Thinking Outside the Garden Box: European-Inspired Living Walls

Modular living wall installation
Photograph provided by Sage Green Life

In Wisconsin, summers are short and winters are long. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a low-maintenance way to have lush, verdant plants in your living space year-round? Wouldn’t it be great to not have to worry about watering, fertilizing, or maintaining them? There’s a way, and it’s not as complicated or out of reach as you might think. Red Square Flowers has been designing and installing living walls (or green walls, as vertical gardens are sometimes called) in corporate and residential settings for several years.

Living walls have been gaining popularity in Europe since the late 1990s. As usual, Europe is ahead of the United States when it comes to sustainable living and renewable resources. Living walls are completely self-sufficient vertical gardens that are attached to the interior or exterior of a building. The plants receive water and irrigation system nutrients from within the vertical support instead of from the ground. Not only are they beautiful conversation pieces that become part of your permanent décor, but by improving overall air quality within your home, they are good for your physical and mental health.

A wide variety of plants can thrive in a living wall. The plants are grown in a very absorbent and durable hydroponic medium called rockwool. Rockwool is basically spun from volcanic material (basalt), which doesn’t degrade and can be reused or recycled. Each rockwool-filled biotile uses less than one quart of water per day, and provides excellent drainage for maximum plant health. Biotiles also lower energy consumption by keeping living spaces cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Living walls add to the illusion of being in an ideal, temperature-regulated outdoor space year-round.

From a design perspective, living walls are modular systems that can be adapted and changed without having to start from scratch. Plants do have a lifespan so they would have to be replaced, but the entire installation can last for 20 years or more.

A living wall designer can customize intricate and original designs, incorporating the textures and colors of various plants to create your own living art piece. There are also different sizes of walls available, from portable accent sizes to grandiose full-wall installations and every size in between, thanks to the modular system.

The plants are grown vertically from the beginning in a greenhouse facility and then shipped to your installer. This way, there is no adjustment period necessary for the plants going from horizontal growth to vertical establishment. Growing time varies depending on your plant choices, but in general, the biotiles are usually ready for shipment to your installer within 8 to 12 weeks.

A computerized irrigation system will be installed as part of the process and a no-maintenance drip irrigation keeps the plants moist without wasting water or creating overflow problems that can occur with potted plants.

Installation is relatively easy, but you should work with an interiorscape expert who has experience with this product since it is a fairly new concept in the American home market. Red Square Flowers has their own installers who are knowledgeable about how to install without damaging delicate plants. Some maintenance (fertilization, pest control, cleaning away dead parts of the plants) is required from your interiorscape expert to make sure the plants are receiving proper nutrient levels and to ensure the longest lifespan for your living wall.

The custom living walls are priced by the square foot, including structural materials, plants, and installation labor, and are not as expensive as one might think. You can achieve a high volume of planting with an extremely minimal footprint.

Living Walls are great eye candy without taking much space, and they add to the sustainability of your environment.

Alina Poletskova is CEO and founder of Red Square Flowers.

Photographs provided by Sage Green Life.

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Red Square Flowers
337 W. Mifflin Street
Madison, WI 53703