“Living art” is Jim Mumford’s apt description for the vertical walls of greenery he and his San Diego firm, Good Earth Plant Co., have installed in dozens of homes, restaurants and offices around the Southland. “There’s a cool factor,” he says of their growing popularity. “They turn walls into paintings. You can’t do that with a trellis.”
Georges Fortier started his Encinitas company, Vertical Garden Solutions, after spotting the tapestries and veils of French green-wall guru Patrick Blanc. Georges sells designs and products, including some he invented, to clients who want to beautify a wall, the side of the house or a fence. “More and more people want to be around plants and make a statement with them,” he says.
Babylonia’s Hanging Gardens may have been the first, Jim points out, and for centuries, ivy and other vines have softened stark urban façades. But modern vertical gardens are far more complex, involving planting containers with supports, a suitable growing medium, irrigation and plants ranging from succulents to tropicals and edibles.
In combination, they create intricately patterned plantscapes that can cloak a bare wall entirely in green or decorate it with framed designs grouped like paintings in a gallery. Jim recently completed his first curved living wall and is designing another split by two waterfalls.
One alternative to solid tapestry walls is a multilevel, airy green screen using Fiori planting cylinders — one of Georges’ inventions. ABS thermoplastic tubes in a variety of metallic hues are suspended from overhead hooks. Georges also crafts green-wall frames on wheels for use indoors and out as mobile room dividers.
Small vertical gardens can be a DIY project, with kits available online and at big-box stores. “Do something you can manage,” advises Georges, who often conducts workshops for handy homeowners. At annual open houses or visits by appointment, Jim shares assessments of the many planting options he’s tried over the years.
Here are tips from both experts for successful vertical gardening.
Site Selection: Light and access to water are essential. Low-light interiors demand tropical and other understory plants. Succulents and most edibles require bright light to thrive. Regardless of plants selected, all will need regular moisture, including misting when humidity dips.
Support: Georges estimates that each square foot of a vertical garden weighs about 35 pounds. Components must be attached to studs or posts with the appropriate hardware to keep them upright and secure.
Irrigation: Small framed plantings and Fiori cylinders can be taken down to water, but larger vertical gardens need built-in irrigation. Some have a reservoir that is filled manually with water that trickles down. Others need drip-irrigation systems with timers. Depending on the location, a trough or other catchment is required to prevent potentially damaging runoff.
Plant Picks: Water-wise succulents are favorites for their artsy good looks. Pick slow, low growers for minimal maintenance. Ferns are ideal in shady areas, while herbs are best for edible walls. Once planted, all need time in a horizontal position to root securely before being hung.