You may think that living walls are a recent phenomenon, but they actually first appeared in the 1930s! If you’re thinking about installing a living wall, our guide contains all the information you need:
What is a living wall?
A living wall (also commonly known as a green wall, eco wall or vertical garden) is a panel of plants grown vertically up a wall. They are an effective way to introduce a large number of plants in a relatively small space. Because living walls don’t take up floor space, they work particularly well in situations where space is at a premium – e.g. in city centres.
Although living walls are usually grown on the external walls of buildings, they can also be installed on internal walls to provide a living art form as well as multiple environmental and health benefits.
An internal living wall
What are the benefits of living walls?
Living walls are an effective way of introducing the natural and multiple benefits of plants, particularly to urban environments. They contribute towards sustainability and their benefits include:
Wellbeing: Human beings have a need to connect with nature. Being around nature helps people feel happier, be healthier and also more productive. In our increasingly urban environment, living walls help rebalance city landscapes and restore a natural element.
Cleaner air: Plants not only produce oxygen, they also remove harmful pollutants from the air. In recent years, we’ve become more aware of the number of chemicals present in our homes and workspaces contributing to the phenomenon known as ‘sick building syndrome’. Houseplants are a good way to help purify the air and living walls are able to achieve this on a much bigger scale.External living walls have a big impact on improving air quality between buildings in cities. These spaces are hotspots for the accumulation of harmful gases and particles, and living walls have been proven to reduce these dramatically – by up to 60 percent.
Reduced temperatures: The effects of global warming are becoming increasingly apparent. The urban heat island effect, where the heat in cities gets trapped, making them much warmer than their surrounding rural areas, exacerbates pollution and creates an unpleasant environment for those affected.Living walls help reduce these urban hot spots by the process of evapotranspiration – the air temperature is lowered through a combination of water evaporation and plant transpiration. The greater the level of vegetation, the greater the temperature reduction.
Lower energy bills: Living walls provide insulation for buildings – keeping them cooler in summer and warmer in winter. The plants provide shade that reduces the amount of heat absorbed by the building from the sun and the plants and growth media help keep the cold out in winter. These reduced extremities in temperature mean a reduced need for air conditioning and heating, which results in lower energy bills.
Less noise: Living walls act as an insulator against sound, which is particularly helpful in urban environments.
Increased biodiversity: Living walls not only provide a rich diversity of plants in urban spaces, they also provide a home for insects and birds, helping promote biodiversity in cities and towns.
An external living wall
How are living walls installed?
Living wall systems are usually created in one of three ways:
Panel systems – where panels with pre-grown plants are fitted to a wall. Panel systems can be fitted both indoors and outdoors
Tray systems – a more versatile solution, often used indoors and best suited for living artwork. The plants are pre-grown and inserted into the wall on site.
Freestanding walls – most commonly used indoors and easy to move around. The plants in freestanding walls can be changed relatively easily.
How do you water a living wall?
Most living walls are fitted with irrigation systems although some require manual watering. Hydroponic systems are common and keep the plants watered by drip-irrigation. Recirculation systems require the least maintenance as water is pumped round the system multiple times, until it runs out, at which point a water tank is refilled.
Which plants can be used in living walls?
There are many plants suitable for living walls. Plants can be selected according to a variety of qualities including air purifying abilities, suitability to climate and appearance. Your choice of plants should reflect the location and purpose of your wall.
How easy are living walls to maintain?
Living walls do require a fair amount of maintenance. Professional installation companies will usually maintain a living wall for the first year as part of the set up cost, then agree a maintenance programme with the client going forwards.