The first time I stumbled upon an image of a Patrick Blank vertical garden I was transfixed. The beauty of his work is indisputable and the idea of clothing the hard surfaces of buildings with vegetation quite mesmerizing. I had already walked the path of research on roof gardens so knew that there would also be insulation benefits, but to be really honest at that moment I just wanted one! I had an inkling that there would probably be quite a lot of science in the process of a successful VG and began looking into it. I learned very quickly from viewing a hotel in Johannesburg that maintenance could be quite a big deal as they had many sections in re-hab mode even though the garden had been installed a few years prior. Once you get a few metres above ground level logistics have to be considered.
The Patrick Blank process is basically hydropics with irrigation behind the greenery. I became nervous of my ability to re-create this aesthetic in our hot tropical Durban climate and then discovered the pot/container method which is a viable alternative. Here you are planting in soil so essentially you are gardening a large volume of pot plants (that are also carefully irrigated) and a very pleasing result is achieved. My research took me to Pula Water whose system of this kind is no doubt the best in SA and probably globally. A major advantage is that an almost immediate ‘full’ planted result can be achieved. I was just about to commit!
I then arrived to work on the Botanical Society stand at the Home & Garden show and to my amazement saw that our center piece was a magnificent mini Patrick Blank, designed and developed by our own James Halle: firstname.lastname@example.org . Over the next few weeks of volunteering at the Indigenous Plant Fair James and I spent a fair amount of time together and combined with further research of my own this is what I learned:
- Plant selection is the most important factor in determining the success and long time health of your wall. Patrick Blank has walls that are over 30 yrs old and the reason they thrive is because he chooses plants that grow on rock faces with little soil. Naturally you locally indigenous (native species) are best.
- One must study very carefully the aspect of your wall in terms of the micro climate it exists in. The amount of sun it gets in winter and summer further informs ones plant selection.
- A great vertical garden is a science and an art. I strongly advise you consult a plant expert who firstly understands the species that will grow best (science) and then knows how to put them together to create something beautiful that has the potential to get richer and stronger over time. James Halle is a special talent in this regard. He talks about ‘plant communities’ that will work together, weaving into a gorgeous tapestry where no species dominates and crowds out the others. He thinks about the vertical plain in the multi layers it will become over time, ensuring that some gaps are left for mosses and smaller treasures to take a foot hold. James ensures textures are contrasted and flowering seasons considered so colour will always be present. I truly cannot over exaggerate how valuable his expertise has been. On reflection, I know (on my own) I would have started off with a pretty design that would have eventually amalgamated in mash of reduced diversity.
- If you are an instant gratification person this technology (images to follow) is not for you. Small plants are inserted into the fabric as they have the greatest likelihood of ‘taking’ which means a lot of the background material is visible in the first few months. However, the rewards long term are greater than the pot bound system (I believe) as the wall can become an interwoven living system that grows from strength to strength.
So here is my (early stage) extraordinary and beautiful green wall of art (thank you James):