Living Walls

 In Garden Design, News

WHAT IS A LIVING WALL?

Garden designers use living walls to make use of and green up vertical spaces. They are particularly useful in city gardens where horizontal space might be limited. A living wall is a panel system where plants can grow up a wall using hydroponics. The panels can be attached to both interior and exterior walls. In recent years living wall systems have been developed further into freestanding walls and ones that can be installed around street lamp posts.

living walls
Photo & Design Credit: Manoj Malde

A show garden created at the Landscape Show. A garden that measures just 3 x 3 meters, it shows how much planting can be incorporated into a small garden by making use of the vertical space. The planting scheme includes Liriopi muscari, Vinca, three types of Heuchera, two type of Ferns, Leucothoe zeblid

HISTORY OF LIVING WALLS

Living walls can be seen in illustrations of the hanging gardens of Babylon where the building structure was draped in greenery cascading down from the terraces. Romans used to grow grape vines and roses on trellises, up walls. It was Stanley Hart White who patented the idea of living green walls in 1938. However, it is French botanist Patrick Blanc’s name that is synonymous with putting living walls on the map of the horticultural industry, when he created the green wall at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris.

outdoor green wall

An epic vertical garden created by French botanist Patrick Blanc, on the front of the CaixaForum in Madrid, Spain.

BENEFITS OF LIVING WALLS

Are living walls just a fad or are there some benefits to them? Where floor space is limited, wall space can be used for planting. This helps to green up a dull dreary space. Equally office space that is often dull and lifeless can be turned into a greener, more pleasant working environment.
With the increased need in housing, we live in a concrete jungle. The increase in hard surfaces both vertically and horizontally has exacerbated the increase in temperatures fuelling the heat island effect. The negative impact of this is poor air quality due to increase in air pollution, the rise in noise pollution, added risk of flooding, polluted water ways, loss of habitat and biodiversity for our wildlife.

So how can living walls help? In the way we marvel at rock faces that are covered with plants growing in them, dull drab walls can be brought to life, covered in planting that helps create the same aesthetics in a built-up environment and connects us to nature. Not only do they make our environment look better, but they also increase the biodiversity and support our wildlife. Plants breath in carbon dioxide and release oxygen which is what human beings need to survive. Plants also absorb pollutants and toxins from the air. Noise pollution is also reduced as plants absorb high frequency sound. Plants at different levels will help to slow down rainwater percolation thereby helping to mitigate flooding. All this benefits our health, wellbeing, and the planet.

Living wall panels and the growing material inside will help to insulate a building thereby reducing energy bills in winter. In summer the plants will provide shade thereby having a cooling effect on the building. Hard surfaces absorb heat, but plants reflect it.

graden plants
Photo and Design Credit: Adam Shepherd

A stunning Living Wall in Richmond, designed and created by Adam Shepherd of Tapestry Vertical Gardens. Adam has incorporated Carex, Osteospermum, Persicaria, Ferns, Hardy Geraniums, Erigeron, Euphorbia and Baby’s Breath.

LIVING WALLS IN THE WORKPLACE

There are various types of living walls available that are suitable for the workplace. Free standing units with their own circulating water tanks, living walls that can be installed around structural pillars and on walls. They can help to create a real positive impression in a reception area. More importantly having plants in the workplace creates an enjoyable work environment, lifting staff morale and shows a caring work side of the company.

Scientists have proven that having plants in the workspace increases staff alertness, having a positive effect on productivity. Of course, when designing and installing a living wall for interiors one must consider which indoor plants to use. Indoor living walls gives designers the opportunity to work with a different palette of plants. Amazing sub-tropical walls can be created using plants like Aeoniums, Agave attenuata Philodendrons, Anthuriums, Stags Horn Ferns, Crotons etc…

colourful walls

This is a beautifully considered wall with Epimediums, Tiarella, Begonia, Pulmonaria and Violas. It has colour, pattern, and texture. The vortex in the leaves of the Begonia add extra interest and their dark underside also pick up on the purple foliage dotted through the scheme and the delicate flowers of the violas.

