With his expertise in transforming outdoor spaces into masterpieces ranging from balconies to lawns, designer Kunal Maniar tells us how to have all the basics in order before you start your landscaping journey
Lush gardens, serene courtyards, and vibrant green spaces are not mere adornments but pivotal components of interior design. The art of landscaping weaves nature seamlessly into the fabric of our living environments.
Crafting natural spaces that range from petite urban balconies to expansive suburban lawns, landscape architect and designer, Kunal Maniar has added green to the lives of celebrities like Mukesh and Nita Ambani, Shahrukh and Gauri Khan, Mahendra Singh and Sakshi Dhoni. Here, he is sharing his insights into the essential elements one must consider when embarking on a landscaping project. From plant selection as per the climate to hardscape design, his recommendations will guide both novices and seasoned garden enthusiasts alike. Whether you're contemplating a simple rejuvenation of your balcony or an ambitious transformation of your sprawling estate, read on for inspiration and practical advice. Edited excerpts for the interview:
Kunal Maniar: Climatic conditions dictate a plant palette, materiality, viability of décor elements and most design decisions to a large extent. For instance, sites that receive heavy rainfall need to be considerate of drainage to avoid waterlogging. In places with water scarcity and arid climate, xerophytic planting and water conservation strategies need to be prioritised. For exposed sites that receive strong winds, one of course would need to avoid using lightweight landscape elements, fragile artworks, and light fixtures. Simultaneously, landscape designs can affect climate—dense planting, the presence of water, lighter coloured hardscaping all contribute to the creation of a cool microclimate.
KM: As a rule of thumb, I don’t like more than twenty percent of a site to be lawn space. I prefer dense planting as it promotes soil health, helps to conserve water and contributes to microclimate creation. Generally, I try to minimise impermeable hardscape. Gravel and stone slabs laid loosely on sand without cement and mortar fixing allow water to percolate into the ground, which is great because it recharges groundwater stores, reduces stormwater runoff, and contributes to local flood mitigation.
KM: Limited space shouldn’t be viewed as a constraint, the tiniest of balconies can be transformed into the lushest, thriving micro-environments. All you really need is a nice selection of planters, perhaps even hanging baskets with ferns or other species, and your preferred form of seating, be it a coffee table or a swing. You can think about using plants to frame the view or to screen it off. I’d always recommend choosing native plants that support local bees, birds, and butterflies. If your priority is a kitchen garden, maybe you could even consider investing in a hydroponics set!
KM: I always tell people that fruit bearing natives or herbs are a great starting point. The sense of satisfaction that they provide immediately gets you interested in nurturing plants and then you feel a natural pull to plant more species. Succulents are great if you don’t want to invest too much time into maintenance. Of course, one mustn’t forget to check how much light and wind exposure your plants will be subject to whilst curating your planting palette!
KM: I think every gardener should have a robust working knowledge of how much water is needed by each species. I’ve noticed that overwatering is super prevalent, in cases where the plant palette focuses on xerophytes or natives, the water required is quite minimal. Schemes like drip irrigation can be put in place for greater resource efficiency. Another vital aspect of stewardship is taking care of soil health, this could include regular mulching or other site-specific means.
KM: A term I use to describe my design approach is ‘studied negligence,’ which involves handing back to nature the power to assert its own design statement freely. Nature can’t be contained, it follows no rules, and this fact feeds into my planting plans. There is so much discourse lately on concepts like ‘re-wilding,’ and nature ‘re-colonising’ spaces. Despite working largely in the private or luxury sector, I care about these ideas, and they influence my work. Nature is the artist, and as a landscape architect, I merely play the role of an enabler.
KM: The Highline in NYC, Nigel Dunnett’s plant palettes, Barragán’s forms and colours, Bawa’s Lunuganga. I think the list can go on endlessly, all travel comes with new discoveries and sources of inspiration.
Speak to our design professionals