Up the Walls with Scotscape’s Living Walls

by | Nov 30, 2016 | Featured Slider, Latest, News

Written by: Bella Whiteley

Living Green walls or ‘Vertical Gardening’ is currently de rigeur. They are popping up everywhere ! The urban green revolution is upon us.

Being an Interior Designer I have tracked the trend for indoor house plants over the last year or so,watched this flourish as the benefits of plants indoors become apparent again , and further focused my interest on the larger scale phenomenon of the  Living Green Wall.

We have the French Botanist ; Patrick Blanc , to thank for inventing this concept of  ‘vertical gardening ‘ over thirty years ago.Known as the Mur Vegetal in French ….he continues to install some extremely maverick green-wall designs all over the world.

Press coverage  given to the recently launched  expansion project at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA )   sparked global interest in the ‘Green Wall’ movement ….the sheer scale of this vertical garden,the nations’ largest green wall of native plants , cannot help but impress. Part art, part landscape architecture, the giant wall designed by Habitat Horticulture is the nations’ largest public green wall of native plants that also boasts impressive eco-friendly elements.

The massive living wall stands at nearly 30 feet high and stretches to a width of 150 feet. Being located in a shady area,the plant choice was anathema to the walls’ survival,and in the end a staggering 19,442 plants with 37 different species were used. To fully experience this installation,one walks the terrace of the museum as if it were a trail within a forest…..providing a multi sensory experience of fragrance,colour, texture and movement within the plants forms……and wildlife buzz about amongst the foliage too….a masterpiece indeed.
But how to replicate this glorious feature at home ? How could I encourage my clients to install their own eco features as part of their refurbishment projects? I wanted to know more,so went straight to the experts, Scotscape,based in Surrey.
I had met them before at the Surface Design Show in London earlier this year, and their stand was attracting a lot of interest….
I booked myself onto a CPD ( continuing professional development ) training day a few weeks ago. Set in the same week as the Chelsea Flower show, my fellow guests on the day  were professional Garden Designers ,a couple looking to invest in a living wall at their own home , and a crew from Paignton Zoo who were looking to install a Living Wall….they too wanted to know more about the process…
Greeted by Niall McEvoy,their Business Development Manager,based at the  Surbiton,Surrey nursery site , we all sat down and eagerly awaited the presentation.I had so many questions to ask ?!   Niall is both enthusiastic about his Living Walls and extremely knowledgeable on the topic…..in fact everything living walls..! He pre empted questions before we could even ask them…..there is such a process to specifying these walls….
Firstly Location of your wall-access is key,both for installing and maintenance. Consider if your wall is going to be in full sun,or shade,this will dictate the type and level of irrigation required.You will need to use a scaffold to install these walls so a solid ground-level area is required.Consider the strength of your sub-wall……..can it take the weight of the Living wall system,and is there an adjacent area for the irrigation equipment to be housed.You can set up a rainwater harvesting system for your irrigation thus keeping your eco-ideals on track. Ideally,if an Architect is designing your propertys’ living wall,get him to put in fixing points in the mortar or render , every few feet for both a scaffold  tower and person with a harness to attach to for stability,when maintaining your wall. Scotscape will design the whole fixing system for you,and the level of irrigation required……it is simply thin pipes with tiny holes in to drip-feed the panels evenly across your wall. Top tips,learnt from experience are;- Hard water ,in areas such as London,can block irrigation holes if limescale builds up,so water softeners compatible with plants can be added,and pipes simply slide out for annual cleaning. Liquid plant feeds can also be added to the water at different times of the year,depending on the condition of your plants and any evidence of lacking nutrients.Point to note-if your wall is above 4 meters high,you will likely need to boost your water pressure,to ensure it travels all across your wall.The performance of your plants and how they are looking will tell you which areas need a little more tlc…

Interior Walls; even though you may have skylights and a lot of natural light where your wall is to be located ,Scotscape strongly recommend Grow-lights which will keep the lush green look of your vegetation ,all year round.Lighting levels of 1000-1500 Lux is recommended,and suppliers such as Howard Lawrence can advise.

Pruning is essential too,to keep your wall looking structured yet natural.As you cut back areas of perhaps grasses or ferns which can become leggy if left to grow,you will ensure the lower lying foliage gets enough light too,thus foliage grows evenly.

Benefits-aside from looking stunningly beautiful,the colour green has enormous well being properties ; from a colour psychology perspective,Green is the great balancer of the heart and the emotions,creating equilibrium between the head and the heart.Green is an ‘emotionally positive’ colour,symbolising growth,spring,renewal and rebirth.Being a combination of yellow and blue,green encompasses the mental clarity and optimism of yellow with the emotional calm and insight of Blue. All good then.. !

Commercially,companies using and installing living walls help communicate to their customers their ‘green credentials’ and demonstrate a companys’ sustainability targets. As well as supermarkets and hotel chains putting living walls on the side of what can be rather bland buildings,building firms,keen to offset their ‘carbon footprint’ are using panels of planted-up living walls on their hoardings. Berkley Homes are championing this…..interesting as they are known to be prolific house builders.Also entire walls of IVY , essentially Ivy Screens ( also supplied by Scotscape ) are being used on building development sites to again soften the hardscaping,but also to minimise dust…the ivy literally attracts the dust via static,thus keeping it off the immediate surrounding area and street level. To wash…? Simply hose it down a few times a week!

