Jane Perrone finds out about the new generation of green walls
It is 30 years since the godfather of vertical gardens, Patrick Blanc, created his first green wall at the Museum of Science and Industry in Paris. Yet the industry that has grown up around this horticultural phenomenon is still evolving. Images of verdant vertical gardens turned crispy and brown still have a habit of turning up in the press and on social media, so part of the process involves educating people about what can go wrong, says Paul Garlick, national business manager of green wall specialists Mobilane.
He argues that such failures are not usually down to the green wall itself, but are caused by poor maintenance or incorrect plant choice. His vertical wall system is designed to address some of the pitfalls of green walls, with a watering system that works through capillary action where the plants draw water up from capillary matting in a gutter reservoir. The plants only use the water they need, and the system benefits from being lightweight, cheap to maintain and easy to fix: an alarm system helps to prevent failure too, sending out an SMS or an audio alarm to alert the owner if the water supply is damaged or cut off.
The latest product is tapping into the market of customers whose budget won’t stretch to a larger green wall installation. It has an integrated water reservoir that is filled by hand, and will last plants for up to a month, so can be used in areas where a water supply is not possible or desirable. “It’s ticking a lot of boxes for people who want to put a green wall inside a premises but can’t get water to it; it’s very convenient,” says Garlick.
Green walls are also being developed as super-charged air purifiers for indoor and outdoor settings. Zac Ribak, managing director of green wall installer Watermatic and sister company BioPure Air, says just 2 sq m of his active living wall system will clean up to 750,000 litres of air in 24 hours. The system works by sucking air through the plants’ root zones, removing pollutants through bioremediation. It’s easy to see the potential applications for such a product; BioPure Air is working with Hillingdon Borough Council on plans to install these active green walls in a tower format in pollution hotspots such as roundabouts.
However, there are always going to be settings where living plants just won’t survive: exposed roof terraces, places with extreme temperatures or no natural light. For those environments, realistic yet artificial green walls are an ideal solution, says VistaGreen founder Paul Alder. “I realised that there was a demand for a flexible system that created the look of beautiful vertical green-wall planting without the hassle of using real plants that require natural light or ongoing maintenance,” he says.
His products have appeared everywhere from an Oscars party to Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, showing there is an appetite for a completely hassle-free wall that can also be cut into complex shapes – something that is not possible with real plants.