PHABRIK Magazine

Digging the Future of Vertical Gardens | What are you stairing at?

September 2011
Digging the Future of Vertical Gardens

By Denise Eichmann

More and more businesses today are looking to green walls as a way to add natural beauty while dramatically improving energy efficiency by moderating indoor air temperatures and humidity levels. A green wall, which is also referred to as a living wall or vertical garden, is a wall that is free standing or part of a building that is partially or completely covered with a vegetation facade. Every inspired landscaper digs their shovel into their soul and plants their own nature into their work. Green walls provide an inspired palette for landscape architects to harness and cultivate the joyful power of nature to best serve their clients.

As living walls are becoming “de rigueur” as the environmentally-forward plantings that every green conscious business desires to visually showcase its’ green initiatives, shoddy systems with poor long term performance are quickly flooding the market. Designing, building and installing beautiful yet functional and environmental beneficial green walls takes experience and practice. In a buyer beware marketplace, it is important to invest in a living wall system that has a proven track record of sustainability and to select an installer who has a well documented history of successful installations with full scale maintenance capabilities to warrant both plants and irrigation.

Living plants require water, nutrients and light to survive. High quality commercial vertical gardens come complete with their own “life support” system which is comprised of a supporting structure to hold the plants vertically, a growth medium to ensure plant longevity, an irrigation/ fertilization system to deliver the correct amount of water and nutrients, and a drainage system to properly dispose of or re-circulate the spent water. Proper selection and design of a system for a particular locale necessitates plumbing and electrical considerations. Understanding the lighting needs required for the selected plants is also crucial for sustainability.

I believe there may be countless reasons why vertical gardens are an important addition to any commercial property. However, for the purposes of this article, I limit my exuberance to my top reasons to invest in a living wall:

Breath of Fresh Air – Vertical gardens provide a net positive impact to the environment over their life span. Foliage plants of indoor vertical gardens significantly improve indoor air quality by moderating temperature and humidity levels and filtering the air to remove harmful volatile organic compounds. VOC’s are “chemicals” which have significant vapor pressures which can be dangerous to human health and have adverse effects on the environment. The EPA has found concentrations of VOC’s in indoor air that is commonly 2-5 times greater than what is found in outdoor air. Sources of anthropogenic (man-made) VOC’s include new furnishings, wall and floor coverings, and office equipment like printers. In the span of a year, a 50 square feet vertical garden can consume as much CO2 as a 14’ high tree with as much as one pound of dust removed from the air per square foot.

Sign Post Value of Living Wall – Living walls can provide a living barrier that gently guides people to where you want them to go. In many buildings there is a need to channel pedestrian traffic towards landmarks including check-in desks, escalators and common passageways. This is particularly important in premises with large, open areas such as those found in airports, hospitals, universities, and other large commercial spaces. Living walls provide natural divides and reference points that make any space come alive with vitality.

Striking a Pose – Interior space planning is a fashion-driven business, and nothing “strikes a pose” more handsomely than an artful living wall. Interior living walls bring nature indoors, important especially in urban areas where the average person spends more time inside commercial or residential buildings than outside with nature. People are naturally attracted to plants and gravitate toward living walls where the sensory experience is captivating. Where else, other than the tropical plant houses of botanical gardens, will you see the variety of exotic and unusual plant species that can be found in some vertical gardens.

If you have the green-light to move forward on your living wall, keep in mind the following factors which are crucial to the garden’s longevity and success:

Location, Location, Location –The location of your living wall is significant. Not only from a visual standpoint but from a mechanical point of view. Is your desired location accessible to plumbing and electrical? What is the infrastructure of the supporting wall – is the green wall framing attaching to concrete, metal or marble? With the right infrastructure in place, nearly any location can be accommodated but the budget may be higher for a green wall location far from water lines and with no natural light for example.

Plant Selection is Key – Your selection of featured green wall plants should be based upon microclimate conditions, plant growth habits, and the availability of light. An exterior north facing wall requires an entirely different plant palette than a south or west facing wall. For example, featured plants on exterior walls in the arid southwest climate differ from what can be used in the cold Midwest. Plants for interior walls are chosen to reflect low, medium and high light scenarios. Interior tropical plants require a minimum of 10-12 hours of at least 150 foot candles of light per day to flourish. In a typical commercial hotel environment, there are on average about 30-40 foot candles of light vs. 5,000 to 10,000 foot candles of light that can be found outside on a bright sunny day.

Interior Plants that thrive in low light (75 to 150 foot candles) include the Scindapsus and Philodendron genus such as the Silver Satin Pothos, Neon Pothos, Goldon Pothos, Jade Pothos, and Heart-leaf Philodendron. Medium light thriving plants (100-250 foot candles) include the Dallas Fern, Cretan Brake Fern, Rabbit Foot Fern, Begonia and Peperomia species. For environments with maximum light (150-250 foot candles), plants such as the Alocasia Amazonica, Hawaiian Schefflera, Hedera Ivy, Purple Waffle Plants and Creeping Fig are ideal.

The average person today spends about 90% of their time indoors with about half of the world’s population living in cities. Green walls improve a building’s air quality and enhance the emotional and physical well being of the people who come into contact with it. Green walls act as acoustic barriers which can counter the noise pollution which plagues urban dwellers. Green walls harmonize buildings with nature and provide a living canvas for green wall professions to add the beauty of nature to any man-made structure.

What are you stairing at?

By Liz Nandee

Tired of looking at your staircase without pizzazz? Here is a unique look at taking stairs, whether leading to a basement or garage, entrance or landing. Here are some examples of things to look up too.


Tuft Love | ECO Decor | Green is the New Black Pheonix Rising
Tuft Love | ECO Decor | Green is the New Black
Pheonix Rising


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