big plants are expensive) and it will take 2-3 months for this atrium to give a lush green look. I will eagerly wait to see that.... :roll:

Image
Another angle. Please note the effect created through reflection of the plants as well as the waterfall on the other side through the mirror. This is what I meant by multiplying the effect. And look at the majestic looking Rhapis palm in the back ground.

Image
The other corner. Being close to water fall, it is basically a fernery. The lone Chamaerops humilis is the specimen plant in this area. It has been kept in the pot otherwise it will keep growing bigger and make a big size clump. Also the soil in this area will be watered well due to ferns which is not needed for Chemaerops. It is watered after 7-15 days. Look at the reflection...


Image
The only expensive fern used is in the centre. Rest all are the cheapest available Blechnum and Nephrolepis ferns of few types. A Nephrolepis exaltata (Boston Fern) has been planted in the wooden log. In time, it's frond will hang down and give a fascinating look. Variegated Nephrolepis have been planted near water and after a while, their leaves will be falling in water. The errect nephrolepis have been planted in the rare. In due time, the will form a stunning back ground and with their runners running through the moist soil, will multiply in great numbers, filling the complete area with lush green ferns.


Image
A spare wooden log was used to make a bench and placed in the atrium. Few Dracaena Maharaja with a Sterlitzia in the back ground (hope it flowers).The area between the log and the water fall has been mainly covered with dwarf ixoras which will provide colour most of the year. Nasturtiums have been planted in abundance to fill the gaps. The steps infront of the wooden bench are natural rocks. Previously, the landscaper had covered all soil with white chips and thought that it looked great. It was the first thing I threw out. I wanted the rockery to look natural. :shock:
Fallen leaves from the backyard have been collected and used as mulch. The orange colour of guava leaves has enhanced the looks plus in the long run, they will recycle and improve soil texture. Mali has been strictly instructed not to remove the dead / fallen leaves from the atrium. Nothing goes out and everything will be recycled, unless there are fungus infected leaves / branches. Minimum of chemical fertilizers will be used in this plantation.

Image
Same area from a different angle. Near the water fall where the area is likely to stay damp, philodendron and chamaedorea cataractarum (cat palm) with syngoniums planted in the ground. In time, syngoniums will cover the pots visible in the pic. A lone english ivy is has been planted just next to water fall. And look at the reflections. Even the wooden bridge connecting the two parts of the house through atrium (not commonly used) is giving a great look.

Image
Closeup of the same corner.

Image
The waterfall. In due time, philodendrons and english ivy will cover this water fall, like the water fall located opposite.


Image
View of the other waterfall. This rangoon creeper is one of the two plants that I retained from previous atrium. It is planted in ground.

Image
The area opposite to ixoras and wooden log. Mass planted with syngoniums, a couple of Dracaenas and lone Sterlitzia in the centre. The corner near the waterfall has been mass planted with cat palms which during course of time, will have their long leaves falling close to water way. What a sight it would be.... and look at the reflection in he mirror. It took me quite sometime in arranging the plants in a manner that their reflection is always visible from most angles.

Image
This area ahead of first waterfall looks thin at the moment but has been mass planted with syngoniums and blechnum ferns. It should look lush green in a few months. And look at the dead leaves.... and the reflection of the opposite rockery.


Image
View of the atrium from the other corner. This area has again been mass planted with ferns and syngonium basically, with a few dracaenas in the centre along with a wooden stem. I am hoping that in two months this area will be lush green.


I know this is a big place which many of you might not have and I also had the advantage that masonry work was already done. But a similar idea (not including water falls etc) can always be implemented at a small scale in an isolate corner or may be a balcony or veranda in our houses. When there is a will, there is a way....

