Vertical Gardens - The Green Revolution
By: Smile Elite
June 05, 2024

With space becoming a premium commodity, vertical gardens, also known as living walls or green walls, have emerged as an innovative solution transforming concrete jungles into lush, vibrant oases. Taking a modern twist on an age-old custom, (visualise old English homes with ivy creeping up the walls), vertical gardens maximise limited spaces. Making a fabulous statement either inside or outside a home, vertical gardens incorporate more greenery into your environment using otherwise wasted spaces. Not only enhancing confined spaces, but working equally as well as a statement feature for dramatic effect, they offer a blend of aesthetic appeal and natural benefits. 

“We want people to reconnect with nature in all the ways they can. We don’t own this earth; we are part of an ecosystem, and we need to cleverly reintegrate nature back into our built environments for the benefit of everyone. Greenwalls are one of those elements."  - The Greenwall Company  

The Story of Vertical Gardens 

The vertical gardens concept is not a modern invention. One of the earliest examples can be traced back to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. These terraced gardens, believed to have been built in the 6th century BCE, showcased plants cascading down walls.

French botanist Patrick Blanc revived and refined the idea in the 20th century, and is widely regarded as the father of modern vertical gardens. Since his first green wall, Blanc has created vertical wall gardens in Singapore, Sydney’s Central Park, the New York Botanical Garden, Bangkok and more. Patrick states his mission is to “bring nature back into towns and cities”. Blanc's innovative approach using hydroponics and a specialised framework to create self-sustaining living walls, has inspired countless architects and urban planners to incorporate vertical gardens into contemporary designs.

Common Versions of Vertical Gardens

Indoor or Outdoor Green Walls:

Felt Slit or Pocket Systems - Like Patrick Blanc’s on One Central Park. Plants are planted into a breathable felt that is irrigated and allows them to naturally air prune. A simple, cheaper design, but often requires a little more water to keep the felt saturated and the plants healthy. Replanting can be tricky with special knives required if the roots and felt have intertwined

Pot-Based Systems - Specially designed pots angled to allow vertical growth and drip into the pots below. These are quick to install with semi mature plants done by nurseries. Growing then happens on the wall. Plants can be swapped out or removed. Great for annuals or perennial herbs where you might want to replace the plants. 

Modular Systems- Larger growing modules allowing space for the plants to grow for healthier long-term growth. Often grown offsite. Perfect where you do not want to be swapping out plants. Replacement modules are pre-grown ready to be swapped out if required.

Hybrid Modules - Some systems include the breathability and air pruning of felt with the growing space of modules. Larger interconnected modules on a wall with an endless growing space. 

Outdoor Green Facades:

Trellis systems - Wire mesh frames, cables, or trellises are often used to provide support for the plants to climb and grow vertically. Creating a visually appealing green wall of natural beauty to the exterior of a structure.

Planter Boxes - Involve attaching a planter box to either the side of the building or having a planter box on top of an existing cantilevered slab of a building. These may often have trellis systems as well with climbing plants to cover larger areas of the façade with greenery. 

Soil Types:

Potting Mix - all the natural organics mixed with some slow release fertilises to provide healthy growth. May slump over time as the organic’s breakdown. Fine for greenwalls where you can access and top up. 

Light Weight Media - A lightweight mix of organic and inorganic materials for plant growth. The percentage of organics and inorganics materials are carefully selected to provide the organic nutrient levels required, without media breaking down and slumping too much over time. 

Inorganic Light Weight Media - Inorganic material is used to make the base of a media and trace elements are added to provide nutrient sources for the plants and, avoiding slumping issues. 

Advantages of Vertical Gardens 

Optimising Space - Where space is limited; vertical gardens provide an ingenious solution. They make use of vertical surfaces, transforming walls, fences, and even the sides of buildings into green havens.

Aesthetic Appeal - Vertical gardens add a stunning visual element. From a small urban balcony to a large luxury residence, they can transform dull, lifeless walls into vibrant, living artworks. Be it a cascading wall of flowers, a lush, green tapestry, or a kitchen garden of herbs/vegetables.

Improved Air Quality - Plants are natural air purifiers. They absorb pollutants and release oxygen, contributing to cleaner, healthier air. In urban environments, where air quality is often compromised, vertical gardens play a crucial role in mitigating pollution.

Temperature Regulation – Vertical gardens act as natural insulation, helping to regulate building temperatures and reducing energy consumption for heating and cooling. This cooling effect is particularly beneficial in hot, urban climates.

Improved Biodiversity - The outdoor gardens help increase the variety of living things into urban areas by providing homes for birds, insects, and other wildlife.

Noise Reduction - Acting as sound barriers these gardens absorb and deflect urban noise pollution.

Mental and Physical Well-Being - Being surrounded by greenery has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance overall mental well-being. Vertical gardens provide a serene and calming environment, offering a relaxing retreat from busy lifestyles. An added bonus is the physical exercise of movement in tending to a garden, even a vertical one.

Sustainability and Food Production - Using vertical gardens to grow edible plants, provides a source of fresh, organic produce. 

Sustainable Urban Development - They are a key component in sustainable urban planning, contributing to eco-friendly urban designs

Economic Benefits - By improving the aesthetic appeal of buildings and public spaces, vertical gardens can increase property values.

Vertical Gardens – Aspect and Plants 

Aspects offering gentle, filtered shade or morning sun/ afternoon shade enable the widest plant choice.

Small succulents are commonly used as a low-maintenance vertical garden for sunnier spots. Bromeliads love semi-shade. Strappy leafed plants with a slightly drooping habit will perform well. E.g. small Dianellas, Mondo Grass, Lomandra, Liriope and Walking Iris. Also, creepers, ferns, flowering annuals, herbs and even trailing varieties like Devil’s Ivy. Add a fusion of different colours and textures in the mix for interest. 

Get expert advice, DIY, or buy ready-made vertical garden kits, frames and pots from your local garden centre. Remember, successful vertical gardens depend on effective watering, as they can dry out quickly. Many pre-made vertical gardens have in-built irrigation systems. DIY garden walls require regular hand watering, or include irrigation in your design.

Tropical Wall - Try Swiss Cheese plant, Sword Fern and Devil’s Ivy for a lush, tropical vibe to any balcony or patio. 

Succulent Wall - Drought resistant succulents such as Golden and Blue Feather Sedums and Sempervivum are ideal for a low maintenance vertical garden. 

Flower Wall -  Choose Petunias, Begonias, Orchids and mix in some soft green Baby’s Tears for a colourful display.

Edible Wall - Plant herbs and vegetables for your salad bowl – Parsley, Coriander, Chilli, Lettuce, Bok Choy, Rosemary and Basil. Always use a good quality potting mix, and fertilise regularly e.g.  Yates Thrive® Vegie & Herb Liquid Plant Food

We encourage people to do their research and seek advice from a specialist to understand what system is right for them.

“The key to a successful long-lasting cost-effective wall is: The correct lighting, the correct plants for the aspect, the right growing media, a touch of water and fertilisation, and air movement.“ - The Greenwall Company 

Vertical gardens are more than just a trend; they represent a shift towards sustainable, green living in urban environments. By embracing vertical gardening, we can create beautiful, functional spaces that benefit both people and the planet.

Acknowledgements: The Greenwall Company, Vertical Gardens Australia, Yates, The Plant Man, Better Homes and Gardens, Home Beautiful  

Image: The Greenwall Company