The city used to present a gradient of grey to slightly darker grey, and perhaps sometimes a hint of brown (if you were lucky). In recent times this has all changed. Step into the concrete jungle and you could find remnants of what looks like a real jungle, with greenery poking out from rooftops, lining building facades and walls.
Fytogreen are a Victorian based company at the forefront of this breath of fresh air. Their work has been seen on Channel Nine’s The Block Sky High, in the busy business district on Bligh Street, Sydney, or the much talked about Victorian Desalination Plant in Wonthaggi.
Managing Director of Fytogreen Geoff Heard said the company started off in the turf industry, giving advice on efficient water use during the drought period. When water levels started rising, they moved into the area of specialised garden solutions.
“We don’t tend to do normal gardens; we don’t work in the soil,” Geoff said.
We grow a lot of our own plants as well, we have a large nursery here where we pre grow a lot of green façade planters, which then get lifted up into the buildings.”
Fytogreen’s nursery takes up 1500 square metres – with plans to expand – it’s where they grow all their own plants and plant species.
While some staff have lost count of how many species they propagate themselves, I’m told it’s definitely upwards of 50.
“We buy what we can, it saves us space but we produce what you can’t buy. Which gives us a much greater plant palette for our projects,” Geoff said.
The 10-acre lot that Fytogreen sits on really is a one-stop shop from a project’s beginning to its installation. They make all their own foam for their roof gardens and planter boxes, design and construct most fittings, and follow a rigorous Research and Development program for each major assignment.
“We develop everything up here so that we know it’s fit for its purpose, that’s what we do here – it’s all about making sure things work,” Geoff said.
Walking through the Fytogreen nursery and greenhouse, you are met with countless hours of trialling, testing and solutions to client’s problems.
Something Geoff said they’re almost ready to release is the floating garden, which reduces algae build up. The dam on their property has nearly a dozen trial floaters, some are sinking a little and some have ultimate buoyancy.
Geoff said these gardens were initially set up to solve a problem, now they are looking to be released into the market next year.
“I had a problem there and I needed to solve it. We tried all sorts of different ways, and then we went to the natural way.
There’s no soil involved in the making of these, we put a number of plants in there to start with and then the rest is natural colonisation,” Geoff said.
Fytogreen’s whole concept of “greening the natural environment” seems to be making an impact; the desalination plant in Wonthaggi – one of Fytogreen’s biggest projects - is the largest green roof in the Southern hemisphere.
The Desal plant was huge for us, it’s 27,000 square metres,” Geoff said.
“Of its type, it’s absolutely unique, there’s nothing else like it out there.”
But what about maintaining these beautiful facades? How do they keep luscious and vibrant all year round, and battle the elements in a strange environment?
With developments like their work on the desalination plant, Geoff said they have a five-year maintenance agreement.
“We like to maintain our projects, it just means we can keep our work looking the way we like to see it, not how someone else might interpret it,” he said.
While Fytogreen carry out regular maintenance on all their major projects, they also irrigate every single one.
“This is Australia, it doesn’t live on a hope and a prayer, we have some pretty nasty days as you know,” Geoff said.
We reduce the water in wintertime, but in the summer time a typical commercial garden will be irrigated 12 times a day, maybe only for 2-3 minutes at a time.
Visiting Fytogreen made one thing clear; these guys like a challenge. It could be said they thrive off it.
The amount of experimental work that goes on in order to come up with the perfect garden solution for a project is commendable, and it seems they always find a way to work with the elements.
“We just finished a project at 720 Bourke Street where we’ve got green facades, roof gardens and vertical gardens in some really challenging conditions.
It’s in the Docklands, so we had to work with low light and wind,” Geoff said.
But each research and development achievement helps the next one, and so their cycle of success continues to flourish, much like their beautifully crafted work.
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