Mr Price rooftop garden – A green creative space in Durban’s innercity

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Wednesday, July 17, 2013

<p>The Mr Price Group rooftop garden as seen from a walkway that is used to access some of the offices (Image: Amanda Botes).</p>

The Mr Price Group rooftop garden as seen from a walkway that is used to access some of the offices (Image: Amanda Botes).

A desolate thoroughfare on the roof of the Durban Station has been converted by the Mr Price Group into a rooftop garden that serves as a green oasis where staff can relax and let their creative juices flow. The roof slab that has been converted is part of the property that the Mr Price Group occupies for its offices. “The rooftop garden is a green space where our staff that work really hard and long hours can actually go and just relax for a little bit. The garden is well used by staff to have meetings, chats and career discussions that would normally happen in an office, or around a meeting table”, says Yanni Vosloo, Merchandise Director at Mr Price Home.

The reason behind the development of the garden was more for aesthetic reasons than sustainability reasons, says Vosloo, and plans to develop the space had been discussed at a senior level but were too costly and run of the mill. When Vosloo was challenged by the CEO Stuart Bird to think of something creative to do with the space he came across the Priority Zone Rooftop Garden and immediately knew that a rooftop garden would suit the area. “When I walked into Priority Zone Rooftop Garden I thought there is no other option, our space is much smaller but this is it.” Discussions with Marc Nel from Topturf, the landscape company that designed the Priority Zone Rooftop Garden, ensued and Vosloo successfully presented a proposal to the board at the Mr Price Group “I gave Marc at Topturf a budget and he came up with the proposal and design. I then presented it to the MD’s and our CEO. They all loved it and I got the go ahead there and then.”

The design of the Mr Price Rooftop garden

The rooftop garden hosts a number of different plants that are used in the canteen and provides seating for staff to enjoy the garden (Image Source: Amanda Botes)

The site of the rooftop garden, connects the different Mr Price Group divisions, as well as the canteen, and is therefore well used as a thoroughfare. The designer of the garden, Amy Gwillam from Topturf, therefore designed the rooftop garden to include a number of pathways that link the different offices. The pathways are made of highly durable recycled plastic.  Vegetables, herbs and succulents have been laid out in beds, drums and tyres. According to Gwillam the garden is a radiating design that doesn’t block water from flowing into the drains. Benches from recycled plastic have also been incorporated so that staff can enjoy the garden.

Food for the canteen

Vosloo explains that the harvest is used in the canteen and therefore plants are chosen depending on what the canteen requires at that time, “At the moment we are not planting a lot of vegetables, we are growing a lot of herbs and salads, stuff that the canteen can actually use. We did have aubergines but it takes quite long for them to grow and they don’t really have an end use into the canteen so after the first  cycle of those we replaced them with more salad type stuff…it has got to be functional for us.”

The introduction of strawberries has been popular amongst the staff. Vosloo says, “I think the strawberries are what people enjoy the most, they don’t make it into the canteen at all, I think people are just chewing them as they go which is part of what we wanted. We wanted it to be an interactive space.”

Vosloo adds that they also decided to plant some water-wise indigenous succulents which have attracted birdlife and insects. “It was desolate before and it has been quite nice to see some birds other than pigeons on our roof,”says Vosloo.

Communicating with staff

In order to get buy-in from staff and to get them excited about the project, Vosloo decided to develop a video-clip that was broadcast to all of the Mr Price Group staff at each of the five divisions.  “Once construction started we developed a video for all our internal staff on the thoughts behind the garden to get buy in from everyone at Mr Price,” explains Vosloo. The clip was filmed at the Priority Zone Rooftop Garden and showed staff the possibility of what the Mr Price Group space could look like. This video helped to create awareness about the garden and encouraged a respect for the space.

Vosloo adds that staff have responded well to the garden and are able to enjoy the interactive space, “It has been running for eight months now and the response has been phenomenal, staff love it, I don’t go down there often enough at all but at least it’s the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see when I leave…it’s amazing.”

Key considerations for the Mr Price Group Rooftop garden

The following key areas were considered when the Mr Price rooftop garden was initiated:

A leased property

As the Mr Price Group rents their office space they had to get approval from the owner of the building before constructing the garden.

Engineering and weight bearing

Before the construction Vosloo had to get an engineer in to approve the installation and undertake an assessment of the weight bearing capacity of the roof slab. This was “the only hiccup we accounted along the way and delayed the installation by about two months” says Vosloo. The assessment found that a soil depth of no more than 30cm could be accommodated and the Jojo tanks that they had hoped to install on the slab to collect rainwater were too heavy.

A movable garden

Because the space that the rooftop garden occupies is in front of access doors to the building’s main air-conditioning turbines, the garden had to be movable. Vosloo explains “The garden is completely movable, none of the structures are permanent. We can break down that garden in a fairly short space of time if we need to get access to the air-conditioning turbines if there is an equipment failure.”

Management:

Vincent Mazibuko, the gardener from Topturf that looks after the garden, checks the lettuces to see how they are doing (Image Source: Amanda Botes)

The Mr Price Group decided to outsource the daily maintenance of the garden to Topturf “We have got a maintenance contract with Topturf that was initially for six months that we have renewed. In my opinion it is quite a nominal fee and I would be hardpressed to employ someone with the knowledge to maintain the garden and to get them to go out and buy the replacement plants and keep it seasonal, I couldn’t employ someone to do that for what we pay Topturf to do for us. They replace plants, they keep it seasonal, and they check in with us fairly often to see that we are happy,” says Vosloo.

Vincent Mazibuko, a gardener employed by Topturf to manage the garden, says that the garden is watered two to three times per day and that they plant what the canteen requires. They also have an indigenous section which requires less watering. Mazibuko says that staff need to be educated on how to harvest the vegetables and not to harvest everything at one time in order to keep the garden looking good.

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Amanda Botes