Fytogreen (Australia) was set up on 2002 by Geoff Heard (Managing Director), Philip Mack ( MD of Uretek Mainmark) and Hans Mol ( MD of Aquaresin Technologies) and we
began the first steps to their successful journey within Australia. The company’s aim was to provide a soil amendment solution and hydroponic growing media to help promote more sustainable planting. The business grew gradually within the next couple of years, welcoming Heard’s brother, Mike, and National Sales Manager Stuart Tyler – both with their own contribution to the development of Fytogreen. “Mike set up Fytogreen Queensland; I started in 2004 from a science industry background and with Geoff we started a research program to develop gardens for the built environment,” says Tyler. “We were importing a resin that we were manufacturing a lightweight foam for, which is a soil amendment.
Back in those days, there were a lot of water restrictions around Victoria; this reduced the amount of water for establishing plants when you put it into soil. From that, we were using those lightweight soil amendments for roof gardens as well. We were supplying roof garden soils, soils amendments for general soil, and hydroponic growing media. When we started our research program, we developed the use of that knowledge of soil manufacturing to develop our extensive green roof garden system, which is all our soils and all the components that go into it. We also developed our pre-grown green façade system from that research program – pole planters, column planters. We have floating gardens, fytoarbours and, of course, our green wall systems all come from that on-going research program. There’s a whole range of gardens on the built structure, which is our focus and direction of our company.”
In 2007, Fytogreen installed their first commercial vertical garden, which Tyler considers one of their main turning points. Following this installation, Heard purchased the company’s head office at 3 Webbs Lane in Somerville, and construction began on the accompanying shade houses. Fytogreen was also happy to welcome Botanist and Garden Designer Erik van Zuilekom in 2009, who helped to further expand the existing knowledge of ecologically sustainable green structures. “We landed the largest roof garden project in the southern hemisphere, the Victorian Desalination Roof Garden, which is a 2.7-hectare roof garden,” says Tyler. “Coupled with that was the largest Australian green wall installation, 1 Bligh Street, which is 377 square metres; that all fell on the same year, and the company went from three or four guys fooling around in a shed to a cast of about 20 to accommodate those two significant projects.
From then we’ve developed a whole range of new products with our research program, with some significant installations ranging from 2010 to now. We’ve also grown into the green façade area where we pre-grow a lot of the vines or climbing trellises, and we’ll crane them into position. We’ve expanded our greenhouse and shade house facility to about 2,500 square metres, we have about 30 permanent or full-time staff, and we’re just installing the largest breathable green wall in Australia – an internal wall covering 463 square metres of a single atrium, ranging from level 7 up to level 21, in an indoor tower (NB: Remove Collins Square-yet to get permission to use the name) in the Melbourne-Dockland area.”
Through their research and design process, Fytogreen’s ultimate goal is to plant once, making sure that every green roof, wall, or façade contains plants that are going to thrive under any possible conditions that they will be exposed to; their commitment to reducing costs and wastage while still ensuring quality has managed to set them apart from the competition, even after a seemingly large expansion in the market. Almost 10 years ago, when they first began working on green walls, Fytogreen was amongst a handful of companies providing a similar service to their customers. Now, while more companies are emerging daily, not all of these industry newcomers possess the same drive and commitment towards ecological sustainability they have been able to survive upon.
“One of the things we see with a lot of the green walls is that they’re mostly using soils,” says Tyler. “Soils age, the organic content gets used by the plants as nutrients, and all the fines and small particles fall to the bottom, meaning that they have to replenish the soils regularly – meaning they have to replant regularly. When the growing media (soils) do not not last as long as the plants then we deem that as not ecologically sustainable. I don’t see other green wall, green roof, or garden on built structures suppliers doing this. A lot of them are designed by others, supplied by one company, and maintained by another company; we don’t do that. We link design through to delivery and through to maintenance – that’s a way to be able to be taking responsibility for the garden, and then you’re forced to do ecological, sustainable design. We see it as paramount. It’s a distinguishing thing for us, and it’s why we’re here for the long-term.