LIVING WALLS FOR EDIBLES

Yes, absolutely living walls can be used for edibles. If you are keen on growing herbs remember they need very good drainage and a sunny position. Vegetable and fruit can also be grown in living walls. Think about which fruit and vegetables needs similar sorts of conditions and grow successfully together. There is no reason why you could not add some ornamentals in with them. Nasturtiums and Calendula could be grown alongside cherry tomatoes, basil, chillies, dwarf French beans, aubergines, and salad leaves. Maybe grow some tagetes (marigolds) with these as they will ward off the aphids.

Another lush Living Wall designed and created by Adam Shepherd for a client in Belsize Park. Adam has included, Persicaria and Baby’s Breath but what is lovely is the dark leaf Heuchera at the base and the same colour is reflected at the top of the wall through the swords of the dark leaf Phormiums

outdoor living walls
Photo & Design Credit: Adam Shepherd at Tapestry Vertical Gardens

CREATING & CARING FOR LIVING WALLS

When designing a living wall there are several things that need to be thought about. Firstly, the location. What are the conditions of the site and location? Is it sunny, shady, windy, dry? If it is indoors, is the atmosphere humid or dry, will the wall be in sun or shade? This will determine your plant selection but also the irrigation.

Think about the look that you want to create for your wall. Do you want the wall to be colourful with flowers or would you prefer greenery that involves different tones of green, texture and varying foliage shapes? Would you prefer a sub-tropical, Mediterranean or a coastal looking wall? Plants in living walls can dry out like any containerised plant. They therefore need irrigation. With irrigation the water percolates down to the bottom layers.

Keep in mind that at this level the plants will most likely be in some shade and have more moisture. The plants at the top of the wall will be experiencing more light and drier conditions. Designs your planting layers according to this. As containerised plants can suffer from vine weevil attack so can living walls. If you have an automated irrigation system with a tank, it is a wise idea to put some pesticide in the tank that will kill or help prevent infestation.

vertical wall

Remember some plants may outgrow others in their space so be prepared to maintain your living wall. You might need to replace some plants or remove and split them, enabling you to pop back in a smaller section of it. Like any other planting scheme, a living wall needs care and maintenance. Make sure you keep an eye out for any pests and diseases, be diligent with dead-heading and removal of dead leaves.

Living Walls do not always have to be huge. They can just be a single panel planted up. This wall is planted with succulents and set off beautifully with a ornate frame.

living wall

PLANTS FOR LIVING WALLS

For sun – Stipa tennuisima, Erigeron karvinskianus, Geranium Joy, Geranium Ballerina, Heuchera Palace Purple, Euphorbia, Cistus, Nepeta, Salvia Royal Bumble, Ophiopogan, Iberis sempervirens, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Ballota pseudodictamnus, Armeria maritima, Muehlenbeckia complexa, Persicaria inverlith, Carex

For shade – Hakonechloa macra, Pachysandra terminalis, Asarum europaeum, Liriopi, Bergenia, Fatsia, Tiarella cordifolia, Hydrangea Bombshell, Lonicera, Sarcococca, Hosta Mouse Ears, Fucshia Hawkeshead, Helleborus x hybridus

For indoors – Stromanthe, Nepenthes, Anthuriums, Adiantums, Philodendrons, Spathiphyllums, Bromeliads, Muehlenbeckia complexa, Peperomia, Tradiscantia, Maranta, Calathea, Pilea glaucophylla, Hemionitis arifolia, Doryopteris cordata, Monstera adansonii, Begonia masoniana

The above are just some suggestions. Bulbs such as Narcissus tete a tete, Galanthus, Tulipa sylvestris, Tulipa bakeri can be added. You can also add bedding plants and annuals for seasonal interest.

Devil’s Ivy, Sword Ferns, Birds Nest Ferns, and the colourful foliage of the Bromeliad create a tropical feel to this wall. In this scheme one could also incorporate Anthuriums, Stromanthe, Philodendrons and even Nepenthes which is a carnivorous plant that catches flies.

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