Trying something new in the gardening field always provides gardeners with something to enjoy as they wile away the winter days.
Sometimes it is as simple as trying a new plant but often times the project involves a whole new concept in gardening that requires considerable time and effort to pull it off.
For the last couple of years I have read a number of magazine/newspaper articles about the concept of living walls, and although the idea intrigued me, I mostly dismissed the whole thing as being too upscale. All of the articles seemed to focus on projects in multi-million dollar homes or lavish hotel lobbies and included tumbling water falls and were composed of many dozens of plants.
Quite some time ago — last spring in fact — I saw a more modest example of a living wall as I was walking through The Green Spot. It was a modest project and I thought, quite manageable for the ordinary gardener to undertake — although I haven’t got around to it yet! Whoever made the living wall I saw had simply made a wooden box with a frame around it that was designed to hang on the wall.
It was a modest size, less than a metre square, and made of ordinary unstained wood. I think anyone with a few carpentry skills could create a variation out of more exotic wood that involved staining or painting. The whole thing actually reminded me somewhat of a diorama, those three dimensional projects that children undertake as school projects.
In this case the plants were in pots and seem to be sitting in a preformed plastic tray with pot-shaped indentations although some of the living walls that I have read about have had the plants actually planted right into the box.
The wood that framed this particular living wall was at right angles and I wondered why these wooden boards couldn’t have been slanted to hide the sides of the box and meet the wall if the box was huge.
This box was quite deep and I think it would be worthwhile to try to make the box as shallow as possible to make it more attractive when mounted on the wall. Many plants will perform well in very shallow containers.
One of the definite requirements of such a system is that the box-like structure would have to be waterproof. The other necessity would be for some sort of method to be in place to hold the plants and soil in place when the living wall is hung.
Perhaps the pots could fit tightly into preformed trays that would hold the pots securely in place. Maybe some sort of unobtrusive wire system could ensure that the soil did not tumble out of the pots — the soil would have to have a high percentage of organic matter to make it less apt to fall out; sphagnum moss could be used on the soil surface to accomplish the same thing.
The plants chosen for a living wall probably need to be trailing plants that have a vigorous enough growth habit to cover the pots and soil surface as there should not be any mechanics or pot rims showing, just foliage. Blooming plants would not likely work well.
Easy care plants that drop little debris, grow slowly and require lower light levels would probably be the most suitable as a living wall would probably be positioned in a relatively low light location. Small ferns, heartleaf philodendron, various ivies, spider plant, arrowhead vine, tradescantia and grape ivy come to mind.
The advantage of building a system wherein the plants are planted in pots and not in the box itself is that an individual pot can be replaced if a particular plant flags. If you so desired, a couple of more exotic plants, including flowering plants, could be rotated in and out of the living wall to provide bright focal points.
I have seen versions of living walls in some outdoor gardens, mainly making use of succulents and cacti. Perhaps if you are uneasy about trying an indoor living wall, attempting one in your outdoor garden first would provide a chance to experiment.
There is less likelihood that water will cause any damage outdoors and you can experiment with the mechanics that you will use, test waterproofing methods, and generally experiment with the whole concept.
Then in the fall, you could evaluate your project, adjust your methods — and plants — to suit an indoor location, and create a living wall to be enjoyed next winter in your home.
Although creating and caring for a living wall is not a project that everyone will want to undertake, if you or someone you know possesses some carpentry skills and you are itching to try a unique indoor gardening project, you just might give creating a living wall some consideration.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.