By Joanna Lewis
With limited space often a major factor when creating a garden in Cayman, a living wall may be the ideal solution for small areas.
Also known as a vertical garden or green wall, a living wall has become popularised the world over by eminent French botanist and artist Patrick Blanc.
Many of his projects have become renowned for their practicality combined with their aesthetic value.
An example of this type of wall can be found at Cassia Court in Camana Bay where it provides a serene garden ambiance and a visual barricade to the entrance of The Terraces residential area.
“A living wall is basically a garden which is vertical,” explains Andy Adapa, senior manager of landscape services for Dart Realty (Cayman) Ltd.
“In simple terms, it’s like hanging a carpet of plants. Unlike a regular garden, the vertical garden can’t hold heavy soil or any plant which you would normally grow in your garden.
“Living wall, vertical garden or green wall are all synonyms for this type of garden which has gained in popularity due to a conscious effort to improve the air quality and green environment in urban areas and interior offices where space is limited. These walls can be attached to a structure, or stand independently like the one at Camana Bay.”
The design idea for the wall at Camana Bay is to create a visual barricade between the roundabout in front of the entrance to The Terraces and the Cassia Court patio.
“Someone having a coffee in the courtyard, or reading a book, experiences a serene garden ambience and is not distracted by the incoming traffic to The Terraces,” Andy points out.
The Camana Bay living wall is built from a steel structure, which provides the skeleton to which Epiweb slab panels are fastened. Some 496 pockets hold four to six-inch inch potted plants.
In between the potted plants, it has taken around 4,000 Tillandsia, a small type of bromeliad, to cover the entire wall.
“Epiweb is made of 70 per cent recycled plastic and its water-keeping ability is 76 per cent of its own weight,” explains Andy. “Using synthetic waste like plastic to help support plant life is the most amazing part of the wall.”
Initially, the designers wanted the wall to be covered entirely with bromeliads which are epiphytes, meaning plants which normally grow on other plants for support, such as the local banana orchid.
“Cayman’s sun, however, proved to be too hot for the bromeliads so we had to replace them with Epipremnum species, commonly called pothos and syngoniums,” says Andy.
A living wall is usually designed to hold moisture for a prolonged period of time, which means that the plants don’t require frequent watering.
At Camana Bay, the wall has a built-in irrigation system with a mister on top that comes on every hour for two minutes during summer and one minute during winter.
According to Andy, individual homeowners in Cayman could create a living wall themselves, depending on the size, with some readymade structures available, which Camana Bay Nursery would be happy to help source.
However, he advises that the plant selection should be carried out by a professional horticulturist or an experienced gardener as this is critical to the success of the wall.
“The location of the wall and its design will dictate which type of plants can be grown,” he says.
“The plants should be carefully selected based on the environment and available light conditions.”
In addition to the advantage of being able to create a garden in a limited space, a living wall can also help improve air quality and enhance aesthetics.
“A living wall attached to a building structure reduces the heat and lowers the interior temperatures by absorbing the heat from the sun,” explains Andy.
“With a little bit of imagination and plant knowledge, anyone can build a vertical garden using orchids, bromeliads and ferns. The key is to make it interesting using a combination of colour, foliage and texture.
“If done right, they can change blank boring walls into colourful living gardens for everyone to enjoy, reducing the temperature and improving the air quality at the same time.”
Botanist Patrick Blanc developed the idea of a vertical garden while he was a student in France in the 1960s.
He patented the idea in 1988 and 1996 and, following the success of his work, he became considered an artist.
In 2001, he was commissioned to undertake a huge installation on a blind wall at the chic Pershing Hall Hotel in Paris, after which many famous architects became interested in his work.
Blanc has since undertaken dozens of commissions around the globe, with prominent works including the likes of Hôtel Byblos, Saint-Tropez (2002), Salons Qantas, Melbourne, Australia (2007), Sky Team Lounge, Heathrow Airport (2009), Palm Jumeirah Sofitel, Dubai (2012), and the New York Botanical Garden, Orchid Show (2012).
“The vertical garden allows human beings to re-create a living system very similar to natural environments,” he says. “It is a way to add nature to places where people once removed it. Thanks to this botanical knowledge and long-lasting experience, it is now possible to display natural-looking plant landscapes even though they are man-made.”