As a gardener, space is often at a premium. As someone with my postage-stamp-sized roof terrace, I can most definitely attest to that.
Recently it has become more frequent to see living walls springing up, both in offices and on public buildings. And the craze does not seem to be going anywhere.
If, like most gardeners, you have the desire to stuff as much as you can into your plot of land, then stop thinking horizontally and try vertical gardening. The sky’s the limit!
The Athenaeum Hotel in London has a famous and long-standing green wall.
Choosing your site
Before you get to the exciting part - planting, you need to consider where you’ll place your living wall. This will, of course, have a bearing on what you can grow. For example, if you want a wall of ferns and leafy perennials, don’t choose a sun-blasted south-facing aspect.
Check that the wall is in good condition. The weight of the planting shouldn’t affect it, but if it requires any repairs, you’ll need to do this in advance.
Creating your wall
There are a couple of different ways to set up your wall. If you want the plant to have more root space, then the ‘sandwich’ method is best.
For this, you will need to create a frame. Although it is possible to use wood, over time it will rot so a PVC pipe is a better alternative, particularly as it keeps the weight down. Remember you’ll need to attach any fixtures with galvanised screws or staples to protect from damage.
This wall, using smaller pots (modules) is ideal for seasonal items, such as these herbs.
Once you’ve created the frame, add plastic sheeting. This will protect the wall and the layer of fabric, which you will attach next. For the fabric, you can use capillary matting or anything similar, which will retain water but not rot. Ensure that when you attach the material, it is smooth and taut.
There are now companies on the market selling modular living walls. These are better for seasonal items, like bedding, fruit, veg and herbs, as the roots are restricted, much like container planting.
The advantage of this method is that they’re straightforward to construct and move around. You can also easily add or subtract plants as required. Furthermore, you can easily remove the growing medium at the end of the season, rather than having to deal with fiddly matting and plastic.
Strawberries are ideal for a vertical garden, particularly if you are using modular planters. And who doesn't like freshly-picked strawberries?!
How you water your vertical garden will likely depend on the size of your wall and how much time you want to spend on it. Because of the increased airflow and relatively small amount of growing medium, vertical gardens require more water, so you may want to consider an irrigation system.
You can get these from an irrigation supplier, and you may also want to attach a timer and set up a feeding system. For smaller, more manageable walls, then regular watering and feeding is necessary to keep up with the plants’ demands.
Irrigation systems are essential for those short of time or who may have issues trying to water their vertical garden evenly.
When it comes to choosing plants for your wall, there are many different options. Plants which grow vertical or slightly arched in a horizontal garden often weep gracefully from a wall.
Clumping certain colours or growth habits together works well. Ferns are the perfect addition to a green wall with their arching, graceful growth habit:
Grasses also lend themselves perfectly to vertical staging and are more tolerant of direct sunlight and drying winds:
Other perennials which can add colour and shape include, but are not limited to:
When planting, it is advisable to remove as much of the rootball as possible to prevent root rot. To place the plant into your wall, cut a slit into the fabric, insert the plant and close the slit. You may need a staple gun for this (use stainless steel staples).
Green/living walls are now a staple of garden and flower shows. This one, coated in fresh herbs, was pictured at RHS Chelsea.
The joy of wall pods and planters, which have become popular recently, is that you don’t have to be deft at DIY to construct your own vertical garden.
They’re also great for growing vegetables, strawberries and herbs - plants which need a little more intensive care, but can be removed and replaced as the seasons pass. Try some of those listed below:
Other types of vertical gardens
Any quick look on Pinterest or Instagram will show you tonnes of images of vertical gardens, ranging from the sublime to the absurd. It is far easier to experiment indoors as you can control the growth environment.
Strings of pots, trellised pot hangers and planted panels are all possibilities. But as always, bear in mind that you will need to water regularly – and will need to avoid splashing your walls, furniture and carpets.
The larger living walls you see (most often in modern offices) require professional installation.