Project name: Bo.lan Edible Garden
Project type: Design & Construction; Sustainability; Permaculture
Chefs Duangporn Songvisava (Bo) and Dylan Jones (lan) opened Bo.lan in 2009. It was soon recognised as one of the best restaurants in the city, with its reputation cemented when it was awarded a Michelin star in 2018.
Since its inception, Bo.lan has had a green and environmentally sustainable vision, always thriving to reduce waste by implementing innovative solutions and sourcing farm to table organic produce. In line with this philosophy, Openspace was commissioned to design and build an edible garden for the restaurant.
The Bo.lan edible garden
The concept for the design of the garden leaned on the 12 principles of permaculture, as well as a rejection of the idea that an edible garden should only focus on usability. Instead, we strived to create an edible garden that not only serves Bo.lan’s kitchen but is also a learning ground for all visitors – whether they are the restaurant’s guests or simply people who wish to learn.
The garden focuses on the natural process of growing food and cohabiting with all living things. We created eight different zones based on the sunlight that the area received, the direction of the waterflow in and on the ground, the proximity to the restaurant, and whether the area is visible from the dining room. To pick appropriate plants and to ensure the quality of the soil, we relied on advice from two knowledgeable and experienced urban farmers: Nakorn Limpacuptathavon (Prince) and Sunatthalinee Sinprom (Jig) who have more than ten years of experience working in sustainable agriculture in Thai society.
ZONE A: The House Front Garden
This is the first area the guests will visit: it is a welcome area with a plan of the entire garden for people to get situated and understand the different elements and areas. The House Front Garden is shaded by big trees and therefore most of the plants grown here require little sunlight. This zone has a mixture of plants that clean the air located on the edge of the zone – closer to the parking – as an air buffer, and edible plants that require more sunlight which are placed towards the inside of the zone.
ZONE B: The Tiered Garden
The main feature of this area is the keyhole garden made from upcycled wine bottles – further reducing the restaurant’s waste.
The keyhole garden has four tiers, each getting a different level of moisture, soil humidity and sun, hence supporting different types of plants. The two highest tiers receive a lot of sunlight and have drier soil; the third tier is shaded and has a high soil humidity; the lowest tier features plants that grow in water, surrounded by small fish to avoid mosquito eggs from hatching.
Because of the tiered design, the keyhole garden is accessible to people of different ages and abilities, such as elderly people who cannot bend down or walk long distances, children who can reach the lower tier, as well as wheelchair users who can reach the middle tiers.
We are also growing pandan on the sides to help store water in the ground. Once again, there is a buffer zone to filter pollution from the street on the edge of this zone.
ZONE C: The Fragrant Herb Garden
This area of the garden is populated by fragrant plants and herbs, the fragrance emanating from either the leaves of stems. Again, we have used a keyhole design using discarded wine bottles – 192 to be exact! – with a compost in the middle directly enriching the soil. With our design, there is no need to move the compost – it’s a one stop process which decreases the amount of work for the garden’s carer. This zone is close to Bo.lan’s entrance, so we have picked fragrant plants to welcome the guests.
Another feature of the keyhole fragrant herb garden is that it is accessible to elderly people and those who cannot walk long distances.
The edge of the zone features flowers as the area receives plenty of sunlight.
ZONE D: The Semi-sheltered Garden
This area is covered by a see-through roof, and is therefore not very sunny. Moreover, this zone is visible from inside the restaurant so it is important to grow plants that are aesthetically pleasing and that grow fast, to avoid having bare patches when the plants are picked from the kitchen staff.
We picked four types of watercress which, mixed together, providing a colourful variety. We have also planted wall covering plants to fill in the existing ones, which have many brown leaves and do not look full.
ZONE E: The Short-term Harvest Vegetable Garden
This is the only short term area in the entire garden and the only area that receives direct sunlight all day long. The plants here are harvested every 30 to 45 days so there can be a lot of turnover and different plants and herbs can be planted according to the kitchen’s needs.
There is also a plant nursery for short-term varieties that need regular replanting. As the little seedlings need controlled amounts of sun, wind and water, we gave them a transparent shelter – a bit like a greenhouse – to help them grow strong. The visual idea for the nursery is for it to be seen from afar, as the design is beautiful.
The front of this zone is wheelchair accessible.
ZONE F: The Wood & Bees Garden
This zone is not in constant use and it therefore half managed. This corner of the garden gets a lot of sun and we have grown appropriate plants. For example, we are growing bananas and bamboo, which do not need a lot of care and only need to be harvested when ready.
We have chosen this zone for the bees as they do not like to be disturbed. The plants in this zone take longer to grow and there are loads of medicinal plants as well as coffee plants, which we hope the bees will use.
We have built a bamboo structure on the edge of the zone, which will be covered when the plants grown; this will allow the area to be quieter. A second bamboo structure in the back boats butterfly pea, pink flowers and Isaan edible flowers.
ZONE G: The Spiral Garden & Compost
The garden bed in this area is in the form of a spiral: the height of the soil gradually increases to allow us to grow diverse types of plants, suiting different levels of humidity and sunlight. The spiral creates a microclimate with most of the sun on top and more shade and humidity as you gradually move down.
The design of this garden bed pays attention to the orientation of the larger garden area, and the direction of the sun moving from east to west. In Thailand the sun path moves a little bit to the south, which means that the southern and top part of the spiral garden bed gets the most, or even all day sun. The spiral line goes in a clockwise direction, the same as the direction of water in the northern hemisphere. The soil at the bottom has the most humidity compared to the top.
In this zone, we have also built a dry compost corner that utilises organic waste from the restaurant, cow manure, three branches and dry leaves. We have added a drawer at the bottom of our design to allow for the fully decomposed materials to drop down. This makes it easier for the gardener to take the mulch out to the plants in the garden, as there’s no need to dig into the composting hole at the top.
ZONE H: The Fresh Air Tunnel
The bamboo tunnel at the entrance leads visitors from the street to the restaurant, creating a small path that purifies the air and creates a fresh air tunnel. The area also functions as buffer zone for the garden inside to improve the air quality.
There are two types of plants here:
climbing plants such as passion fruit, gac fruit, sponge gourd and Mexican creeper
air purifying plants such as dwarf umbrella tree, lady palm, Viper's bowstring hemp and peace lily
These plants are also decorative, as this is the first area that guests will see. There are nine structures in total, each with one type of climbing plant.
We used bamboo grown in villages in the North and Northeast of Thailand, and farmed tamarind logs from Lampang. We were careful to select suppliers that we could ask to use no chemicals in the entire production process, to ensure the materials were in line with the garden’s concept.