Living Art: The Rise Of The Vertical Gardens

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A growing number of small urban spaces are creating landscaped gardens that stretch beyond floor pots, with greenery growing upwards along walls and fences.

This new trend toward ‘vertical gardens’ is renewing apartments, offices and restaurants inviting greenery to flourish in small spaces.

Vertical gardens, also referred as ‘eco walls’ or ‘green walls’, are bringing practical and aesthetic value to both domestic and commercial spaces. Along with their environmental benefits, plants and greenery can also improve air quality and promote health and wellness.

This sustainable form of architecture also supports the biophilia hypothesis, a suggestion that there is an innate connection between human beings and living systems.

According to Susan McCoy of the U.S. based trend-spotting Garden Media Group, this new generation of gardeners is composed of environmentally-conscious Gen X and Gen Y types who believe the power of plants and regard plants is “no longer a luxury, but a necessity for our lives.”

Plants can be arranged on the side of a building, on fences and walls both internally and externally. When placed strategically, vertical gardens make for great design features and are considered alternatives for wall art.

Walls and fences should be structurally strong to grow a vertical garden as they’re generally designed to be permanent structures. It is advised that professionals versed in engineering, design, building regulations, draining and horticulture be the ones to install them.

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In terms of design, some organisations offer vegetated panels that can be attached or plants that can be placed in decorative containers in a grid-inspired format along the wall. Choosing vegetation for garden installation should be  based on location and maintenance requirements.

For ease of maintenance, it is advisable to have a built-in irrigation system and a good drainage system nearby. Vertical gardens generally require self-watering irrigation systems, as manual hosing will result in water simply running into the ground. Hydroponic watering systems can also be installed to keep plants fed and fresh.

Installing a vertical garden inside is a great way to connect an interior space with nature. Interior greenery requires a little more attention as adequate lighting and ventilation may need to be installed. The wall and surrounding areas should also be waterproofed and actively kept dry.

Commercially, plants are being invited into offices, restaurants and high-end hotels.

“With most large offices having few windows and little natural light, insightful office managers often use plants to bring freshness and colour to the office environment, but the benefits go further than this.  Research strongly suggests that plants can result in improved well-being among staff, increased productivity and improved air quality,” said UK psychologist Dr Craig Knight.

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Covering a building wall can keep the wall insulated, alleviate pollution and provides a shield to the building materials from elements like the sun.

In New York, architect Laurence Tamaccio is proposing to cover the West Side Highway – the divider between Riverside Park South and the Hudson River – with a leafy vertical ivy garden and aligning waterfalls. He believes his Vine Line proposal will become a source of pride for the entire community and revamp the area aesthetically.

Near Milan, meanwhile, a shopping centre is claiming to have the biggest vertical garden in the world, with 1,263 square metres adorned with a total of 44,000 plants. It was designed by architect Francesco Bollani who said “it took us a year to grow the plants in a greenhouse and 90 days to build the facade.”

The previous record was held by a Madrid garden covering 844 square metres.

By Angela Fedele
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