These horticultural marvels are a feat of engineering: a lush tapestry of plants growing on or against vertical surfaces, such as building façades, interior walls or freestanding structures.
Frenchman Patrick Blanc, a botanist who has been credited with reviving the green wall trend, believes living walls have enormous benefits. “Having plants in our immediate environment can reduce stress, improve air quality and sound absorption, provide insulation and reduce energy costs, as well as reconnect us to nature,” says Patrick.
Generally speaking, green walls can be divided into two main categories – green façades and living walls. However, the concept of green walls can be stretched to include a range of structures. Here are some of the main ones:
The most traditional of the bunch, green facades are made from climbing plants growing on a wall, either with no additional structure or with the use of stainless steel or wooden trellis. They are historically located outdoors, rooted in the ground and don’t require additional irrigation.
These are recently developed, completely artificial entities, that use either continuous or modular systems. The former can be made from felt layers or block concrete, while modular panels use sphagnum or substrate materials. Plants are rooted directly in the structure (in the case of felt layers or sphagnum moss) or in the growth medium, before being added to the structure.
Nick Mills from The Green Age says living walls are usually hydroponic, receiving water and nutrients from the vertical support instead of from the ground.
“Modular systems take advantage of the fact that plants don’t require soil to grow,” says Nick. “Plus the joy of living walls is that virtually any plant species can be grown from tropical species to trees – it just depends on the weight of the mature plant.”
Some living walls have also been used to grow vegetables and fruit.
These fall somewhere between green façades and living walls, and generally refer to climbing plants, such as Hedera (Ivy), which are pre-grown on freestanding, galvanized steel frames to establish an instant hedge and, as the name suggests, screen for privacy. They are usually installed with built-in irrigation systems.
Again, there’s some crossover with green façades and living walls, but live curtain systems are generally comprised of plants trained to climb up a structure, but rooted off the ground in small planter boxes. They tend to employ the same hydroponic system as living walls.
You might wonder about the difference between urban and rural hedges, but it’s mainly to do with space, says UK landscape designer Amanda Hill.
“City hedges usually have to fit into a smallish space, so need to have regular trims. They also need to be tolerant of poor soil that’s on the dry side, as footpaths and buildings both help to create dry conditions.” Urban hedges are usually interchangeable with green façades and living walls in terms of their features and ecosystem services.
Also known as edible walls, herb walls are a great way to dip your toes into the living wall universe. Depending on the system, most herb walls are either grown in a greenhouse or indoors so things to consider include lights, heat and water. Amanda Hill, landscaping consultant says herbs aren’t like regular houseplants in terms of water consumption. “They’re more delicate so require only moderate watering everyday. You’ll need to be sure to use a good soil/potting mix and don’t soak them when watering.” And, if all else fails, you could always opt for artificial living walls. There are a great range of realistic-looking foliage walls and screens on the market.
This article by Sharon Stephenson featured on page 45 of Issue 021 of Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.
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