Solutions for 7 common challenges you can face with a vertical garden
Green wall, living wall, vertical garden: There are a number of names for this genre of greenery in which walls come alive with vibrant plants. But as fabulous as many green walls look, they’re not always that easy to create or maintain at home. Here’s how some Houzz professionals in Australia have solved common green wall challenges.
Elaine Richardson Architect, original photo on Houzz
Challenge 1: Creating instant greenery
Solution: Install a modular system
“The great thing about green walls is they look beautiful immediately; you don’t have to wait for the plants to grow to look good,” says Lainey Richardson of Elaine Richardson Architect. Richardson installed a green wall along the boundary wall of this urban house for high-impact greenery that didn’t take up a lot of space. With the Atlantis Gro-Wall 4 modular system with built-in irrigation, the effect was immediate.
While a modular system lets you have a green wall straight away, it may take some time and experimentation to determine which plants are best to use. Each environment it’s used in may require a different collection of plants, so take a picture of the site and get advice from a local nursery.
For this project, the plants are quite small and the landscaper recommended the plant types. He “advised us that while some plants would love the location, others would not, and whole species may need to be replaced,” Richardson says.
LSA Architects, original photo on Houzz
Challenge 2: Disguising a boundary wall
Solution: Plant a vertical garden along the fence
The dining room in this Sydney-area residence needed a long, horizontal window for light, but unfortunately it looked directly at the boundary wall abutting the neighbor’s property. As the space between the dining room and the fence was just 3 feet wide, the options were limited. The solution Linda Simons of LSA Architects came up with was to create a green wall that would give the space depth and interest.
“We designed a lush self-watering green wall, so that in both winter and summer a thick green garden space is visible,” Simons says. “When the windows are open, the green wall feels part of the room — it’s a living artwork.”
S2 design, original photo on Houzz
Challenge 3: Keeping plants alive and growing
Solution: Choose your plants carefully
This green wall in the home of architect David Saunders of S2 Design has been through several incarnations, the challenge being to keep the plants alive and well. Seasonal climatic variations and small container sizes all made this difficult.
“We started with a mixture of ferns, which we found impossible to keep alive throughout our extreme seasonal climatic variations. The following option was succulents, mainly aloe species, that thrived. Now an assortment of bromeliads has been introduced among the aloes, which has added a gorgeous range of colors and textures across the wall,” Saunders says.
He adds this disclaimer: “Experience has dictated that green walls do not comprise a low-maintenance garden by any stretch. Plants outgrow their pots rather quickly, run out of nutrients in their small containers or quickly die if there’s a fault with the watering system. That being said, green walls provide visually stunning backdrops in so many applications, and we often encourage their use when planting in natural ground is not an option.”
My Verandah, original photo on Houzz
Challenge 4: Difficult installation
Solution: Buy an easy-to-use product
There are a multitude of ways to create a green wall, and some are certainly easier than others. Johanna MacMinn of My Verandah uses a product by Woolly Pocket. “The pockets, made from recycled PET [polyethylene terephthalate] bottles, are really affordable and user-friendly,” MacMinn says.
For this vertical garden by a pool, MacMinn attached the individual pockets to a masonry wall and slightly overlapped them to create a solid mass. She used two rows of 1-by-2-foot pockets for a total of 30 pockets. MacMinn says, “It was a hot wall, so I sourced succulents that could cope with the heat. I used Agave attenuata, walking iris (Neomarica), blue chalk sticks (Senecio mandraliscae) and Limonium perezii. A year later, I replaced the blue plants with Euphorbia tirucalli, or firesticks, for a color pop.”
Gresley Abas Architects, original photo on Houzz
Challenge 5: There is no wall to affix containers to
Solution: Build a wall with creepers and hanging plants
A wall like this one may not have the solid mass of greenery as other green walls, but it’s still stunning, and you can keep adding to it over time. Architect Ahmad Abas of Gresley Abas Architects created a wall with horizontal boards of recycled jarrah timber. Leaving a gap of about one-third to one-half inch between each board allowed him room to affix the pots and planters to different places on the wall. “Creepers and hanging plants offered the best effect for allowing greenery to spread across the wall,” Abas says.
“I can safely say this approach is very doable by just about anyone,” Abas says. “The recycled jarrah boards are intentionally unfinished and so will age and gray naturally over time.”
This arrangement also has a simple drip irrigation network fed via a nearby exterior spigot, as well as a strip drain and grate at the base of the wall to catch the water that drains and drips down.
Nest Architects, original photo on Houzz
Challenge 6: The property has an overgrown ivy-covered wall
Solution: Make it a design feature
This Melbourne, Australia, home had a brick boundary wall covered with lush green ivy that Emilio Fuscaldo of Nest Architects wanted to maintain during the renovation and construction. However, Fuscaldo didn’t just retain the ivy, he made it a design feature with just a little trimming and shaping.
“The ivy played a big part in the sizing of that window and the orientation of the room,” Fuscaldo says. “In fact, given that the green wall was such a lovely element, we were able to open up the room toward that boundary wall [which is only 3 feet away] and reduce the tunneling effect that having views only toward the rear would have created.”