The future of gardening is looking up and it’s vertical, not horizontal. Vertical gardens are a growing trend as savvy gardeners with limited space look for new ways to enjoy the outdoors. And it’s now possible to plant vertical gardens almost anywhere, as modern tools and techniques make the installation and maintenance of them easier than ever to do.
What is a vertical garden? At its most basic level, it’s a garden attached to either an exterior or interior wall. Vertical gardens can be composed of plants rooted in soil and suspended in containers from a grid. Or, they can be self-sustaining and soil-less. This means that plants receive water and nutrients from within a modular structure and that the structure acts as the “soil” in which the plants grow.
Vertical gardens that make use of hydroponic technologies are frequently referred to as green or living walls. They can include almost any plant type; edibles, annuals, perennials, shrubs or even small trees can work, depending on prevailing climatic conditions. The key to this form of gardening is to ensure water and nutrients flow evenly at regularly timed intervals over the plants. This keeps the roots properly fed and allows the plants to thrive.
Green wall types of vertical gardens can be built from DIY kits and ready-made living wall systems. There are also many companies which specialize in installing them. Standard components of a green wall include: a frame, waterproof backing or panels, water-absorbing fabric in which to nest the plants, and an automatic irrigation system (and plants, of course). The green wall is traditionally attached to the wall, but it can also be freestanding.
In vertical gardens, hydroponic (soil-less) lightweight, porous fabrics that resist mold and mildew take the place of soil. The fabric doubles as a structural support for the plants and the medium in which the roots grow. Plants are inserted through horizontal slits in the outer layer of the fabric, or placed in fabric pockets.
Irrigation systems, regulated by timers, are the life source for this type of vertical garden. Mounted either on top of the structure (most simple method) or channeled throughout modular panels, they provide vital water and nutrients to the plants on the wall. A fertilizer injector valve, attached directly into the system, provides constant feeding to the soil-less plants. A gutter placed at the bottom of the wall catches grey water that can be recycled.
One Central Park, Sydney, Australia
The largest vertical garden in the world is attached to the exterior walls of One Central Park, two residential towers located in Sydney, Australia. It was designed by Patrick Blanc, a French botanist, considered the inventor of the vertical garden idea (mur végétal.) Winner of the 2014 Council on Tall Building and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) prize for Best Tall Building Worldwide, the luxury apartments are the canvas for a stunning collection of living green walls, which wrap the east and north facades of both towers with 38,000 indigenous and exotic plants.
Blanc has been designing and installing vertical gardens for over 30 years. His works are well known around the world and in Paris in particular, where his large exterior installation at the Quai Branly Museum provides an intriguing landmark.
Longwood Gardens’ Living Wall
Longwood Gardens, located in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, recently won an award for its massive, 4,072 square foot green wall. Located in the gardens’ East Conservatory, the living wall is composed of more than 47,000 ferns, ivy, moss and other plants. Embedded into 3,590 modular panels, the plants are grouped according to their particular light preferences.
Computer sensors regulate the temperature and control the flow of water and nutrients to each species. According to the garden’s caretakers, the green wall produces as much oxygen as 90 fourteen-foot trees.
There are many options for installing plants vertically without relying on hydroponics. Vertical gardens composed of stacked, soil-based plants in containers can be designed to fit almost any style and need. Just as in traditional gardens, though, it’s important to choose the right plants for the space. That means taking into consideration how much sunlight the wall will receive as well as exposure to wind, humidity, cold and other environmental conditions. With new technologies, the sky’s the limit.
One popular trend in vertical gardening is to arrange plants in pots, or other types of uniformly-shaped containers (new or recycled) and suspend them from grids.
Another trend in vertical gardening (as well as horizontal) is to mix ornamental with edible plants. It’s also an excellent way to grow food without using up a lot of space.
Vertical gardening also provides opportunities for combining different species of plants to form interesting and colorful tapestries.
Whether, hydroponic or soil-based, mounted on massive exterior structures or small interior frames, these beautiful works of living art are more than gardens. They improve air quality, cut noise pollution and contribute to our overall wellbeing. They also provide a tantalizing window into the possible future of gardening and agriculture overall.
For a great step-by-step tutorial on how to create your own vertical garden click here.