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Guide to Creating a Living Plant Wall

Learn the basics of this burgeoning botanical trend and install a vertical garden for décor and more, indoors or out.

An outdoor wall garden with edible plants Stephen Studd & Andy Bending/GAP Photos

Whoever thinks a garden must be horizontal may be missing out on a whole lot of gorgeous greenery. A verdant vertical plant wall can literally enliven an outdoor or indoor space, serving as an alternative or complement to art forms that traditionally hang in the home. Living plant walls can be of different sizes, shapes, and formats (such as freestanding or double-sided), adding dramatic depth, color, and texture.

In addition to their beauty, living walls may bring mental and even physical benefits to the people exposed to them. Initially appearing in public spaces, they’ve caught on as a residential design element; apartment dwellers with limited access to a traditional garden or houseplants may be especially intrigued by these amazing murals. Ahead, some specifics on creating a living wall, including the right light, framework, and plants, so you can get in on this growing trend.

What is a Living Plant Wall?

Unlike a brick building exterior covered in climbing ivy, a living plant wall (also known as a green wall or a vertical garden) has growing medium built into the structure to support vegetation.

Larger versions will have a recirculating or direct irrigation system also incorporated into the housing—there are even smart, and active green walls tended automatically via technology—while more modest residential versions can be watered manually, just as you would care for potted plants. A variety of low-maintenance plants may be combined, so as lush and impressive as they look, living walls needn’t be a lot of work.

Benefits of a Plant Wall

A green wall can do much more than provide delightful natural décor. Exterior versions can serve as insulation and temperature control for buildings, potentially conserving energy. The technology in a smart and active interior green wall can help purify the air, a boon in public places. Yet even a modest vertical garden can offer “biophilic” effects—improving mood, reducing stress, combating fatigue, and increasing productivity.

Understanding Growth Media

Like all plant projects, vertical gardens need a stable, supportive medium to grow in. The four types of growth media for green walls are loose (a mix of soil, stone, and water-packed into containers), mat (often made of coir or felt), inorganic polyurethane sheets (sturdier than coir and felt), and structural (a combination of loose and mat media, usually employed in large-scale projects).

Allocating Ample Light

All plants require light for photosynthesis—their process of producing the chemical energy that fuels them. If adding a green wall as an interior design element, choose a room that gets bright, indirect natural light from a window or skylight; supplementary illumination from grow lights may also be needed, depending on the plants you put in.

Selecting a System

As the popularity of vertical gardens grows, so do the number of suppliers. Companies include LiveWall, Articulture, and The Little Botanical, which specializes in PlantBox cubes that users stack and arrange as desired. Ambitious DIYers can purchase and assemble panels or modules—or even build housing from scratch out of such materials as wood, plastic, chicken wire, and landscaping fabric—and hook up an irrigation system to the home’s water supply if desired.

Man holding gardening equipment for attending flowers in his vertical garden on the wall.  iStock

There are also ways to simulate the look of a green wall: Those on a budget can purchase a hanging wall with breathable felt baskets for a nominal sum, or simply fill a vinyl shoe organizer with air plants (Tillandsia), which absorb moisture and nutrients through their leaves, rather than roots. Another way to fake it is to arrange potted plants with spreading foliage densely on open shelving.

Picking Perfect Plants for Your Living Plant Wall

Adding a vertical garden to an outdoor space enhances the sense of being surrounded by nature. Growers can select from annuals, perennials, or even edibles that suit their geographic growing zone for exterior living walls. If the living wall is an interior design element, evergreen houseplants will look great every season.

Favorites include fast-growing philodendron (Philodendron sp.), pothos (Epipremnum), and ferns such as medusa (Nephrolepis obliterata). Herbs are an ideal option for the kitchen; a combo of sage, cilantro, and thyme, for instance, can thrive in a sunny cook space. For best results with interesting textural appeal, opt for a few plants with different growth patterns (cascading, climbing, and spreading, say) that have similar light, temperature, and moisture needs.