Watermatic’s Living Wall Demonstration Area
I was recently invited by the Sustainable Water Industry Group (SWIG) http://www.sustainablewater.org.uk/ to view Watermatic Ltd’s http://www.watermaticltd.co.uk/ living wall demonstration area near Radlett, north of London. Zac Ribak, the boss at Watermatic is keen to show off his company’s ability to provide irrigation for virtually any living wall system and his demonstration area provides an excellent opportunity for people to see most of the living wall systems on the market and get a close look at the components, something that may be difficult to do when the vegetation is mature and the workings are hidden by panels or out of reach on a real project.
Here I describe the various products on show. These walls have only recently been installed and will not look their best for some time, so judgement should not be made on appearance alone. I will look again in a few months when plants will have a chance to grow and report back then. There will also be information available on water consumption rates at a later date. Note that there are other products available not on show at Radlett. These include the various substrate based systems using HDPE panels from companies including Frosts, Scotscapes and ANS in the UK and ELT Easy Green from Canada. There are also products from the US and China which do not feature here.
Optigruen’s ‘Wall Garden’
This well-known German green roof company have developed a living wall based on aluminium mesh modules (Optigruen calls these cassettes) filled with a crushed brick and organic matter substrate. This system promises to be well suited to a wide range of plants, including those native species that would naturally grow on walls and should be water efficient. http://www.optigreen.co.uk/T-img/PDF/6-Seiter_Fassade.pdf
This UK based company can boast an impressive portfolio of high profile projects in the UK and they are now active in the US, China and elsewhere. http://www.biotecture.uk.com/portfolio.html Their system consists of hydroponic modules filled with horticultural mineral wool and planted with a distinctive palette of plants chosen primarily for their appearance.
Another UK based company, CityRoofs use their Aquadyne porous plastic boards to support turf or sedum mats. They have experimented with direct seeding onto the boards however their walls now tend to be vegetated with pre-grown mats. http://www.cityroofs.co.uk/
Sempergreen Vertical Systems
Sempergreen is a Dutch company, well known for its sedum blankets. Its vertical system division has two products including the flexible modules on show at Radlett. These panels can be mounted on curved surfaces and the firm also emphasises the value of living walls as noise barriers and wildlife habitats. http://www.sempergreenvertical.com/eng/index_eng.html
TreeBox, based in the UK, have developed the robust Easiwall Green Wall http://www.treebox.co.uk/products.asp . This system is self supporting, avoiding the need for often expensive supporting structures and the planting pockets are large, allowing for substantial plants to be rooted into up 150mm of growing medium. This makes it easy to have an instant impact. This system would be ideal for growing vegetables.
(Supplied by MMA Architectural Systems in the UK)
This is the ‘traditional’ stainless steel wire trellis manufactured in Switzerland, but there are other simple ways of supporting climbing plants. This method of greening a façade may not be as glamorous as some of the others now available, but it is relatively cheap and climbers require little maintenance and can thrive without irrigation. http://www.jakob.co.uk/
This is one a family of products from Portugal. http://www.mini-garden.com/lojas.asp. Consisting of robust plastic stackable units with clever internal drainage and a hidden irrigation system. Large volumes of various types of growing medium can be held in these relatively large units, which could also be used to grow vegetables at home.
Bin Fen is a manufacturer based in Tai Chung, Taiwan where green walls have really caught on. It is estimated that there are more green walls in Tai Chung than the whole of Europe. http://www.binfen.com.tw/ The system is distributed by Chris Herniman in Europe. http://www.binfengreenwallsystem.com/system.html There are two Bin Feng systems. The first ‘modular system’ consists of units of 5 square angled 550cc plastic pots that snap into a plastic frame. Ball and socket joints make it possible to build up large green walls if these are supported on battens. The Ben Fen ‘bespoke system’ uses similar pots to the modular system, but these are hooked onto a weldmesh frame. This makes it easy to create curved walls. Each pot drains into the pot below. These systems are easy to maintain and pots can be easily replaced, although part of the supporting structure and fittings is usually visible.
A Note of Caution
Living walls are now a feature of many of our towns and cities, but it is important that planting is matched to region, microclimate and aspect and that planting is designed with purpose in mind. Is your wall to provide cooling, boost biodiversity, for growing food or just for the look? What about water? Like any living landscape, living walls work best when they are designed and managed by suitably qualified and experienced people. Procuring an outdoor living wall is not quite as simple as buying a building product and be wary of any salesman that claims that it is. GRC can provide advice on the planning, design, installation and maintenance of living walls.