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Green Walls: Living Art for a Healthy Environment

ROBIN WESTMILLER | Eco-Green Sustainable Landscapes

Green walls are not a new concept-ivy has been crawling up the sides of walls and buildings for centuries. But today, green wall installations are explicitly being requested and who can argue with that?

There are a number of factors that are making living walls and living fences very desirable. Over the last few years, with the ‘green revolution’ gaining momentum, anything green is desired over brick or cement. Being environmentally compliant, or eco-green, is a plus. In addition, it’s good business.

There are clients and potential customers who are passionate about sustainable landscapes and the environmental benefits that living walls provide. There are others who just prefer greenery to a cement wall. As this groundswell grows, a good market is developing and for those landscape contractors who get in early, they will reap the rewards.

Now, more than ever, new technologies and new techniques are enabling these types of walls to be built in a variety of different environments. From decorative concrete blocks that are filled with soil and then planted, to biodegradable bags that lock together and are filled with soil and then seeded, it’s easier than ever to create a sustainable landscape that is both beautiful and functional at the same time.

“A living wall can transform a bare slope into a fully vegetated and aesthetically pleasing mural that also stops the soil from sliding down onto the property,” says Nick Jansson, PE, LEED AP, with Soil Retention Systems.

What’s exciting about living walls is that there are at least a half-dozen different techniques to make each living wall unique and different. There are segmental retaining wall systems that have spaces to plant any variety of plant material. There are interlocking blocks that are installed in a staggered pattern, to keep soil and water from coming through just like an ordinary retaining wall, but with the addition of growing vegetation. The living wall gives it a much more environmentally friendly appeal.

Living walls can also be constructed by using a system of modular biodegradable bags that are filled with soil and sand, connected to each other with interlocking polypropylene plates locked into the landscape and secured by the roots once the plants begin to grow. The strength of the wall increases as roots develop, and further anchors the soil bags to each other and to the earth. All you see is a natural green landscape.

It seems that new products keep popping up overnight. Green Wall Block is a new product being introduced to the market with a different twist. Made of UV-resistant plastic, each unit is shaped in a semi-circle and is nine inches tall. The blocks are lightweight, so they are easy to carry. They can be stacked and then filled with potting soil and planted. A drip irrigation system can be hooked up to ensure that the plants get water.

Another possible installation could be an established retaining wall which is then planted. As the plant material grows, it will creep up the wall and eventually cover the wall—hence, a living wall. Another version could involve putting plants on top of the wall and letting them grow down.

Installing living walls also has the potential to increase Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) points on construction projects in the categories of sustainable sites, water efficiency, materials and resources, and innovation and design process.

“Getting a project LEED-certified in silver, gold or platinum allows you to take advantage of a growing number of state and local government incentives for your project. Every point counts toward huge savings for the project and also creates a strong, positive public image in environmentally conscious communities,” said Jansson.

Where there aren’t any hills or slopes to build on, green facades can be constructed on lightweight trellis panels or a cable and wire system that is designed to support heavy vines and cascading ornamentals. The plants may be rooted at the base or in planters integrated into the support system. This vegetated structure is then installed flush against the building, or a few inches from the wall using mounting clips.

With an effective maintenance plan, sustainable landscape design for green walls can provide a beautiful, environmentally responsible vertical garden that is relatively easy to tend. A drip irrigation system and fertilizer loop is usually installed within the wall before the panels are mounted.

To increase the attractiveness for eco-friendly environmentalists, living walls can be designed to capture rainwater for recycling.

Another advantage of living walls is that they are virtually graffitiproof.

In fact, many corporations will have their company logos, designed with contrasting flowers, grown right into the living material wall.

Whether inside or out, living walls can serve many different functions. They provide visual beauty, create a relaxing and healthy environment and have an everlasting positive effect on our planet.

Bury geo-grid reinforcement looped over rebar every third course.


Plastic geo-grids molded in semi-circles are attached to each other and can be stacked. Plant material in pots are then added to make a living fence or wall.

 
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