When back-to-basics meets modern agricultural science, it checks off more boxes than you’d ever imagine. Vertical gardens — or living walls — created as decorative statement pieces are increasingly found in high-end hotels, cutting-edge business and resort lobbies.
Vertical gardens offer a powerful visual draw even as they improve air content and acoustic quality. Living walls on the exterior of a building extend green space, often in an urban setting, and help cool the buildup of industrial heat. Exterior green walls even protect ground structures from UV radiation and water absorption after heavy rains.
Love the look of them and wondering how you can you build a living wall in your home or office? Depending on the scope, your project may be as simple as fixing flower pots to a wooden frame or as complex as installing a self-watering system along a continuous wall several stories high.
Whatever type of plan you’re considering, we’ve compiled some basic guidance tips to help you mitigate the ins and outs of vertical gardening.
What is a living wall?
A living wall consists of successive panels of plants which grow vertically, sometimes using the principle of hydroponics. Hydroponics is soil-free gardening. Within a hydroponic system, plants receive the nutrients necessary for photosynthesis directly through their water source.
Hydroponic systems self-water through hidden pipes in either a drip-down or circulatory fashion. Water tanks require routine refilling when dry.
Not all vertical gardens are soil-free. Simpler versions — perhaps more appropriate for rookie green wall enthusiasts— use a growing medium such as a mixture of peat moss and charcoal. In this instance, pots are hand-watered individually as needed.
Related Post: A Beginner’s Guide to Vertical Farming
Why build a living wall?
Vertical gardens offers plenty of benefits, while taking up very little space:
- Cleans ambient air by filtering pollutants
- Absorbs sound
- Brings nature into everyday work and play space
- Reduces energy costs
- Reflects light
Choosing the optimal living wall location
Consider a location that gets lots of natural sunlight. Then look at factors of functionality. Where can you place your wall that will offer maximum enjoyment from home or office vantage points? If function and form don’t naturally mesh, look into artificial lighting options or select plants with low light requirements, such as philodendron or pothos.
If you’re thinking of building a green wall outside in a courtyard or sitting area, calculate the amount of sun and shade the area typically receives. Then, consider using native plants that have location-specific adaptive qualities.
Simple display versions use wooden frames — these can be made yourself with repurposed material — and a clip-on system for attaching pots or mason jars. Make sure the containers can be removed easily for routine maintenance tasks.
Another do-it-yourself idea is to create angled shelving that displays plants up a vertical base. The base can either be freestanding or attached to an existing wall.
Large-scale living walls that span the area of floor to ceiling or even several stories will require a built-in self-watering system. Your choice of system ultimately dictates display styles available.
Basic maintenance tips
Accessibility is the key consideration when planning for routine maintenance. All plants require pruning and watering. A seasonal leaf wash of plain soap and water protects against insects and the inevitable collection of dust, especially if your living wall is inside.
Related Post: 8 Low-Maintenance Indoor Plants for Your Office
In most home or office situations, the only tools needed are a stepladder, spray bottle and gardening gloves. In the instance of commercial vertical gardens, or larger living walls, an industrial lift will be necessary. Look into boom or scissor options to find the lift that first, matches your height requirement and second, easily holds and transports the materials required for routine tasks.
If you’re interested in choosing a simple, well-known species, consider planting it in abundance and watch your living wall grow and expand. Previously identified pathos and philodendron are two especially prolific plants that have the added benefit of thriving in low light.
Perhaps you’d like your vertical garden to display a particular color palette. Dracaena has bicolored leaves that can be found in varieties of yellow, white and red. The lipstick plant cascades downwards and blooms throughout the year with richly colored blossoms in varying hues.
Living walls can be used to create a symmetrical pattern by grouping specific plant textures together within a preconceived design. Broad, shiny leaves pop against a backdrop of drier, cactus-like plantings — or small, fuzzy ferns can be used to blur the sharp edges of stark, wiry leaf formations.
Regardless of design intention, choose plants that have proven successful in your location and climate zone. Vertical gardens quickly become symbiotic when plants with similar water and light requirements are placed nearby.
What are some ways to keep project expenses low?
Are you willing to wait for your living wall to mature? Consider planting from seedlings, which can be transferred vertically when feasible. Seeds may be purchased at a fraction of the cost of full-grown plants, and offer the satisfaction of ground-level involvement.
Whenever possible, use refurbished materials such as wood planking, plastic water bottles or tin cans in your construction. If you’re planting in soil, consider composting to increase the nutrient content and up the environmental ante.
Numerous studies report positive physical, mental and emotional benefits associated with direct exposure to nature. Vertical gardeners bring those effects home on a perpetual level and put them into continuous play.
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