A fad? Maybe! It’s better to call it “a green craving even where it’s not possible in a conventional way”. The fact is that more and more people are talking about vertical gardens and more and more of them are being built.
Let’s walk together along the road of creating vertical greenery, between technique and emotion.
What Is A Vertical Garden?
A vertical garden is nothing more than a composition of one or more botanical essences placed on a pre-existing vertical structure. If instead I take off my technical clothes, the vertical garden is an exciting and emotional work. It is that something unique, surprising and fascinating.
It is impossible for anyone not to look at an inverted wall and wonder how this is possible. As long as the wall is beautiful and well cared for.
During my personal training on the subject, I have tackled different methods and styles, making a careful selection among them and extrapolating strengths and weaknesses. This allowed me to structure my own system, eliminating the defects I found during my research and patenting a structure that I called “TEMATEC”. We will talk about it below.
Vertical Green – Trends And Awareness
The sense of beauty: I think this is the first objective to be achieved from the moment you decide to build a vertical garden. Like any garden, the vertical garden must above all be beautiful. And it is not true that beauty is subjective: it is beautiful for everyone.
Living in the green: a vertical space allows us to have a garden where there is no soil. Think of a palace built in the city, where every “view” looks only on concrete, iron or glass; this makes us sad. Embellishing a wall with greenery also improves our mood, excites us and calms us.
Carbon dioxide: a square meter of vertical garden absorbs in 12 hours the amount of carbon dioxide produced in a day by a human being. This last figure is not negligible.
A vertical garden also allows us to give vent to our artistic vein: in fact, with a wise botanical project it is possible to create real paintings. They are living works.
Objectives And Advantages Of Vertical Greenery
Primarily, a vertical garden allows us to create a green area where until recently it was impossible. But this is only the first of the goals we designers set ourselves.
A vertical garden serves the redevelopment of an old building: just think, for example, of an old villa bound by cultural heritage. Any structural intervention to change its appearance is impossible, but a vertical garden is the only thing that can allow us to mitigate any defects in the building.
Even thermal regulation is not negligible: it can even overcome the advantages of a traditional wall coat. In fact, in summer, thanks to the evapotranspiration of the plants and the natural cavity, we can achieve up to nine degrees less inside a building. While winter protection gives us five degrees more during the cold months, saving us a lot of energy and therefore money.
Vertical greenery is also a barrier: cleverly dwelling and appropriately sized, it offers shelter from disturbances. If we think of a busy road, in addition to visual concealment, we will have a considerable drop in noise, odours and fine dust.
Last but not least, a vertical garden allows us in many cases to recover green space imposed by municipal regulations on the basis of a possible construction. Let me explain better: if to build a building of one hundred square meters you are imposed a green area of as many meters, if you do not have them horizontally, many municipalities allow you to recover them vertically. Needless to say, your building will thus have a commercial value 20% higher.
Vertical Outdoor And Indoor Green
The vertical garden is designed for outdoor use but is also easily adaptable to indoor use. Of course there will be a big botanical difference between one and the other. For an indoor vertical garden we will choose exotic/tropical plants that tolerate slightly less light capacity outside. If there is very little light, we will use LED or metal halide lamps built specifically to allow the plants to do chlorophyll photosynthesis.
Small precautions: we take care to adequately protect the wall that will house our garden.
The Tematec system includes an ashlar sheet of polypropylene interposed between the wall and the vertical structure. The irrigation water will be siphoned with skill and directed into a special container or directly into the sewer. Upstream, there must be a supply of water adequate to the chosen essences.
All this must include a careful respect of the furnishing materials (we do not place a vertical garden near an ancient tapestry for obvious reasons of humidity).
If we are able to have all these precautions for an indoor vertical garden, it will be child’s play outside.
Externally the botanical project will be conditioned according to the exposure. While most plants that are usually placed in the sun can also tolerate a northern exposure, those that grow as shade plants cannot tolerate a southern exposure.
Outdoors, it can easily happen that the walls to be furnished with greenery are of considerable height. The Tematec system provides for a module breaker every 10 metres in height in order to distribute the weight of the structure evenly over the entire host wall.
