Living Walls

A recent trip to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s new headquarters in Morristown provided the subject for this issue’s column – Living Walls. I was told that the living wall there is the second largest in the US. The sounds of water trickling down the four stories and the smell of plants certainly improve meetings!

 

It’s not a new idea (think: Hanging Gardens of Babylon and more on that in a future column) but French botanist/artist Patrick Blanc coined the term “living wall” or in French “mur vegetal” only a decade ago.  At www.environmentalgraffiti.com search “living walls” to see 15 walls from Mumbai to Las Vegas.   The CaixaForum in Madrid, Spain has over 15,000 plants of more than 250 species.  Whether used to grow food, clean the air, provide shade, cool the building, mitigate sick building syndrome, muffle noise, reduce stormwater runoff, clean greywater, provide privacy, create a wildlife habitat; or act as a design element,  living walls have captured the minds of urban ecologists and garden designers and the hearts of city-dwellers and garden lovers around the world. And while we are on our way to other living walls, let me interject a slight detour to www.publicfarm1.org, a fascinating project in nearby Queens, NY that does all of the above.

 

There are two main categories of green walls: green façades and living walls. Green façades are made up of climbing plants either growing directly on a wall or, more recently, specially designed supporting structures. The plant shoot system grows up the side of the building while being rooted to the ground. In a living wall the modular panels are often comprised of polypropylene plastic containers, geotextiles, irrigation systems, a growing medium and vegetation. The roots in these systems are airborne.

 

Lots of plants make good vertical growers, used in combination or singly. For a monoculture living wall, visit www.mossacres.com and search green wall technology.  What could be plusher than a mossy wall?  At www.wikihow.com/Make-a-living-wall the basic considerations are set out.  More detailed info can be found at www.buildinggreentv.com search living wall.  At www.wonderhowto.com search living wall to see a wall mounted living wall constructed. 

 

There are lots of companies from which to purchase living wall materials – these include www.agreenroof.comwww.livingwall.com and www.eltlivingwalls.com.

 

Currently, the world of living walls seems split between the seriously green building world and the more artistic application of this growing technology. Visit Swedish ecologist Folke Gunter at www.holon.se/folke/projects for cool directions on how to make a living wall from old tires and plastic bags and lots of other neat stuff. The work and philosophy of Patrick Blanc, whose stunning designs grace the Quai Branly Museum in Paris and numerous other lucky walls in France and Asia, may be seen at www.verticalgardenpatrickblanc.com

 

Lesley Parness is Superintendent of Horticultural Education at The Morris County Park Commission. She can be reached at lparness@morrisparks.net.