Creating green walls in a small space

Living picture with rooted succulents

We've owned our house for 15 years. In that time, we've landscaped the front yard once and the backyard twice. And now we're bored.

Designing and building is the fun part. We've had to search for ways to satisfy the creative impulse in the garden.

Space, in this case, is our limiting factor. I just visited Plant Delights in Raleigh, N.C., one of the largest mail-order nurseries in the United States.

Tony Avent lives on the nursery grounds and his “yard” is essentially a botanical garden. I don't have that luxury. I have to creatively utilize a small amount of space.

We typically think of landscaping in horizontal terms. We only have so many square feet to plant turf or flowers. Shaping the land into sloping mounds can turn a boring flat niche into a flowing wonderland.

Terraforming is a way of implementing vertical interest. When vertical gardening is taken to the extreme, we can create green, or living, walls.

When planting hard surfaces such as buildings, green roofs have gotten all the attention. By greening a roof, we can reduce water runoff, insulate the building and extend the life expectancy of the roof.

Green walls, however, have great potential to be creative. Look around your landscape and assess how many vertical surfaces are barren, such as fences, sheds, dog houses, railings or retaining walls.

There are many examples of green walls already in place around the Charleston area where steel grids are anchored to walls to support vines to provide textural interest and insulation.

One product installed on the Medical University of South Carolina campus is a free-standing metal matrix to support Confederate jasmine to create a living fence.

Green walls don't have to be expensive engineered feats. Pallets can be packed with soil by stapling plastic to the back and planting between the slats. Once plants are rooted, the greened pallet can be vertically oriented.

Recently, we built a green wall at Trident Technical College using milk crates. Any milk crate will do, but I used colorful 24-quart crates (www.buymilkcrates.com) for additional planting space.

The crates were lined with weed fabric and filled with potting soil. The lining was easy to puncture in order to plant petunia plugs. Once thoroughly watered, the crates were stacked on a solid base and wired together as well as to the brick wall.

We are now hand-watering the green wall of milk crates, but drip irrigation will soon be installed to thoroughly get water to the inner and lower portions. A previously blank space has now become a wall of color.

If you're not a do-it-yourselfer, there are ready-made products for easy installation. Wooly pockets (woollypocket.com/) are soft, multipocketed containers that can be hung on a wall. When hung in a series, plants hang over the pocket lips and create the illusion of a green wall. Wooly pockets are expensive but are made with quality material that will withstand the elements.

Living wall modules can be hung indoors or outdoors and appear more like a vertically framed containers of plants. Do-it-yourself kits can be purchased from websites such as Easy Green (www.eltlivingwalls.com/) that have a convenient watering system. Living pictures are easy to build and plant.

Succulent Gardens (sgplants.com) features living pictures that are quite unusual for any wall inside your house. You can purchase pre-constructed living picture frames or building your own. A box constructed with cedar 1 x 4s can be backed with a square of plywood. Attach a mesh screen on the front can be filled and with soil. Make sure to water the soil into the frame and continue refilling until it is sufficiently packed.

Succulent cuttings are rosette succulents without roots. Place cuttings in contact with soil and they will root through the mesh. The living picture can be hung on the wall and occasionally taken down to water. It can also be laid flat for the succulents to spill over the edges.



Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at tony.bertauski@tridenttech.edu.

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