Living walls or vertical gardens are becoming the latest trend amongst savvy gardeners these days. First created by the French botanist Patrick Blanc, who is known as the ‘father of living walls’, going vertical also has great environmental benefits for those of us who have a smaller garden. It means that no matter how small your space, you can still fill it up with plants and foliage, except this time it’s all going up the walls instead of lying horizontally along your garden beds. And it looks very dramatic as well. Called bio walls, green walls or vertical gardens, these living walls look stunning and can add new dimensions and colours to otherwise bland upright spaces that are most often overlooked.
And it is not too difficult to create your own vertical garden, so long as you stick to some basic rules. For instance, group water loving plants together, such as thirsty herbs who need constant watering. And keep plants such as succulents in one place as well as they do not require as much water at all. Susan Morrison, Northern California residential landscape designer, Master Gardener and co-author of “Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces says, “It’s quite easy for the home gardener to tap into living walls in a modest way.” Although Colleen Dudley, a senior horticulturist at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, suggests you be a little more cautious with your first vertical garden. “It can be really cool looking and novel,” she said, “but you might want to start small, because when it comes to watering and plant maintenance, vertical gardening can be labor intensive.”
Therefore, when selecting plants for the outdoors, take into account the climate and choose accordingly. If you are a beginner, start with herbs and fruit and vegetables, such as lettuces and strawberries, or choose your favourite colours, scents and smells. Remember that trailing plants should go at the top where their leaves will have the chance to grow down, and plants that do not gain much height should be placed at the bottom. Consider a theme to your wall such as plants that attract butterflies or bees etc Or, a colour theme of pinks, reds and purples, even different shades of green foliage can look stunning in a vertical wall. Suggestions from Morrison include: Succulents – which require little water and are low maintenance. Good choices include Sedum such as Carnea, Dragon’s Blood and Red Carpet; Echeveria; and Crassula such as Jade Plant, Pygmy-weed and Rosary Plant. Cold-tolerant plants include Carex or Sedges such as Sparkler, Evergold and Everest; and Heucheras or Coral Bells such as Caramel, Beaujolais and Plum Pudding. Trailing plants for dramatic effect include Dead Nettle (in a variety of colors), Petite Licorice, Limelight and Million Bells.
Vertical gardens do not use soil as the traditional gardening methods but beginners do need to first choose a container system to hold potting soil and plants. These include tray systems, pocket systems, kits and create-your-own solutions. Trays are quite easy to use for the beginner as they have many gridlike plastic planting sections which are held together in a frame. The unit is held flat on a table so that you can pack each cell with soil and a plant or two and then mount it on the wall. The cells are slanted so the soil does not fall out. These come in modular sections that can be snapped together to expand your living wall. The pocket or pouch system can work well for both indoor and outdoor plantings. These feltlike pockets wick moisture to your plants while having a plastic barrier to keep walls dry. The only limit with vertical gardening is your own imagination.