"Ahhh. That’s lovely." We all like those attractive pink blossoms, the intricately shaped shrubbery, the tulips that burst from a planter on the sidewalk. Something about landscaping, in our minds, takes the American, white-picket-fence dream to its ultimate fulfillment, even in a densely populated, urban setting.
But back to capitalism. Did you know landscaping makes excellent health and economic sense, too? Back when Leave it to Beaver’s TV family typified suburbia, a flower garden or planter box was just something that looked pretty. Today, plants and fountains are functional.
To Your Health
Trees and other plants can act as a buffer against noise and pollution. They can serve as privacy barriers. They can help make your co-op or condo a more peaceful haven. The Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA), for instance, reports that a buffer of two-foot thick cypress between a home and a busy street can reduce traffic noise by five decibels. And by storing carbon dioxide–along with other noxious elements–and generating oxygen, plants help residents breathe easier.
For all the ooohing and ahhhing that an aesthetic landscape may inspire, it’s true that swaying trees and manicured lawns can help alleviate the stress that’s all too common in our society. In a metropolitan, multi-family situation, the harsh urban picture from a window can be softened (or intercepted entirely) by carefully designed plantings.
According to Michael Madarash, president of KokoBo Plantscapes, Ltd.,in Belle Rose, NY, "With trees, meandering brick pathways, areas of green, lush turf and planting beds filled with shrubs and flowers, a community takes on the feeling of a neighborhood. Inhabitants are drawn outside to watch the birds, have a picnic lunch on the lawn or sit under a shade tree and escape the heat of a hot summer day. Additionally, people have a great sense of pride when looking outside their window and seeing a beautifully landscaped piece of property. In Manhattan, [people are] so thrilled when their ordinary terraces become a tranquil and relaxing escape from the urban environment."
The idea of more successful stress management sounds good, but so does affordable health care and solar-powered automobiles. While these developments may be decades away, a modest investment in intelligent landscaping can reduce your building’s utility expenditures and increase the appraised value of your apartment.
Trees and shrubs provide shade in the summer and buffer against heat-stealing wind in the winter. By the ALCA’s estimates, carefully situated shade-casting, wind-breaking trees can lower a home’s heating and cooling costs by as much as 20 percent–a particularly relevant point today, when "energy crisis" is a hot phrase in state capitals and on Capitol Hill. In the city, trees mean a degree of compensation for the heat collected by pavement and brick.
Studies have indicated that well-landscaped residential units have higher occupancy rates than their unvegetated counterparts–hinting that landscaping encourages consumers to lay their money down.
Starting From Scratch
Don Sussman, president of Town and Gardens Ltd. in Manhattan, explains that condos and co-ops in Manhattan may have any of three types of exterior space in which to concentrate landscaping: the sidewalk area, setback and/or courtyard space designed with plantings in mind, and rooftops. If there is no setback, he says, building entrances may be enhanced both by planting street trees in tree pits or by adding planters. Rooftops and interior areas may also benefit from plants; these areas are often easier to work on, Sussman points out, as they don’t require planting permits from the city before work can commence.
Unless you’re pretty confident of your own ornamental horticultural abilities, it would behoove you to involve a professional each step of the way, from planning and design to installation and maintenance. Just putting a tree or flower into the ground doesn’t necessarily increase a property’s value. In fact, a misstep could result in a cost to cure.
"Interior plantings have been proven to reduce stress, increase work productivity by up to 15 percent, and cut down on the ever-threatening problem of indoor air pollution," says Madarash. He adds, "In Manhattan, where else can you find a large palm or a thriving fichus tree besides an indoor area?" When seeking a landscape contractor, ask for credentials and references. If the company is young, the former will carry the greater weight, so look for an academic background or other formal training in landscape design or ornamental horticulture. If the landscape contracting company has been around for a few years, you’ll want to see some examples of on-the-ground successes. Also, make sure your contractor can provide you with proof of his or her valid insurance and licensure.
Tulip and Treetop Tips
The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) offers these additional tips for maximizing the value of your landscape investment:
• Plan your landscaping for multiple functions, not only aesthetics. Energy conservation and songbird habitat are potential results of the plant materials you install in or around a condo.
• Photograph your trees and other landscape features while they’re in their prime. This way, you’ll have documentation for any losses to weather, disease, vandalism or other influences.
• Become familiar with how landscaping is addressed in insurance policies. For example, the maximum allowable claim for any one tree is usually around $500.
For tax, insurance and legal purposes, keep detailed records of landscape/real estate appraisals.
Few people would argue that flowers, ground covers, ornamental trees, fountains, walkways and picnic tables add considerably to a person’s quality of life. What fewer people understand is that the values of such features extend well beyond the aesthetic and can mean money in the bank. Landscaping is an investment that requires a bit of planning and know-how, but one that can yield multifaceted returns.
Phillip Meeks is a contributor living outside New York.