A Herb Garden in the Sky
Nineteen floors up in the sky is an unlikely place to find a flourishing herb garden, but one actually does exist atop The Westin Cape Town. Granted, you’re not going to find rows of composted greenery lining the hotel’s roof, but what you will find is a rather unique vertical pocket garden that is blooming with all manner of herbs and edible flowers.
The hotel bases its operations on a ‘six pillars of wellness’ philosophy and the herb garden ties perfectly into ‘eat well’. The menu at On19 restaurant is rooted in natural, healthy cuisine that uses responsibly sourced ingredients.
One hundred percent of the herbs and flowers that feature on the menu are sourced from the rooftop garden.
It can be easy for city chefs to become quite removed from where ingredients come from, especially in a hotel the size of The Westin, where most ingredients would be ordered in. The rooftop herb garden means that these city chefs get the opportunity to pick fresh, nutrient-dense herbs and small veggies from the garden, knowing that they have been grown with minimal intervention and have no carbon footprint. As Executive Chef Grant Cullingworth told us, this keeps these young chefs in touch with where their produce comes from and makes their use of these ingredients more mindful.
The garden was designed, and is managed, by Herbologist Marcelle Warner of Vertical Veg, who also sells the cleverly designed vertical garden pocket panels. The pockets are hung from the walls and then planted with soil as with a regular garden. They are watered by means of a drip system – plants that require little water go at the top of the wall and those that require more are lower down. The water drips into the top pockets, those plants use what they need and the excess drips down into the next plants and so on. Any excess water is then pumped back to be recycled and used again. The garden even features a small-scale wormery – kitchen waste is fed to the worms and their castings are used as organic fertiliser.
Marcelle works with the kitchen team to plant only what is in season and the chefs plan their dishes according to what will be available. They have also been taught how to harvest what they need, so the plants remain intact and can keep growing properly.
The garden is not without its challenges; the space is small and high and it took some serious planning to convert this otherwise unused area into this flourishing garden. Surprisingly the small area is affected by urban ‘microclimates’ – areas where the aircon extraction units are situated experience warmer air temperatures, where other areas have been destroyed by frost during winter. It’s taken a few years to get to know the ins and outs of the space, but the efforts have been rewarded. The garden boasts all kinds of herbs from tarragon and basil to stevia and chocolate mint. It also has beautiful edible flowers such as marigolds, snapdragons and violets, which all feature on the menu for flavour and aesthetics.
It just goes to show that no matter what your space and climactic limitations, growing your own is possible. This difficult space has been converted into a thriving little garden that supplies the restaurant and serves guests 365 days a year. Perhaps it’s time to relook at that unused section of your balcony, or that odd wall where nothing quite fits, and see its true potential.
Delicious produce is grown in healthy, living soil. #Harvesttotable series brought to you by Reliance Compost.