How to Create a Living Wall
Check out these tips from vertical-garden experts to help you grow up in your space.
Living walls. Green walls. Vertical gardens. You’ve seen them in the lobbies of hotels or corporate offices and possibly even the atriums of airports and shopping centers. Usually mounted on the interior or exterior walls of buildings, these vertical installations can vary in size and shape and offer a refreshingly green space experience that functions as living wall art while providing all the benefits of nature. They have become increasingly popular in the last eight years in the U.S. and are becoming more common in residential homes and apartment buildings, especially in cities where space is limited.
Two professionals who work with large living wall installations, Coryn Heird, Junior Floral Technician at Westin Hilton Head, and Denise Eichmann, Vertical Garden Design and Landscape Architecture Consultant at Ambius, offer some tips and advice on how you can create smaller scale versions of vertical gardens in your home.
1. Location Requirements
“The first think you need to know,” Heird states, “is where the vertical garden is going to be placed so that it has the correct light.” Natural light is the best option, whether it is coming from a skylight or a nearby window. Stressing this point, Eichmann adds, “Plants produce their own food through the process known as photosynthesis, the production of chlorophyll, so light is the number one requirement. If you don’t have natural daylight, then you’re going to want to consider some supplemental light fixtures. The more light you have available increases the plant palette of species you can pick from. If you don’t have much direct light, you’re going to be limited to plants that grow in low light such as philodendrons and pothos.”
If you are going to add a vertical garden to an outdoor space, you need to determine the right plants for your climate zone and whether they are best suited for a sunny or shady location.
2. Display Options
When it comes to mounting or hanging a vertical garden in your home, the options are endless. You can build your own frame to suit the space or buy a pre-made frame made out of wood, recycled synthetic material (water bottles), steel with felt pockets or some other reliable support. Some people may utilize angled plant trays which hang like shelving and hold individual plants which can slid in and out easily for manual maintenance.
Most of the living walls you see in lobby areas at resorts like the Westin Hilton Head or Westin La Paloma have a built-in watering system. “The challenge with the living wall in the container,” says Glenn Sampert, general manager of Westin La Paloma, “is everything gets the same amount of water. We really have to insure that we are selecting plants that require the same basics of sun and water to have everything thrive.” For homeowners who prefer low maintenance, they should consider one of the self-watering models available from companies like Sage Vertical Garden Systems and Woolly Pocket. Eichmann notes, “There’s a simple little garden that’s 12 inches by 12 inches. It has little holes in it where you insert your plants and hang it on the wall. This mini-system as well as other larger full-fledged systems incorporate hydroponic rockwool [a high grade horticultural mineral made from Basalt stone] as their growth media.”
Another option is offered by Suite Plants, which, according to Eichmann, is “a wall system that actually looks like a living piece of art. What you’re buying is a frame and inside that frame are water tanks that hold your watering.” You only need to fill the water tanks about once a month with this model and there are no plumbing or electrical considerations because it is battery operated. There is no danger of overwatering either because a beeping sound will occur to let you know when the tanks have reached their full capacity. “With this living wall system,” Eichmann adds, “capillary mat fabric pulls just the right amount of water from the tanks to the plant roots via wicking action.”
3. Plant Selection
For interior living walls that have access to natural and artificial light, there are numerous possibilities for your vertical garden which could be designed in terms of a color palette or as a single species showcase. Heird at Westin Hilton Head favors aglaonemas and pothos (Epipremnum aureum) while the Westin La Paloma has had great success with the Medusa fern and plans to experiment with bromeliads. Other species that do well in low light situations are the snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata), peace lily (Spathiphyllum) and the Brazil philodendron. Possibilities for vertical gardens that receive medium light are Song of India (Dracaena reflexa), English ivy (Hedera helix) and ferns such as rabbit foot (Davallia fejeensis) and maidenhair (Adiantum spp.). If you have direct light, croton (Codiaeum variegatum) is an excellent option.
Remember that you are not limited to only using ornamental plants for your green wall. You could just as easily have a vertical herb garden or vegetable garden with tomatoes, peppers and other edible plants.
4. Basic Maintenance
If you have a self-watering system, then your living wall is not going to take much maintenance. And if you have a tray system where the plants remain in their nursery pots, Heird says, “It wouldn’t hurt to occasionally take the plants out and clean your wall. Plants get bugs so you need to make sure they stay clean. Wiping the plants with just regular soap and water on the leaves will help prevent any issues.” You might also need to periodically trim or prune any unmanageable foliage.
Those who plan to manually water and maintain their vertical gardens need to make sure they don’t overwater and to stick to plants that require the same amount of light and micro-climate conditions to thrive and grow.
Besides the appealing visual aesthetics of a living wall, there are a lot of advantages for introducing them into your homes. “They don’t take up a lot of space,” Eichmann explains. “It’s a great way to get a lot of square footage of plants within a small space. Think about the fact that the surface area of fifty square feet of a vertical garden is equivalent to the surface area of a fourteen foot tall tree. It’s producing the same amount of oxygen that a tree would.”
Another advantage is the use of living walls to alter the acoustics of a room. “If you have an area that has an echo to it or feels very hollow,” Eichmann notes, “as soon, as you put plants in it, it just absorbs sound.”
Best of all, having a living wall means you are bringing nature into your home or office. You are also establishing a positive feel-good connection between plants and people that offers green space alternatives to urban areas or man-made environments.