What I like about this arrangement is that 80% of the plants used in this arrangement are cheapest avaialbe plants which most of us would not even like to buy (this includes me also :mrgreen: ). But I have always believed that gardening and landscaping is not about buying most expensive / rare plants. In fact, it might be the opposite in certain cases. I have seen places where a single cycad will cost equal to or more than the whole arrangement in this atrium but the overall look of that area with expensive plants might not come anywhere close to the effect of this arrangement with cheap arrangement. IMHO therefore, it is all about arranging the plants in a manner that it looks more natural and using healthy / robust plants which do not need much of maintenance. If an arrangement needs lot of maintenance, it is bound to fail in most cases as we will never have enough time to maintain it. It's all about creativity and I believe most of the gardners / plant lovers are inherently creative. Am I wrong???

Thanks for your time... :)

Farhan Ahmed
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Re: Atrium Landscaping....

Post by Farhan Ahmed » April 6th, 2013, 7:14 am

WOW WOW

Amazing, Landscaping at its best.
Job extremely welldone. No words

Muhammad Arif Khan
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Re: Atrium Landscaping....

Post by Muhammad Arif Khan » April 6th, 2013, 7:26 am

Fantastic, remarkable, how do you keep the water cleen (free of Algae).

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Re: Atrium Landscaping....

Post by KBW » April 6th, 2013, 9:01 am

Farhan bhai, thanks a lot Sir.

Arif sb, Sir thanks for your kind words.
Some algae will be there and should be accepted as part of the landscape. This is how it will be in nature also. I am hoping that in four to five months, this atrium will develop it's own sort of micro ecosystem and within that overall setting, Algae will have it's own role to play. There will be insects too, both crawling and flying type and we don’t intend making any extraordinary effort to remove them, unless they get out of proportion or become dangerous. But I do not foresee algae getting out of proportion to an extent that we have to take special measures to remove it. The atrium was filled with clean water and mali has been trained to water the plants in a manner that excessive water does not mix up with the waterfall water. The waterfall is operated for 10 minutes everyday and the circulation of water will keep ensuring that it remains clean, oxygenated and free of bad smell. A few Koi have already been introduced in the water and they feel happy as they have lot of area to play around. I also wanted to introduce a few pairs of finches in the atrium but there are doors which open quite often. All guests in my friend’s house are being attracted by the atrium as they can see it through windows of many rooms and they keep coming in to see the plants.

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Re: Atrium Landscaping....

Post by KBW » April 6th, 2013, 9:15 am

One more thing. My friend, at the end, was willing to spend more money and buy some fancy plant species as he felt that these cheap plants will not create the effect desired. I stuck with the most common plants as they are well settled in our environment, are robust hence disease resistant. Over the years, these plants have developed their own mechanisms to fight diseases and neglect. In fact, over the years, they have developed symbiotic relationship with insects and bacteria etc. Plants provide them place to live while they do certain things which protect the plants from dangers / diseases. I have a firm conviction that a healthy lush green Nephrolepis exaltata (fish fern) which only costs 25 Rs will ultimately look far better than a very sophisticated and expensive cultivar of Asplenium nidus (bird’s nest fern). Asplenium will need lot of care which we can not provide and would therefore ultimately get some disease. Fish fern will thrive healthily and in the long run, will enhance the beauty of the area more than the more expensive and elegant looking bird's nest. :)

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Re: Atrium Landscaping....

Post by Munir » April 6th, 2013, 12:53 pm

KBW,simply splendid & most fascinating--- infact beyond words; equally great is the explanation.
To reduce the role of Mali,why don't you consider installing drip irrigation ? Adding finches is a great idea; reconsider even if it requires having a double door or a separate cage/ partition; with drip irrigation none of these may be required. Godspeed !

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Re: Atrium Landscaping....

Post by jdashraf » April 6th, 2013, 4:03 pm

Amazing, beautiful, artistic and more importantly, the most economical. Job very well done. Your friend is very lucky to have friends like you, KBW... :)
Javed Ashraf.

Farhan Ahmed
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Re: Atrium Landscaping....

Post by Farhan Ahmed » April 6th, 2013, 7:50 pm

Presently the greater impact is of the grand setup.....which must be very costly as you said

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