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Growing Up




Patrick Blanc, French botanist and creator of the vertical garden, installed this garden along the elevator shaft of Bangkok’s Emporium shopping center.

You have to hand it to the French: They gave the world Victor Hugo, chocolate mousse and hot-air balloons.

Patrick Blanc, French botanist and creator of the vertical garden, installed this garden along the elevator shaft of Bangkok’s Emporium shopping center.

You have to hand it to the French: They gave the world Victor Hugo, chocolate mousse and hot-air balloons. And now, they’re sharing their murs végétaux, vertical gardens that literally grow on a wall, either indoors or on a building’s exterior.

Pioneered by French botanist-turned-landscape designer Patrick Blanc in the early ’90s, vertical gardens are just starting to garner attention in the United States. We haven’t spotted any installations in Colorado—yet—but Michael McConnell of Aspen-based landscape architecture firm Bluegreen, bluegreenaspen.com, gave us the inside scoop on what you should know...and why a “living wall” is an ideal way to green your home.

Let the experts design them:
“There are several ways to build a living wall. The first is to attach a synthetic fiber felt to a structure or frame. The roots of the plants attach to the felt, which holds the water. This is how Patrick Blanc designs them.

“The second way is to build a system where the soil is packed into cells, like the flats you find in garden centers, tilted vertically. The cells are then attached to a structural frame.

“The third is a trellis system, where the plant roots into the soil at the base and then grows up—more commonplace than the vertical gardens we’re starting to conceive.

“And of course, no matter which system you choose, the gardens need irrigation, so talk to your landscape architect or designer about creative ways to get water to the wall.

Pick your plants:

“Not all plants will be ideal for Blanc’s system. You must look for epiphytic plants—plants that grow on other plants, such as orchids and bromeliads.
“In Colorado, you have a bigger plant palette for indoor installations because you aren’t dealing with harsh weather, but you need a light source, real or artificial.

Imagine the possibilities:
“Living walls are like pieces of art. We’re working on one outdoor application that is like a waterfall of plants cascading down the wall.
“No matter where you put them, these gardens spruce up a space and give it real texture and color and life. Having leafy material on the wall helps dampen noise and softens a hard surface or sharp edges. I think a bathroom installation would be awesome because bathrooms are humid—a perfect setting for plants to thrive.

Spice up your kitchen:
“Homeowners can create vertical herb gardens; it would be great to have a little living wall in your kitchen with fresh herbs to pick as you’re cooking.

Watch out for:
“Irrigation and maintenance. Once your living wall is built, maintaining it is kind of like gardening. Trim it back regularly. Pull the weeds. Talk to your landscape architect about how to keep it thriving.

Green your home:
“The benefits to the environment are huge. Living walls work like air filters, scrubbing the indoor air and helping to keep it clean. They also cool the air and, on an exterior application, they reduce the urban heat island effect. These gardens aren’t just gorgeous; they have a great purpose.”

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