Green Living, sustainability

Gardening goes green

Text Tess Paterson Photographs Adriaan Louw, Benjamin  Wetherall Photography, Connall Oosterbroek, Naashon Zalk, supplied THE RISE OF THE GREEN WALL ‘Green walls are so much more than a trend, they’re a new way of living,’ says Durban-based installation artist Brendon Edwards. Vertical gardens are just one of Brendon’s media and he’s experimented with over 100 plant species to create natural, often edible, and ever-changing artworks. For Bizerca’s new premises in Heritage Square in Cape Town (see Hot Spot on page 112) Brendon created an edible green wall bursting with plants such as oregano, basil, parsley, fennel, lavender and rosemary. ‘We called it off-the-wall dining,’ he says, ‘and used an agricultural-inspired pattern that traverses the wall like a field. The LED lighting is low energy and low heat but provides the necessary lighting spectrum. The beauty of these walls is that you can install them in your kitchen or outdoors, and the food yield from a 25m² area is substantial. The trick is to know which plants flourish where. Green walls have enormous implications for townships, where a rooftop or even a fence can form the garden’s base. As the water keeps recycling via a tank, it’s extremely water efficient, too.’ Brendon adds that in urban contexts, especially, green walls enhance air quality, insulate buildings and substantially reduce noise pollution. ‘It’s all about what gardens can do for people. With escalating food prices it would be wonderful to see vertical walls extending into local communities, whether it’s public parks or large blocks of flats.’ THE OUTDOOR OFFICE With an unprecedented mix of connectivity and calm, it’s not surprising that the Rooftop Workplace of Tomorrow in the UK won a Silver Flora Medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012. Designed by Patricia Fox of Aralia Garden Design, it’s cool on a number of levels – not least of which is the concept of giving stressed-out corporates a breath of fresh air. ‘We decided to take it to the rooftop for several reasons, one of which is the abundance of wasted space in city centres,’ explains Patricia. ‘Rooftops allow you to expand the existing office space while majorly contributing to urban greening.’ Keeping the concept ‘relevant to now’, a tablet or iPad shape inspired many of the design elements. ‘The rounded square became an icon that we used throughout the garden, from the furniture through to the pruned shape of the Buxus. We wanted to maintain a simplicity of form and space that would allude to the future but would not be too hard and edgy. By block planting in a colour palette of green, silver blue and white, we infused a feeling of calm and tranquillity,’ says Patricia. Technology wise the garden offers Wi-Fi connectivity throughout, as well as concealed weatherproof sockets and plugs. The cube building sports a huge LED TV, which was used to display stunning botanical close-ups during the show. ‘We envisage that it would be used for PowerPoint presentations, films or music videos. We also played recorded birdsong throughout the garden, and you suddenly felt that you were miles from a city. Garden spaces feel completely different to a normal office – they’re uplifting and rejuvenating, and we believe they can really encourage and support creative and lateral thought.’ EDIBLE URBAN-ROOFTOP GARDENS ‘When it comes to growing healthy food within cities, the opportunities in Cape Town are entirely untapped,’ says Stephen Lamb, the founder of  Touching the Earth Lightly. In partnership with the City of Cape Town’s Environmental Resource Management department, Stephen and his team developed a pilot project on the rooftop of 44 Wale Street. ‘We wanted to use the heart of the city bowl to show how the “non spaces” can become innovative green islands that re-connect us to nature,’ he explains. ‘The rooftops are ideal bases for the construction of easy-to-assemble timber structures that provide support and wind protection for veggie gardens. The alien timber for these decks and pergolas was sourced via the Department of Water Affairs’ Working for Water initiative, and we’re growing a variety of organic veggies and micro greens in movable, recycled milk crates.’ In this savvy business model, the high-value, high-turnover produce would supply the many restaurants in the area, obviating the need for the cold-storage transport and its astronomical carbon footprint. ‘The rooftops can become spaces of learning, growing, innovative design and job creation for the inner-city poor,’ says Stephen. Once established, Stephen sees these areas as peaceful green meeting spaces where busy Capetonians from all walks of life can come up for air. ‘We’re talking prime urban real estate – lost spaces that with corporate investment can be put to use highly efficiently. “Going green” is so often interpreted as a guilt message. Our approach is to use design to change this, to have fun in the process and to feel good about tackling the challenges of food security and unemployment,’ says Stephen. UPLIFTING THE COMMUNITY We’re keeping an eye on Stephen Ritz, an enlightened teacher from the SouthBronx who brought the first indoor edible wall to his impoverished community in New York City. Ritz taught his students, many of whom are homeless or in foster care, to grow seedlings. These future farmers now have the skills to design, plant and install urban veggie gardens, over 100 of which have been rolled out in New York public schools. Not only has the food quality soared in their own cafeteria but these students are in demand for designing profitable green roofs in areas such as The Hamptons. Find out more at AQUAPONICS Aquaponics is a self-sustaining system that combines aquaculture (the cultivation of fish) with hydroponics (plants grown without soil), says Sonita Young of Young Landscape Design Studio in Joburg. Natural bacterial cycles convert fish waste into nitrates, which the plants can absorb. The plants’ roots in turn remove harmful elements, such as ammonia, and the cleaned water is re-circulated back into the fish tank. ‘It’s the healthiest, most water-wise way to grow plants, vegetables and fish,’ says Sonita. ‘One of the greatest benefits is that you don’t discard your water, so you use around 90 per cent less than you would on a soil-based vegetable garden. The natural bacterial cycles also negate the need for chemical fertilisers, so it’s a safe, natural and easy way to grow fresh produce,’ says Sonita. Size wise the tank systems range from bespoke versions, in which large tanks can be incorporated into timber decks, to DIY countertop varieties, which are perfect for apartment balconies and townhouse gardens. ‘Goldfish, koi, carp and tilapia all work well,’ adds Sonita, ‘and once you’ve planted a standard tray of edible seedlings, expect to harvest your salads within three weeks. Adding plants such as Calendula, Viola and borage will attract pollinating insects to your garden.’ Visit to learn more about the necessary equipment. This article was originally featured in the January/February 2013 issue of House and Leisure.