Perhaps the greatest eco credential of a Living Wall installation is the improved air quality;-the walls physically breathe air into cities and purify air in interiors-leading to improved working environments and consequently happier,more productive staff.

 An example in Germany,leading manufacturer Bosch ditched their dry air,Air-Con systems and its bulky equipment,and instead installed internal green walls and water features. The living plant walls remove CO2’s and VOC’s  ( Volatile Organic Compounds ) from the air.You also consume less electricity by not running large air-con machinery,thus reducing your electricity bills by about 20% minimum.

Studies at the University of Lancaster found living walls to be more effective than trees at reducing nitrogen dioxide in dense urban areas with high pollution levels;this is due to the tall buildings in urban landscapes creating ‘street canyons’ which literally trap pollution at street level.Living walls can increase the deposition rate by as much as 40% of nitrogen dioxide and 60% for particulate matter as the cleaner air from above the street canyons is introduced.

The ‘ Urban Heat Island’ effect where exposed urban surfaces such as roofs,pavements and roads can become 27-50 degrees C hotter than the air,is posing a huge problem in cities worldwide.Unforgiving,heat-baked concrete has no shade or  filtrated air flow to cool the environment and the constructed materials,as there would be in rural surroundings.Adding living walls and green roofs to urban structures can mitigate the urban heat island effect,thus making cities more bearable in the summer months,thanks to these introduced greenery utopias.So thermal fluctuations are controlled,thus prolonging the lifespan of a structure.

For homes, living walls provide great insulation; research undertaken at the University of Sheffield exposed irrefutable evidence of the effectiveness of living walls to cool buildings in summer and insulate buildings in the winter. Scotscape can even add an acoustic membrane layer in your living wall installation to help soundproof your home or building,again highly desirable in a densely populated urban environment. The plants actively dampen noise pollution.

Moss is also an acoustically rated material, Norwegian reindeer moss being the most natural acoustic solution there is ! It can  be dyed in varying natural pigments and minerals ,so for Interior Designer,specifying green walls of preserved moss is a  great solution to softening sound in hotel lobbies,office areas,and Ive seen entire walls of moss in Bathrooms, just stunning !  The colour combinations and moss-panel arrangements are endless…..get inspired.

Future developments for Living Walls and moving forward; Cambridge University are exploring how electricity can be tapped from dense areas of planting as plants produce energy; this can be harnessed to power LED lights, and eventually maybe even street lights…imagine remote tribes people  in tropical forested areas generating their own,locally harnessed power from their plants! These trials have now moved to Japan,so with some more scientific research,its exciting to see how this potential could be quantified.

Following our talk, we were given a tour of the Scotscape Nursery , their various demonstration areas showcased the living walls beauty but it was also clear one needs to recognise  their ‘ Biomorphic Value ‘ ; definition of  biomorph ; representing a living organism rather than an artistic or pragmatic ideal.

The walls can ‘mimic’ biodiversity of vegetation ,thus supporting insects and birdlife. Whilst we were there, birds and bees were buzzing around their specially installed nesting boxes and bug houses…..they also look great too…..school trips and nature documentary programme makers are currently interested in this charming aspect of the living wall system Scotscape can tailor to your own brief.

Even the entrance gates at Scotscape nurseries are fully planted up with the same living wall hanging system….so when fully closed, they almost take on the character of  ‘the secret garden’ as they are well camouflaged against the adjacent hedge.Great solution for screening,privacy  and security…..and makes a change to railings.
Next, Niall showed us an area of wall in the plant nursery where they were experimenting with growing and installing succulents as coverage,or a mixture of succulents and plants.Succulents are an excellent choice for a vertical garden because they are hearty,they grow slowly,and need little water.Again,this is in direct reaction to customer demand,or perhaps Designers always pushing the envelope to obtain something that little bit different or unique. Their leaf structure is very bold and geometric,thus giving a harder textural appearance and the colours they come in from pale silvery greens to almost black can create stripes of foliage contrast across your wall. Nice !
You could also consider growing herbs on your wall ;-restaurants are cottoning onto this,not only to promote their ‘well being’ credentials across the whole booming , holistic lifestyle sector,but to cut buying costs.Vegetables and small fruits like strawberries thrive when vertically grown,which is very handy for the chef too..!

One of the last features that Niall showed us was the development of their   ‘Circular Hanging Garden System’. Essentially like a giant hanging punchbag of the fabric system and soil, it’s a 360 degree planted up  form hanging on chains,which can be pushed and rotated and moved,giving the human full interaction with this green ‘kinetic sculpture’, thus taking Biomorphic Design to another level.But the best or most useful feature of these…? They can be laced with pollens and flowers and feed to attract insects & birds ….et voila;Living Insect feeders .They look majestic too,perhaps several in a row…superb educational tools for museums,schools…exhibitions….summer events.

Acquiring knowledge in ones’ professional life is essential to keep developing your skills,and I thoroughly enjoyed my foray into the world of Living Green Walls. From the smallest house to the biggest development,bringing the walls to life can have endless benefits. The coalesce of all our living walls really can produce greener cities of the future.

Scotscape are looking for business partners in the South African region. Full training will be provided. From more info please contact  Anna Roochove on annar@scotscape.net


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