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project introduction

Case Study # 6

The Salad Bar

A greening cities ideal is sweeping European and Asian cities, and some innovative thinkers are following suit here in Australia. So while many Canberrans are familiar with the green roof over New Parliament House, few of us have been exposed to many green walls.

Innovation is often at the forefront of good design.  One Sydney Landscape Architect, Mike Horne from Turf Design Studio, has demonstrated that growing a mixture of salads, vegetables, herbs and flowers on a wall system is possible.  Horne shares an office with his staff in a modest brick cottage on one of Cronulla’s busy main roads.  From the road frontage the modest suburban building fits in with its neighbours, as bland and unassuming.   Yet a glimpse down the driveway reveals something extraordinary.

Placed in the middle of the plot and rising up from the ground is the Salad Bar: a perfect replacement for the Hills Hoist. The Salad Bar is 2.5 metres high and divided into a series of one by one metre modules.  Horne likens it to a shelving system.  Each of the modules is filled with a soil product, with a wide array of seedlings planted directly into the mix.  From a distance it looks like a giant tapestry.  But it’s better than any crafty creation because you can pick things off it and eat them.  Unlike a tapestry you can change the flavours and colours when required or remove a plant that is failing. It’s a living work of art.

Finely dissected carrot leaves contrast with the jewel like edible flowers of nasturtiums.  A wide range of mints grow vigorously including the tangy Vietnamese mint and variegated Apple mint.  The leaves of the strawberry plants are green and lush. 

Housed at its base is a water reservoir.  Water is constantly cycled through the system via trickle irrigation and evaporation is minimised. 

The Salad Bar was first displayed at an exhibition at the Domain in Sydney in 2003.  There it was well received and recognised as an exciting model for the future greening of cities.

Horne describes his structure as an example of urban permaculture: a melding of technology with ecology.  The Salad Bar is double sided.  It’s axis has been located in Cronulla along an east-west line, so it boasts a sunny northern façade and a shady side.  Surprisingly, and this may due to the local maritime climate, many plants on the southern side perform well.

Interestingly a number of native plants performed well:  Myoporum parvifolium, known as Creeping Boobialla; the native violets, Viola odorata and the popular Brachyscome multifida or native daisy. Exotics like the low growing, Erigeron, with its daisy like flowers and the annual trailing Lobelia were also growing vigorously.  Thrown into the medley are begonias and snap dragons (perhaps a tongue-in-cheek reference to the once favourite bedding plants of suburban gardeners).  Mondo grass, Ophiopogan japonicus on mass create a cascading grass like effect. 

Many of the vegetables and herbs, Horne has grown, could be grown in Canberra, whilst in Winter the salad bar would need to be planted with hardy plants, like cabbages, cauliflowers and Asian vegetables.  On very hot and windy days, the Salad Bar may require additional shading to stop modules from drying out, and crops dying.

The design also cleverly integrates Australian’s love affair with the popular notion of the outdoor room.  Inserted into the salad bar is a deck, with a metal and timber overhead structure.  In its centre is a central eating area with storage cupboards underneath.  It’s easy to imagine a barbeque or griller inserted into the table.  Understandably the staff of Turf Design enjoy spending their lunch times in the rear office garden and are more than willing to help maintain the plants. 



Mike Horne believes the salad bar could become an integral part of future urban environments and be used in residential, commercial and architectural settings.  Solar pumps could be introduced to power the irrigation process and in the residential setting, compost bays and worm farms could be integrated to recycle household and garden waste. Worm castings could be integrated into the growing medium and the liquid manure used to fertilise the plants.

The Salad Bar demonstrates that growing food in a small space, as long as there is sufficient sunshine available is a realistic option for people living in small spaces.  At present, the technology is expensive and beyond the reach of the majority.  As is often the case, if an idea catches on, it becomes mass produced, helping to reduce the cost.

This type of modular system would be ideal for people living in townhouses or for use in communal open spaces in apartments.  Tenants could purchase a system, and dismantle it when their lease was over, moving it on to their next home.  Like water tanks, ACT residents who purchased and operated a salad bar could qualify for a government rebate.

The salad bar is sophisticated and reveals the need to return food growing to our communities.  It’s estimated that a family of three requires an area of 10 x 4.2 metres, or the size of a swimming pool to grow their annual vegetable needs.  With many blocks in new developments around 500m2 or less and some newly released blocks a diminutive 200m2, that amount of room will simply not be available. 

Imagine Horne’s salad bar used as a dividing fence between two residences, replacing the unproductive paling or Colourbond fence. 

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