Growing Up

Geared for do-it-yourself gardeners as well as landscape designers and other professionals, a modular living wall system can transform outdoor surfaces into works of art.
Garage with Petunias
Photography courtesy of LiveWall

A few years ago, some intrepid rooftop gardeners were intrigued when their clients asked for living walls. If a garden could grow up a hillside, why couldn’t it grow on a wall? After trying several systems including hydroponics, they engineered a more natural way for plants to live on a vertical wall.

LiveWall of Spring Lake is a blend of art, engineering and horticulture that encourages creative vertical gardening with minimal tending.

“LiveWall plants live in a modified, window box-type structure, with watering and fertilizing systems built in,” says Mike Haynes, sales and marketing facilitator for the company. “This is an ecosystem natural to the plant, so they get what they need and don’t freeze in the winter. Raising them off the ground also greatly reduces the need for weeding.”

Some LiveWalls are very large, like the sculptural wall “Back to Eden” displayed at ArtPrize 2013 in Grand Rapids, which is 11 feet tall and 130 feet long. During the art exhibit, pink sunpatiens (a cultivar of impatiens), sweet potato vines, Persian shield, bromiliads, strawberries, ornamental peppers and lemongrass were planted in swirling shapes. The ArtPrize wall was then replanted for an appealing winter look.

Both annuals and perennials are happy in this vertical system. Plants like ornamental kale look bright and colorful well into cold weather and thrive on a LiveWall structure.

Meaghan with Carrots and Kale
Photography courtesy of LiveWall

The Downtown Market in Grand Rapids also features a “green signature for the downtown area,” planted with different types of sedum, geraniums, coralbells, autumn moor grass, oregano and berginia. The horiculturists at LiveWall describe projects like these as “living architecture.”

Other LiveWalls are small and movable, for patio gardening or restaurants. “There’s a vast flexibility of design,” Haynes explains. “For instance, LiveWall is friendly to a variety of edibles, like strawberries, vegetables and herbs. This is functional vertical farming.”

Because there are indoor planting options for winter, restaurants can provide their own fresh edibles year-round.

Haynes notes homeowners often use LiveWall as movable privacy screens or to artfully enhance boathouses, sheds or garages. Dave McKenzie, president of LiveWall, literally brought his own garage wall to life with several varieties of petunia, which have been redesigned several times. The flexibility of LiveWall allows homeowners to change the textures, colors and types of plants freely.

What about high winds, especially on the shoreline? “Wind is about the same for vertical walls as for any landscape,” Haynes says. “High-rise growing might face some problems, but there are certain plants that do well in that environment.”

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