Grow Up for a Change: Going Vertical with Gardening

A variety of vertical garden styles

Space is tight in urban areas and as a result gardens are growing up…literally. More than the United States, Europe is using vertical space to grow semi-hydroponic gardens that help the urban environment on a number of levels.

The obvious benefit of the vertical garden is the immediate improvement in environmental quality. While traditional building facades serve as massive heat sinks that radiate  heat and increase ambient air temperatures, living walls thermoregulate buildings by trapping heat in the winter and cooling buildings in the summer. But vertical gardens go beyond just outdoor applications. Indoor air quality can be improved as well by installing a vertical garden on interior walls. “Active” indoor vertical walls encase the plants in plexiglass and circulate air by their leaves and roots. Indoor toxins are trapped in the capillary mat and are transformed into usable minerals by microbes.

As far as garden trends go vertical gardens can most likely considered to be a movement or phenomena. Horticulture is experiencing a number of paradigm shifts on a number of fronts as we seek new ways to create gardens that are engaged part of our lives. For example, consider what the organic movement has done for gardening in the last 60 years. Edible landscaping is now more and more common as people considered first the impact of pesticides and then the impact of food on our ecosystem. No we are considering our potential to clean up the environment in a very aesthetic manner.

The current undisputed master designer of the vertical garden is Patrick Blanc. His designs grace the facades of chic architecture around the world. His system of polyamide capillary felt and waterproofing membrane is braced to a metal structure and then planted and irrigated semi-hydroponically. It is a simple and effective design that is lightweight, allowing for massive gardens that can reach seemingly infinite heights. But Blanc’s design prowess only represents one side of the many possibilities now posing themselves in the vertical gardening world. It may not be too long before Blanc’s seminal work is considered a design strategy of the past, but don’t cross your fingers.

While Blanc relies on long sheets of polyamide felt to weave his extensive tapestries other designers like ELT, are working with panels of plants that range from 4 to 12 square feet. The benefit of the modular system is ease of maintenance and possibilities of variety. At any time the panels can be rearranged to create a new design or removed entirely to troubleshoot maintenance issues. This too may be archaic in a not too distant future. I say that because the inventiveness that the work Blanc and the other vertical gardening pioneers have inspired will surely lead this environmental horticulture phenomena to new heights.

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