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How to Create a Living Wall

05/05/2020 - Featured Products

Vertical gardening is at an all-time high and I’m seeing more and more opportunities for landscapers and garden designers working in this sector. This article takes a long look at living walls. What are they for? How to build the infrastructure for a living wall and which plants to choose.

What is a living wall?

living wall of plants
Glorious living wall created by Scotscape

The definition of a green wall aka a living wall is “A vertical built structure intentionally covered by vegetation”.

Until Patrick Blanc started experimenting with vertical gardening in the 1980’s, living walls were largely limited to the height of terrestrially grown plants. I’m talking of espalier fruit trees, supported wisterias, virginia creepers, clematis and the like. The maximum height of a green wall would be 15 metres at the most, however, thanks to Patrick’s lively mind and the efforts of some amazing suppliers, it’s possible to create living walls in the most unlikely and hard to reach places.

Why create a living wall?

As landscapers and garden designers, you’ll be no stranger to the concept of biophilic design. Using plants to create a sense of wellbeing. The green wall concept was first grasped by the world of contemporary art. It was (and still is) a form of decoration. However there are a myriad of other benefits associated with green walls including insulation, improved air quality, biodiversity and, for the organisations that adopt them, great PR.

Within a landscape design I can see a living wall being used for

  • Screening and disguising practical but unattractive garden buildings.
  • Adding an extra dimension in small gardens.
  • Cocooning – making a space feel cosier/safer/more comfortable.
  • Food production in small spaces.
  • Bringing the outdoors indoors with interior green walls.
  • A sensory experience level with hands, eyes and noses.
  • Repelling unwanted insects such as mosquitos.

Building a living wall – the principals



Just like green roofs, a successful living wall is a fine balance between engineering and ecology. The main difference is that most green roofs are only subject to close scrutiny once or twice a year. A living wall is right in front of your eyes for 365 days a year. How will you keep it healthy and attractive?

My advice would be to talk to clients before investigating systems and deciding on plants. The key to a beautiful living wall is maintenance. If your client is not willing to monitor irrigation systems and check plant health themselves they MUST budget for a maintenance service.

Planning your green wall

  • Protect the structure against damp and root invasion.
  • Buildings must not be compromised by the weight of your living wall system.
  • For walls over 2m tall, consider the potential influence of the wind. If in doubt, talk to an expert.
  • Ensure that your project will not cause conflict with neighbours – particularly if party walls or boundary walls are involved.
  • Consider the exposure – try to site your wall so that it is sheltered from drying winds, hot sun, frost and extreme shade.
  • Careful plant choices are key.
  • A built in irrigation system is essential, preferably one that will recirculate water to reduce waste (although this isn't essential). Make sure the wall manager knows how to maintain and use it!

A very simple living wall


This is a living wall in its simplest possible form. AND it’s the basis for the ALS Living Wall Kit
  • Plants are in pots and can easily be rearranged or replaced.
  • More pots can be added to create a lusher, more verdant look.
  • No roots come into contact with the wall – in fact – with a bit of tinkering, this could be self-supporting.
  • Wall needs protecting against damp.
  • An automated irrigation/feeding system would make management much easier.
  • For a more sustainable system, replace the pallet with something with a longer shelf life.

The ALS Living Wall Kit


Live plant rail for living wall system

There are many living wall systems on the market, or, of course, you can create your own. The ALS Living Wall Kit however, has one of the most user-friendly installation and management techniques out there. Here’s how it works:

The supporting wall is protected with DPM or a similar membrane which covers the whole area behind the installation.

Don’t forget that the membrane needs to be directed into drains, gutters and/or perimeter trims. (There are some very attractive slot drains available to order from our website. https://www.arbourlandscapesolutions.co.uk/als-living-walls/

Next comes the vertical support battens. Mount them onto the wall using suitable fixings. Remember that the finished system, when it’s planted up will weigh in the region of 55Kg per square metre without factoring extra forces from the wind.

The vertical support battens have little arms. These are to support the horizontal LPR rails – in effect, these are troughs that support the plants and facilitate watering via capillary action. Each rail will need end pieces.
Next comes the irrigation lines connected to control valves.

Finally the planting. Simply sit the plant pots into the LPR rails. That way there’s no faffing about trying to work with loose substrate, trowels, pots etc. Don’t like the arrangement? Swap the plants around without disturbing root systems. It’s a horticulturists dream. Allow 6-7 plants per linear metre of rail or 36-42 per square metre. P9 square shaped 1litre pots work best.
 

 

Living Wall Plants

All of your garden design and horticultural knowledge will come into play when choosing plants for a living wall. Right plant right place has never been more relevant.

Is this an indoor living wall? Nice work! The benefits to biophillia are innumerable. However, for the sake of the plants, consider the light levels very carefully as well as temperature, the rigours of air conditioning and the possibilities that plants may be brushed up against, leant upon, touched etc.

Maintenance is of course important. If the client isn’t keen, or hasn’t budgeted for aftercare, an artificial green wall is a good visual substitute.  Click here for more details 


Artificial green wall created by Jack Dunckley & https://thegreatestscapes.co.uk

Plants for an outdoor living wall

Not just any old plant will do well on a living wall. In the early days of living wall development there were some experiments with vertically hanging sedum matting. It failed dismally. The sedums were so desperate for sunlight that they quickly became etiolated and stems simply snapped off.
  • Living wall plants need to be suitable for the light levels.
  • Evergreen is advisable – nobody wants to look at crispy brown foliage all winter long.
  • Resistant to pests and diseases – one of the most important factors in my opinion.
  • Not too vigorous – otherwise you’ll be forever pruning and replacing those who get too big for their position.
  • Not too fussy about soil moisture. Until you (or your client) become expert at working the irrigation system in different weather conditions, plants may go through short periods of drought.
  • Robust foliage – particularly if the site is exposed to strong winds. It’s heartbreaking to see leaves shredded and battered by the weather.
  • Aim for seasonal changes to maximise interest. Remember too that with this system you can swap and change plants if you want to.

Favourite living wall plants include

  • Bergenia cordifolia – wonderful exotic looking dark green foliage that is actually very robust.
  • Carex elata ‘Aurea’ – light green leaves to provide colour contrast and lots of movement
  • Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ – freely available and great value. Particularly attractive to bees. Needs occasional pruning so that it doesn’t get too lanky or woody.
  • Geranium Roxanne‘Gerwat’ -a valuable green wall plant with beautiful violet blue flowers in summer and autumn.
  • Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ – or indeed almost any heuchera. Wonderfully coloured foliage but in addition, it tends to deter vine weevil so use it as a companion plant for natural pest control.
  • Polystichum tsussimense – a small, tufted evergreen fern that loves full sun or partial shade and doesn’t like to be too sheltered.
  • Viola cornuta Alba – beautiful pure white flowers through spring and summer

Finally - lighting

uplit green walls in a courtyard garden at dusk
Beautifully lit green walls in this low maintenance courtyard garden by Paul Newman


Lighting, it’s one of those landscaping details that is so often overlooked by clients. However, when you have invested in a living wall, it seems a waste if it can’t be enjoyed after dark.  Clever lighting can add a whole extra dimension and really shouldn’t be ignored. These pictures are of an artificial green wall but you get the idea.

More on lighting in another blog, but in the meantime, explore the possibilites here.

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Living Wall Products from Arbour Landscape Solutions


Artificial green wall panels – low maintenance and easy to install   

ALS Living Wall Kits 

ALS Instant Hedging – a more traditional type of vertical greening 


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