Doors and Windows
Often we planners/builders have to deal with walls marked by doors, balconies and windows.
This is where the designer’s expertise becomes crucial: the preliminary measurement must be very precise. This is followed by an equally precise design.
Having said that, luck is on our side: with our Tematec system it is very easy to build tailor-made structures for every need. Of course, the technical fabric will also be tailor-made.
Vertical Green – How to Irrigate
You cannot build a vertical garden without an irrigation system.
There are different systems to build a vertical garden. Some even very different from others. However, there is one thing that all systems have in common: an automated irrigation system.
“Automated” because on average it has to have approval for opening the valves four to six times a day. The water must be siphoned (to do so we will give little and often) so as to waste as little as possible (wasting water in a vertical means wasting nutrients), and at the same time it must never run out. A day without irrigation could compromise the whole work.
In the Tematec system there are horizontal dripping wings sewn into the module and spaced 70 cm apart. They will then be connected to solenoid valves controlled by a control unit, which will be programmed to release more water at the top and a little water at the bottom, for obvious reasons of gravity.
A control unit with remote control has recently been available on the market. In summary, a telephone sim allows us to receive alarms for a lack of irrigation. With this system you can extend the warranty of the plants up to two years.
There are two reliable fertilization systems:
An automatic dispenser that works for the “Venturi” effect: as the pure water passes through, a liquid based on mineral salts is mixed and distributed through the irrigation system (fertigation);
Very slow release wrapped fertilizer tablet to be inserted in the pockets of the module.
Personally I prefer the second solution because, once the fertilizer has been distributed, I am sure that for eight/nine months you don’t have to think about it anymore.
Vertical Green Maintenance
It is not possible to generalize, but during the design phase we must keep in mind some things that, if well married to each other, allow us to get by with just one annual pruning.
Maintenance cannot be entrusted to a neophyte. Not even a traditional gardener, if not guided by an expert, can afford to put his hand on it without doing any damage. Therefore, the advice is to have it done directly by the builder, who must be well equipped.
Logical that the maintainer will organize himself so that once placed, in addition to pruning can also perform the fertilization. I don’t exclude extraordinary maintenance; in fact, sporadically it could be necessary to intervene for small adjustments of the foliage or the reassembly of dry leaves. For these last operations it is not necessary so much expertise.
The role of the client (the landlord or whoever for it) is fundamental: nobody better than him can exercise a daily visual control. At the slightest alarm, he will immediately notify the builder.
There are two things that determine the success of a vertical garden: the goodness of the structure and the botanical project.
Those who carry out the botanical project cannot improvise. The beauty of the design must match the agronomic characteristics of the work. Everything goes from the size of the plants, their speed of growth, the root system to an equivalence of root absorption. This is to say that I cannot marry a mesebrianthem with an emerocal.
On the other hand, plants are living beings and sporadically some here and there can die. If the initial botanical choice also took into account the root development (moderate), the substitution of the essence will be fast and cheap.
Temptations to Avoid
The temptations that can come to the client are many: first of all, an economic choice of the system. Today the systems proposed by the market are many, with economic differences between them sometimes abysmal. However, the really good systems can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The advice I can give you is to make a few trips here and there to see the older ones, evaluating their constructive goodness.
So, avoid systems that are too cheap, avoid experimental systems, stay away from those without irrigation or with an untested and postponed irrigation, avoid materials that are too decomposable that can preclude their durability, and finally be wary of poetic and imaginative materials like recycled plastic bottles or old shoes (I’ve seen this too).
A Bit Of Technique: The TEMATEC System
This system is the result of several years of study, errors made in experimentation but above all of many hours spent in the workshop with friends Leonardo (structural mechanic) and Zorè (structural engineer). The result is a real mix between design knowledge, knowledge of materials and botanical knowledge (mine).
We started from the drafting of the objectives: noble materials (stainless steel and aluminium for a rust free, light and long-lasting structure) and non-decomposable guest materials for the technical fabric such as tnt and vidron, without neglecting the simplicity and speed of assembly.
The result is excellent.
We have standardised the uprights, fixings, holding brackets, flashings, eaves and side veils.
Everything, not without effort, but to date we can say that our system is adaptable to any type of structure.