Live it up with a living wall!
Sound like something out of a horror movie? Only if you manage to plant Audrey II!
Living walls, which are any way you can manage to take your garden vertical, are not only a hot trend in interior design and green building, it’s a wonderful way to maximize space and create interesting displays for plants. Also known as vertical gardens, there are many different ways to create one. From succulents to air plants to ferns and sage, there are living walls to suit every space, taste and budget. And since we all know how great plants are for people, a living wall is a great way to get that clean air and mood-boosting visual into your life.
Why? What good is a living wall?
Originally dreamed up by Stanley White Hart in the late 1930’s in Illinois, living walls have been taken to new heights (literally, on sky scrapers!) by French botanist Patrick Blanc. Since living walls began in urban areas, researchers studied their effects on city living first and found three major benefits that you can bring home–cleaner air, lower heat, and reduced noise.
Natural air freshener
As we know and scientists have well-documented, plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with oxygen. In addition, they clean up the smog and the VOC’s and all those nasty airborne chemicals we put into the air. In other words, they take the bad stuff out of the air and put the good stuff back in–the symbiotic, reciprocal relationship of humans and plants. And some sources say a living wall can do the work of a 14-foot tall tree!
With all the concrete and steel of an urban area soaking in and reflecting back the summer sun, it’s no wonder musicians have written songs about the heat of the city. Covering the heat radiating surfaces with plants reduces the ability of the concrete to radiate that heat. And plants that love the heat are happy, taking it all for themselves.
Natural ear plugs
Listen to the echo of the train bells and the car horns slapping off the hard glass and stone in the building valleys of a city. It can be deafening in the height of people arriving and leaving work every day. And research has shown that excessive noise elevates stress levels. Softening those hard surfaces with plants reduces this noise. And any time a city does something to reduce stress in humans, it tends to reduce incidents of violent crimes as well. So a living wall is a win for everyone!
Scale it back and bring it home
So how can you bring this stress-reducing, health-boosting idea home?
Let’s think about where you live. Do you live in one of these crowded, noisy cities? If so, you need to create a living wall as soon as possible. Turn your living space into a jungle, and leave that noise and pollution outside!
If you live in a house with plenty of room for decorating, you are really lucky. You can probably dedicate an entire wall to a vertical garden. And if you live in a temperate zone, you can even create a living wall on the exterior of your home.
If you live in an apartment or condo without a lot of space, a living wall is the perfect solution to adding plants to your home. Since it goes vertically, you save on the horizontal space.
As with any plant you are considering, the amount of natural light you get on the wall you want to bring to life will inform your choices of what to plant. If you have a bright, sunny space, some good options are aglaonemas, pothos, Medusa ferns and bromeliads. Have something in the middle? Not too bright, but not low light either? Try plants like Song of India, English ivy, or rabbit foot and maidenhair ferns. If your space is a bit low on light (apartment on the north side in the shadow of a building?), go for snake plants, peace lilies, and Brazil philodendrons. Or go with herbs and veggies. Take your indoor kitchen garden vertical!
So how in the world do you plant one of these fun projects? A living wall can be as simple as planting succulents in a picture frame and hanging it on your wall to having a professional come to your home and install an entire ecosystem on one side of your home complete with self-watering devices. You can purchase a wall that has been grown horizontally in trays in a green house and then raised up. Or you can purchase the trays and try it yourself. Most of the time the plants are grown hydroponically, but if that’s too advanced for you, and you just want something simple, consider the type of plants you plan to grow on your wall and talk to an expert at your local greenhouse for guidance. Usually a general potting mix should work out fine.
There are three main types of containers in which to grow your living wall–panel systems, tray systems, and free-standing systems. If you are doing this yourself instead of buying a system, you can start as we mentioned above by growing your plants horizontally in a panel and then moving the panel to the wall when you think the plants are ready. Tray systems tend to be short trays that are angled, leveled, and inserted into a wall unit that you can attach to your actual wall. They tend to be great for indoors as the watering mess is kept to a minimum. And speaking of keeping the mess to a minimum, especially for you renters–if you want to be able to take your wall with you, a free-standing system is going to work best. You can grow the plants on just one side and keep it against the wall, or you can grow plants on both sides and use it for a room divider!
A living wall in your home oasis
With nearly 80 years of practice behind it, it is easy to find someone in your area with knowledge about vertical gardening to help you create your living wall. For those of you growing air plants and succulents in picture frames, well, you already have a living wall. So if space has been holding you back from adding more plants to your home, maybe now is the time to branch out (get it?), and try some new plants on your wall. Even a series of shelves with plants collected on a wall can work as a living wall. So get creative, find out what plants will work in your space, and bring your wall to life!