Recent years have seen enormous growth in urban greening as buildings in urban centres have come to life with vertical gardens, trailing plants and rooftop hideaways.

While this proliferation of greenery is not always immediately obvious, particularly where gardens are installed on private property such as offices and apartments, there is one area of the public realm that does reflect this growing trend: hospitality venues.

Walk into most any café, restaurant or bar today and you are likely to find some form of vegetation. Whether it’s a vertical garden, a balcony hideaway, hanging baskets, or herb-filled planter boxes, more and more venues are coming to realise the value of adding vegetation to their space. Plants and gardens can transform often bland indoor settings, creating an inviting experience for patrons to come back to. For many hospitality venues, these spaces become integral to their brand and identity.

However, installing gardens in hospitality venues does present a rather unique set of challenges. Access for maintenance and patron use of the space, irregular opening hours and different leasing arrangements, as well as changing site conditions, all require creative solutions which respond to the specific needs of the venue.

Choosing the right design, product, and plant

Understanding the key drivers and conditions of your site is the first step to creating garden elements that last. While ready-made planter boxes and instant garden features have their appeal, all too often these are planted without consideration for the size and depth of the system, the conditions of the site, and the right type of growing medium. This can result in a short-lived visual impact which quickly leads to plant loss. Investing a little time and expertise in plant and product selection will save a lot of time and money in plant replacement down the track, and avoids the negative impact of sick or unsightly vegetation. A site inspection prior to design and installation will ensure that any new garden features will be responsive to the site, regardless of the size or style of garden you require.

Consider your patrons

When designing or adding garden elements, consider the ways in which patrons use and interact with your venue. Screening plants placed between tightly packed seating can turn a cramped space into a pocket of privacy. Plants soften hard walls and edges, creating an illusion of space and adding to the ambience and attraction of a venue. Plants which bloom at different times of year create visual change without having to redecorate, and plants also continue to grow, enabling venues to invest in juvenile plants which increase in impact and value.

“People keep coming back because they are charmed by the space and are curious to see how the garden constantly evolves. Each time you visit, the changing plant life dictates that you will be treated to a significant variation on your previous experience,” said rooftop bar manager Adam Bunny.

Including edible plants also enables venues to source ingredients on site, and certain plants can help to remove odours and air borne pollutants from the room. All of these factors contribute to the impact of a venue, attracting new patrons and return customers alike.

“The garden design and plant selection pushes boundaries and aims to be fresh and risky, with outcomes that surprise and stimulate,” said Bunny. “We wanted to make the gardens at Loop Roof front and centre – so that Melbourne people might stumble upon a genuine garden oasis in the heart of the city.”

There is nothing quite like escaping the relentless noise of the city to discover a garden hideaway. If faced with the choice of two venues, one with and the other without vegetation, most people will choose the more natural space. It’s called biophilia, and it relates to our innate human tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. This desire is magnified in the city, where opportunities for such connection are limited by a lack of green space.

This experience extends not just to patrons and customers, but to staff as well. Retaining skilled and friendly staff can present a challenge and losing staff can lead to significant costs for hospitality venues. By creating an attractive and enjoyable working environment, venues can improve staff well-being and reduce stress in the workplace.

“Staff seem to thrive in such uplifting outdoor environs,” Bunny said. “Hospitality environments are generally indoors and can be oppressive. But Loop Roof provides a wonderful backdrop for staff to their workspace and we find staff are very proud and protective of the gardens.”

Plan for maintenance

All gardens and plants require some level of maintenance. Careful design, irrigation and plant selection can certainly reduce the frequency of maintenance required, but all living things require some care, and where gardens are installed in unusual conditions, maintenance plays a crucial role in their success.

For hospitality venues where these gardens are installed for visual impact, maintenance is even more important. Regular checks and maintenance visits enable you to identify any issues with plant performance early, keeping the garden healthy and attractive, and guarding against loss of patronage and revenue due to plant failure.

Planning for maintenance should also consider hours of access for the site. Different types of hospitality venue have different business hours. A café may require an evening maintenance schedule outside of business hours, while many bars and restaurants require morning maintenance, before the venue opens. Balcony or rooftop garden venues must also consider access for installation and removal of plants and substrate.

Leasing arrangements

For many building owners, investing in permanent green infrastructure presents an opportunity to increase the value of their real estate. However, for venue owners or managers who lease a venue, less permanent garden elements may be desirable. Fortunately, there is a growing range of mobile garden systems available that can be easily removed and reassembled elsewhere. Such systems also present an opportunity for venues to test the impact of plants and gardens on their customer base.

For venues with a more long-term vision, a conversation with the building owner will often prove fruitful. With growing support for green infrastructure and an increasing awareness of how gardens increase real estate value, building owners are often supportive of tenants who install green infrastructure, and may be willing to provide some funding to achieve this.

There is little doubt that incorporating plants and gardens into building design can add enormous value, both to a building and to our experience of these spaces. As new garden systems and technologies continue to emerge, the possibilities for design will continue to grow.