Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Vertical Gardens (Part 2)

The succulent vertical garden from the Metropolitan Home article

The winter blues must have snared me and now it is spring. I'm back. There are good smells in the air. The trees blossom and then send out their beautiful green shoots and the weather warms up. A good time for gardens, a good time for me.

I promised another entry on Vertical Gardens. Recently I visited the Wall at Melbourne Central and was distraught to see that many of the plants had died. Hmmm not a good advertisement for the vertical garden. Why was this I thought to myself, lack of water, lack of nutrients? I don't think lack of light as the plants chosen looked suitable specimens. I had heard that the installation of vertical gardens is difficult and that Patrick Blanc was one of the few who was successful at it but in this case not so. Perhaps not enough had gone into the planning of the maintenance behind the wall. Anyway it alerted me to the difficulty of such a project.

Despite this I have been looking at two little vertical garden projects myself. One for a client whose neighbour has built the most enormous wall between the two properties. In this densely built part of Melbourne it is usual to have a good overhead height fence between properties as we live in terrace houses which run long and thin and share walls and a little backyard privacy is relished. A normal height for a fence would be about 180cm or 6 foot, perhaps with some trellis at the top. This fence is probably 250cm tall ... (I'm not sure what that is in feet) but the result is that it feels horribly forboding and overbearing. So I was discussing with my client what we could do to soften it. We discussed the idea of a vertical garden - she had read an article in the newspaper by designer
Jim Fogarty and was quite taken with the idea.

There are a couple of things to overcome before we embark on such a project. The first is that a vertical garden needs to be built out from the fence - a waterproof membrane between the actual vertical structure to protect it, and in front of this a very solidly engineered framework on which to attach the growing medium and plants. As you can imagine that once water is added and plants the weight of the vertical garden is considerable. In my client's little backyard there is a fold out washing line in front of the fence that cannot be moved elsewhere - providing our first problem lack of horizontal space.
Jim Fogarty's column referred to the Elmich Green Wall system which does somewhat seem to simplify the whole installation providing a solution to framework issues but doesn't solve my horizontal space problem.

The second challenge is water or rather the lack of it. A vertical garden requires a drip installation system of water and usually nutrients to ensure its wellbeing. Before long we shall be on water restrictions which will not allow for any use of mains water in the garden. Without another source of water either a tank for collection of run-off from the roof or a grey-water treatment system a vertical garden would not last long. Again despite the plethora of various water systems including rain water tanks and grey water treatment systems, space and cost are an issue.

Having said that I was interested to see an article in Metropolitan Home on a succulent vertical garden which they claim requires only occasional spritzing from the hose. It was a rather beautiful installation. I was quite taken with it and am thinking of doing a similar installation as a little roof garden and when I say little I mean little - the roof of my dog kennel - project number 2 of a very minor nature! The dog rarely sits in the kennel and I'm tired of looking at the rather unattractive roof of it. I like the idea that the roof would insulate the structure too - cool in summer, warm in winter - foolishly thinking that my wee pooch will suddenly prefer the kennel over the house. I also like the idea of a little test run before unleashing (ooh excuse the pun) myself on clients with my ideas.

So as you can see I'm still very much working through the practicalities myself but hopefully shortly I shall come to a suitable solution for the aforementioned fence and be able to feast my eyes upon an abundant succulent roof!

1 comment:

camellia said...

Hi, I'm Camellia in England. I bookmarked your blog but thought you may have left it completely. Really good to see you are back! Vertical gardens are really THE new thing in gardening, it sort of puts everything into a new perspective. Will look forward to hear more about your/client's project.