With the ever-diminishing urban space, created by an ever-increasing world population's demand for more living space, plus the already sprawling cities, space is at a premium often leaving little room for the inclusion of a reasonable amount of greenery. For those fortunate enough to have a garden this is not such a problem, but for those with little space or any kind of garden area to speak of, vertical gardens could be an interesting proposition.
Being myself the proud owner of one such pocket-sized space in the form of a balcony, I am well aware of the limitations when it comes to planning one’s greenery for the summer. What to choose, flowers or edibles or a mixture of both? It only takes a few strategically placed terracotta pots and the space is full, leaving only enough room for a small table and a couple of chairs.
So, why not plant upwards, vertical space is plentiful? In doing so, a living wall can also transform the whole side of an ugly concreted and blokish building just by the use of greenery. This is a visually more pleasing picture to the eye and is environmentally friendly too. Possible on any type of wall this can be applied not only to the outside but also the inside of buildings as well. For example to residential courtyards, shopping malls, businesses - just about anywhere with a wall and access to a water supply.
As far as setting up goes, using soil is optional and plants don’t mind growing vertically without it, as long as the all important irrigation system is in place. Plants used are dependant on what is seasonal and available in the area. This is according to the findings of Patrick Blanc, a Frenchman and artistic pioneer in this field.
The increase of green areas within the urban grey, are important not only environmentally, but as people friendly spaces inviting people to linger a while. In this day and age we need more places where it is possible to pause for thought, away from our frantic lifestyles and soaring stress levels, and what could be better than being surrounded by vertical gardens.
Back to my balcony, so how does one realize a vertical garden on a postage stamp? Easy! No, it’s not the trellis/plant rack option. Take an old bookcase; lay it flat on the ground and drill holes in it so that a hosepipe can be threaded from top to bottom in and out of all the compartments. Puncture the hosepipe at intervals to ensure that every compartment will be irrigated. (It would be at this point if I was on the craft section of Blue Peter, a children’s TV programme in the UK, I might say ‘and here’s one I made earlier’, but I digress…) Fill all the compartments with soil and then cover the whole thing with a hessian sheet or sturdy gauze and staple round the sides. Lift up the bookcase to an upright position. Make holes in the hessian at intervals, and now you’re ready to plant plant away in abundance!
As a thing of the future, vertical gardens (also known as sky farming), could provide city inhabitants with a source of fresh herbs and vegetables in limited space, although levels of pollution in some cities might be a cause for concern. As for me, although I like the idea, right now I don’t have a spare bookcase kicking around to give this idea a whirl, and storing one’s books in terracotta pots just to realize this project, just wouldn’t look quite right.
© Alison Day
First published in the Connections magazine #24 Summer 2009