Plants for living walls

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The selection of the right plants for your living wall is vitally important, for it effects both the visual appearance, health and maintenance requirements over the longer term.  Over the years, we have tried a lot of plants in different vertical aspects and climates.  We have direct experience with plants in the following climate zones:

  • Temperate climate - UK, Northern Europe
  • Continental climate - Northern USA, Eastern Europe
  • Subarctic climate - Norway, Scandinavia
  • Mediterranean Climate
  • Arid climate, Middle East
  • Internal walls globally - a sub tropical palette

Most plants need to be:

  • Suitable - for the environment they will be put in
  • Evergreen (winter foliage) - at least 95% of plants
  • Low growing - generally less than 500mm high
  • Stable - some plants are prone to disease or attack
  • Perennial -a five year or greater life is desirable
  • Easy to look after - reduces maintenance needs
  • Beneficial - air purifying, insect attracting etc.
  • Beautiful - they have to wow our senses
  • Available - because we have to be practical
Plants are the Artist's paints

How we combine plants is of great importance.  In a living wall, we are planting at a far greater density than you would plant on the ground.  You have to think about how these plants will grow and interact; it is easy for more vigorous plants to overwhelm the others.  Larger plants tend to form the highlights, whilst smaller plants surround and form a backdrop, often planted as a repeating matrix.  The successful combining requires both artistic and horticultural ability, using colour and textural contrast, flowering highlights and seasonal changes as the palette.

Plants are the Ecologist's tools

Certain plants have properties that provide ecosystem services.  Choosing such plants and applying them in an intelligent manner means they can do useful work such as cleaning the air or water, attenuating sound, insulating buildings or providing flowers for urban pollinators.  Plants help remove particulates and VOC's (volatile organic compounds) from the air, as well as giving off oxygen and moisture through evapotranspiration.  Living walls are becoming an essential tool in reducing the impacts and energy needs of a sustainable building and indeed, a city.

Plants are Nature's connection

Plants connect us back to Nature, fulfilling our inherent biophilic need for close proximity to living green.  We are now >50% urbanised and heading for 75%, so providing a direct experience of Nature will fall to the daily environment in which we live.

Studies increasingly show there are many benefits to close contact with plants, such as improved health, mental wellbeing and happiness of people. Living walls provide a deep biophilic connection to Nature in visual, physical and energetic terms.

living wall plant selection Vertology

Hostas are deciduous (no winter foliage) so must be used strategically with surrounding plants to hide winter gaps.

Working in different climates

When invited to work in a new climate or region, it is important that time is taken to set up test living walls and to monitor the plants selected.  This takes time, but is the best way to ensure success.  Generally, small plants in 6-9cm pots are required for planting and attention also has to be given to the media in which local plants are grown.  Available water quality, irrigation and nutrient availability may also be different.  Even when we have worked in a similar region, it is advisable to run such trials, although we may have a baseline of previous experience with which to work.

test wall in the UAE

Test wall located in the UAE