It takes a mind shift to recognise the importance of connecting your home or office to nature. That link is at the heart of true wellness, for you, your family, your employees and colleagues.
Today’s architecture takes its cues from nature, where architectural vision mimics natural shapes and forms, makes use of natural materials, and integrates design features that link the built environment to the natural one.
Awareness of the inestimable value of human-nature connectivity has been growing over the past few decades, but the constraints of lockdown have opened us up to nature’s role in our mental and physical well-being, with scientific proof that this connectivity promotes good health
Bernice Rumble from Land Art Studio unpacked the concept of biophilic design: “It’s used in the building industry, to increase the occupants’ connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature, and space and place conditions. In a nutshell, biophilic design offers health, environmental and economic benefits for building occupants and urban environments, with few drawbacks,” says Bernice.
Biomimicry is another related concept. Translated as “looking to nature for knowledge”, it’s a driving force for most architects and designers today. Bernice describes it as, “a conscious decision in design. You use nature as a model, where natural forms inspire you – it’s a visual sensitivity to nature.”
Nature has lessons. “Nature runs on sunlight,” explains Bernice. “It only uses the energy it needs. It always fits form to function, recycles everything, rewards co-operation, banks on diversity, demands local expertise, and curbs excess from within. Nature is able to balance itself. We’ve lost that balance, and we need to regain it.”
Clearly, if you’re designing and building from scratch, it’s easier to orchestrate. New eco estates focus on rehabilitation and sustainable living – their designs are based on the premise that nature promotes wellness and health. And it’s not simply about including cycling trails and outdoor gyms. Nature itself is the healer, so it’s about making that connection when you’re cycling, and equally, when you’re at work or at home. “As landscape architects, one of our leading principles is to breathe vitality into the spaces we design. We design for vitality.”
Zululami Luxury Coastal Estate on the KZN North Coast is a prime example of biophilic design. The more subtle the building, the more unobtrusive, the more visually pleasing: “This building is ‘broken up’, so it’s not one heavy mass,” says Bernice. “There’s an inner courtyard too, so it’s possible to ‘work’ outdoors.”
Orientation matters. Whether for people or plants, the building’s orientation is a major consideration. “Making use of natural light is important, not only because it promotes wellness, but by maximising daylight, electric light usage is minimised. Natural ventilation is just as important – far better air quality than air-conditioning.”
The Zululami gatehouse has a lush green growing wall, and an exquisite roof garden with plants trickling down softly into the courtyard. Installation of these should always be done by specialists, as their knowledge and expertise matters, in particular, the roof garden, because of the required irrigation/waterproofing. There are various DIY green wall fittings on the market today, but best to start small and do extensive homework.
The gatehouse is also constructed of wonderfully raw, natural, locally sourced materials, which play a major role in integrating spaces with nature, and maintaining constant visual contact with nature outside when you are indoors.
What do you need to begin your reconnect with nature? “There are so many ways to begin. It could be a decision to create a collection of staghorn ferns on a timber screen, or orchids on a tree. You could decide to give over a quarter of your lawn to plantings which attract birds, bees and butterflies,” suggests Bernice.
But start with a quick analysis of exactly where you live – does your property fall into the category of coastal grassland or coastal forest? It’s important to plant trees and shrubs endemic to your region. All plant choices must consider aspect (sun/shade), wind, salt air, root conditions and seasonal changes – a great indigenous nursery or landscaper will help you there. As Bernice says, “We are so fortunate to live in a sub-tropical region, where we have a vast plant palette at our disposal – our plant choices allow variation in form, texture, colour and size.”
It’s straightforward and easy to get going – and it’s so worthwhile. Apart from the soft visual pleasure, there’s something so satisfying when those birds, bees and butterflies choose you.
All plant choices must consider aspect, wind, salt air, root conditions and seasonal changes.
WHERE TO START
Bernice Rumble offers her choices of coastal garden plants to enhance your garden.
Trees with flowers:
- Buddleja saligna – False Olive
- Caodendrum capense – Cape Chestnut
- Dias cotinifolia – Pompon Tree
- Dombeya rotundifolia – Common Wild Pear
- Erythrina caffra – Coast Coral Tree
- Grewia occidentalis – Cross Berry
- Halleria lucida – Tree Fuchsia
- Nuxia floribunda – Forest Elder
- Ochna natalita – Natal Plane “Mickey Mouse” Bush
- Strelitzia nicolai’ – Wild Banana
Trees for small gardens:
- Allophylus natalensis – Dune Allophylus
- Chionanthus foveolatus – Pock Ironwood
- Clausena anisata – Horsewood
- Deinbollia oblongifolia – Dune Soapberry
- Dovyalis caffra – Kei Apple
- Euclea crispa subp. Crispa – Blue Guarri
- Olea europaea subsp. Africana – Wild Olive
- Loxostylis alata – Tarwood
Groundcover and shrubs to attract birds, bees and butterflies:
- Aloe species
- Aptenia cordifolia – Baby Sun Rose
- Asystasia gangetica – Creeping Foxglove
- Barleria obtuse – Bush Violet
- Bulbine Spp
- Chlorophytum saundersiae – Weeping Anthericum
- Geranium Spp
- Hypoestes aristata – Ribbon Bush
- Jasminum multipartitum – Jasmin
- Leonotis leonurus – Wild Dagga
- Tecoma capensis – Cape Honeysuckle