Thursday, September 3, 2009

Living wall disaster

Here is the Sure Start Centre at Paradise Park in Islington, London (photo courtesy of - a very good website on green architecture), and how it was when I went two years ago.

Architects (not normally renowned for their understanding of plant life) seem to think that you can take the green roof concept, spin it through 90 degrees and stick it on a wall to make a ‘living wall’. And there are folks out there brave enough to give it a go – Patrick Blanc in Paris is the best known, and let’s be honest, he’s a genius (even if he is a bit of an ego-maniac, striding across the pictures in his book like he is a rock star), and there are those who perhaps ought to stick to planting window boxes. Making plants grow vertically is a challenge which can be done, but needs a lot of techno-kit and lots of money, and lots of maintenance, and if the system breaks down in a heat wave, lots of skips to put the dead plants in. But if you have the dosh and the nerve, why not give it a go?

The other way of making a green wall is the facadegreening technique (see my blog on the subject a few blogs ago). It’s a bit boring because it is so simple and natural – you simply take advantage of the fact that a lot of plants are good climbers and you give ‘em something to climb up. Unless they are planted in window boxes, a drought will only slow them down, not kill them. Its an approach which is far more natural, need far less maintenance, is far far more reliable and cheaper:

Living walls cost $807 per m2

Facadegreening costs $122 per m2

for materials and installation

according to the figures, suppliers have given me.

Now, I am not against living walls, they are great in the right place, like in boutique hotels, designer clothes stores and £20 for a mingy starter restaurants – places where most of us don’t hang out, unless someone else is paying. But I object to their nature-defying machismo, the obvious sense that here are people trying to run before they can walk. For the vast majority of landscape applications, give me some wisteria and some stainless steel rope and let nature do the rest.


Landscaping design said...

It's not easy to take care living wall, I think.
Thanks for sharing.
Landscaping design with hill ideas

Hilery - Desert Greenhouse Guide said...

Thanks for sharing the photos! I completely agree, I think a lot of people underestimate the care required for such an expansive vertical space.

Martyn Cox said...

I can't believe the wall at Paradise Park has turned into such an eyesore. I haven't visited myself, but it has had a lot of publicity and was suggested to me as a good wall for a case study when there was all the Patric Blanc hoo-ha at the beginning of the year.V sad.

Karena said...

Hi Noel - Do you have any experience of interior green walls? Am thinking of doing one for an office space in Bristol and can't find a UK supplier of the kits.

Have you seen Green Fortune's work on this in the States? I came acros the Vertiss system at Glee this year. The display looked fine but who knows if it would stand the test of time.

gardenbeet said...

Lets forward to 2013 Noel - now what were you saying about living walls being for elite spaces only?

sorry they are being installed all over the joint (UK, USA, Australia NZ)

Buildings are now required to install these gardens as part of planning conditions

These are planting beds that need horticultural attention - your input at the living wall forum is welcomed - very small forum