Be Local, Stay Native to Save Precious Water
CHENNAI: Dog days, agni nakshatram — call it what you will, but water is at the centre of public discourse. In Rajasthan, it is said villagers in the Thar desert can converse about a pot of water a whole day! Today social forestry is a huge movement there to battle the barren landscapes. A sustainable landscape strategy must include a lot of green cover. Extensive planting alleviates urban heat islands, improves air quality and brings urban societies together through community gardens. However, whenever a large green space is proposed either to the municipality or a private homeowner, the first question is: From where and how is water for the plants coming ?
Smart planning for usage of water in landscape design goes a long way. While creating a planting plan, it is absolutely important to consider the species, whether it is native to the region or not, the density and the micro-climate factor.
The choice of plants is perhaps the single most important and the first step towards being sustainable. Native plants are those that have adapted to a limited environment or particular soil and water condition. An ecosystem consists of interactions between plants, animals, and micro-organisms with their physical and climatic conditions.
Native plants form a part of this ecosystem or co-operative community, where several species or environments have developed to support them. Examples of such dependence include the existence of a plant because a certain animal pollinates the plant and that animal exists because it relies on the pollen as a source of food. This is nature’s evolution towards sustainability! So importing just the plant species from a far off exotic destination pretty much orphans the plant!
The other green advantage to having native plants is they only require extensive watering for the first few months after sowing. Later, they are adjusted to the microclimate and ecosystem and will flourish with little to no watering for the rest of their lives. There are many such plants that fit the bill very well for our hot and humid tropical climate. As natives always make better choices than the more common landscape plants available in a nursery, consider a garden ‘audit’ in your home to weed out the more water intensive species. Include among your choices small plants, varieties with small or narrow leaves, grey or silver foliage and also leathery, hairy, curled or fuzzy leaves. Large leafed plants require and transpire more water due to their larger surface area. Leaves that reflect more of the sun’s radiation (example: gray or silver) usually lose water through transpiration at a lower rate than green leaves. For example, small fine-leafed local palms have minimal water needs compared to larger leafed imported palm species.
It is no longer sensible to import exotic species of flowering plants that guzzle water. Many native grasses and easy growing plants are seen in most of the landscapes surrounding public spaces and large residential developments in cities. Be local, stay native and save water! That would be fashionable!
(The writer is an architect, urban designer, dancer and chief designer at Shilpa Architects)