As people become more discerning with green walls and green roofs and the survivability of them, they see a layering on the market. You’ve got the cheap and cheerful ones – they’ll always be around – but for those that want walls that are going to be long-lasting and are going to enhance the building for a long period of time, there’s another layer of suppliers that do that. A few companies who have actually even finished supplying green walls have started to realise the problems that they’re creating in terms of keeping the walls alive. It’s costing them a lot of money, and there’s a few companies that disappeared already because of that. So, in the long process, as people become more and more aware of what it is to do a green wall and what’s required to keep it green, it’ll distil us down to those who have a sustainable, long-term vision of it – as opposed to those who just want to do it quickly. I see that as still evolving in the industry because it’s still a very pioneering, new industry here in Australia.”
Along with ecological sustainability, Tyler believes that networking will always be a vital tool for the marketing of any company, and it has certainly been critical to the prosperity of Fytogreen over the years; their association with various industry partners, as well as the 202020 Vision, has helped them spread the word about their unique approach towards expanding green space within Australia. “It’s all very well having the bright ideas, the great products, and the processes; but, if no one knows about it, you’re sort of doing it for yourself, as opposed to for everyone else. We’re kind of lucky that a lot of our clients – which are usually builders, architects, developers and homeowners – tend to talk about our walls to others. Our walls are doing a lot of the marketing for us, so networking through that is very important for us. We have a lot of tier-one builders who now use us repeatedly from their experience in the past, so that type of network is also critical for us.
The 202020 Vision is quite an interesting initiative. I believe it started out as private industry, but it’s canvassing people throughout the industry – anyone connected to gardening on built structures, or greening the built environment. I commend them for that, because there’s a lot of institutes out there who don’t do what the 202020 Vision are doing, and that’s promoting it; getting the positive messages out there of what gardening on built structures can do for you. They’re exactly on the same page as what we are from Fytogreen, and any support that we can give the 202020 Vision helps us, and helps everyone in the industry. So, that’s one of many reasons why we’re supporting them as much as we can.”
As a personal friend of Heard, Tyler was offered his position with Fytogreen back in 2004. When he first joined the company, he could see the underlying potential for its growth, and negotiated the launch of the research program. Since then, he has been present for all of its defining moments, hoping that its prosperity will continue as long as client demand and staff dedication are widely present. “When we set up the research program, it was exciting,” he says. “It became a journey for all of us here, and it also helped us to do something about the environment. My background in the science industry was always comfortable with research, and taking that research knowledge and understanding to the market – that’s where I’ve sort of built up my position here in Fytogreen.
I’ve been here from the grassroots, through the research and everything, so I know the products backwards and forwards, and then taking that to some significant potentials and basically setting up the sales. A number of those would be the Desalination Green Roof, 1 Bligh Street, Medibank – where we’ve got green roofs, green facades that were pre-grown, and green walls. A more recent one is the Botanica Apartments up in Brisbane; that green wall project started as a real investigation into the market by the developer. He looked at everybody, before he decided on using Fytogreen. He’s so happy with us that he’s telling everybody around about Fytogreen. He’s our best marketing tool and being well-connected to the development industry in Brisbane, and on the back of that first project we’ve got another five green walls that we’re already constructing – and there’s more to come. This has helped Fytogreen to get into the Brisbane market because of that.
It’s been great being part of a very small company that started with a few great ideas, humble beginnings, and now it’s growing into a staff of 30 – it’s quite a buzz being a part of that. The environment is our single largest issue, and people power is how we can address it for the future generations. So, my question to everyone is, what are you going to do about it? Here, we’re trying to do something in the building industry to assist. It’s not the whole solution; it’s only a small part of it. Everybody needs to take part in protecting the environment and people power has to drive it.