Plant walls, art and improving our environment

Wall plantings on an office along the South Bank, Paris

Wall plant­ings on an office build­ing along the South Bank, Paris

I’ve seen a new approach to use of orna­mental plants sev­eral occa­sions recently: walls of plants cov­er­ing out­door and indoor sites. At the indoor site, in Heathrow Airport, I was even more happy to see that Patrick Blanc, cred­ited with con­ceiv­ing the ‘indoor liv­ing wall’ in the legend next to the plant­ings, is described as a ‘bot­an­ist’. The walls, whether indoors or out­doors, give a dif­fer­ent aspect to what oth­er­wise would be very unre­mark­able sur­faces. The three uses I have pho­to­graphed are con­trast­ing sites: indoors, on a tem­por­ary hoard­ing cov­er­ing a con­struc­tion site, and on an office build­ing. The Heathrow wall run by Jet Airways cer­tainly made an entirely internal room much more pleas­ant than simply adding a few pot plants in the corner, and the mois­ture, light­ing and sound absorb­ing char­ac­ters coun­ter­ac­ted some of the air-conditioned feel that such spaces often have. The office build­ing was in Paris, on the Quai Branly, the south bank of the Seine near the Eiffel Tower, while the wall hid­ing con­struc­tion was part of the National Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square (thus mak­ing a not­able his­tor­ical con­trast with the Napoleonic monu­ments and build­ings from the other side found along the South Bank of Paris!).

Living wall in front of the National Gallery, London

Living wall in front of the National Gallery, London

Of course, climb­ing plants have been cov­er­ing out­door walls for cen­tur­ies, although they do seem to be more abund­ant in pre-1900 pic­tures of build­ings than they are now: people tend to have become sus­pi­cious even of ivy (Hedera helix) or Virgina Creeper (Parthenocissus quinque­fo­lia) on their walls, har­bour­ing insects and damp while etch­ing the sur­face to cling on. I’m happy with climbers, but am not so sure about that I would trust the tech­no­logy of irrig­a­tion and water­proof­ing to install walls of plants like these either indoors or out­doors in my house! The light­ing in the indoor site also looks unlikely to sus­tain most spe­cies, appar­ently with fil­a­ment lights rather than high-pressure mer­cury vapour lights more suit­able for plant growth (another spe­cial­ized and over-priced product that e-bay pur­chas­ing has revolutionized).

An indoor living wall in an airport lounge

An indoor liv­ing wall in an air­port lounge

The resources in mak­ing and main­tain­ing these walls must be con­sid­er­able — pre­vent­ing deteri­or­a­tion of the struc­tural wall behind, grow­ing them dur­ing dif­fer­ent sea­sons, and cir­cu­lat­ing water and nutrients.

The choice of mostly leafy spe­cies, all requir­ing con­sid­er­able water, sug­gests main­ten­ance will be high, but maybe more work is needed for plants suit­able for these loc­a­tions, just as has been car­ried out for plants on roofs — for example in Annals of Botany last year by Scott MacIvor and colleagues.

But the liv­ing green walls cer­tainly improve the qual­ity of three large pub­lic spaces, show­ing that people really do appre­ci­ate the con­tri­bu­tion that plants make to the built environment.

Lighting and ventilation for an indoor living wall

Lighting and vent­il­a­tion for an indoor liv­ing wall

J. Scott MacIvor, Melissa A. Ranalli, and Jeremy T. Lundholm
Performance of dry­land and wet­land plant spe­cies on extens­ive green roofs
Ann Bot (2011) 107(4): 671–679 http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​9​3​/​a​o​b​/​m​c​r​007


Editor Pat Heslop-Harrison. ORCID 0000-0002-3105-2167

Pat Heslop-Harrison is Professor of Molecular Cytogenetics and Cell Biology at the University of Leicester. He is also Chief Editor of Annals of Botany.

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