There are numerous benefits to installing a living wall, or green wall, at your property, but installing the wall itself requires careful considerations and planning. This process involves assessing your property and installation location, designing your living wall, installing it, and then you must maintain it. Here’s how you can begin installing a living wall at your property.
Before installing a living wall, you must consider its location. You cannot just stick the wall anywhere it will fit and hope for the best. The wall’s exposure to natural light, its size, and even the conditions of your region play crucial roles when choosing the installation location. Understanding the structural integrity of the building is vital when assessing a living wall location. When fully installed with plants and water systems, living walls are heavy. The structure and area you select for the living wall must be able to physically support it.
For my first living wall project, I recall the coordination required to work with all the vendors involved. You would think only the landscaping vendor had a role; however, we had several vendors involved throughout the process, requiring a lot of coordination. Planning was critical from the start, especially as we grappled with the fact that once the plant materials were installed, we had to deal with a barren and desolate appearance for a time, as the plant material required 3-5 years to grow and create the living wall.
With the second project, we had to contend with delaying certain aspects of the amenity space build-out, as it would require the installation of temporary scaffolding inside the space to complete the installation. Also, with this project, the design team had a certain vision for where each moss should be placed, which required immense patience from the installers.
Designing a living wall requires careful consideration. What plants will you have? How will they be watered? What will they look like throughout the year? At the design stage, you will need to make decisions on every aspect of your living wall, like opting for a hydroponic or soil-based system.
Plant selection is equally crucial. While the visual appeal is a factor, the chosen plants should also be appropriate for the local climate, the specific conditions of the location (e.g., sunlight exposure, humidity), and the maintenance level that can be provided. For instance, succulents might be preferred in drier climates or in spaces with limited watering opportunities, while ferns and other moisture-loving plants would be ideal for more humid environments or spaces with automated watering systems.
The design process for each living wall was exciting, and we had to look towards the installation process from the start, as it required more time, effort, and creativity. In the first project, we had to contend with existing elements, i.e., existing planter beds, which limited the type of plant materials we could install. Additionally, we had to factor in the type of material that we used to build the trellis to ensure it could support the weight of the plant material long-term.
With the second project, the living wall was created inside an existing space to create a focal point and to create a balance inside the space based on the furniture selection that consisted of wood, metal, leather, and concrete. In this project, the original design was to have a painted “tree house” theme that would create the illusion of being outside. However, we had to pivot from this idea due to the cost, timeline, and execution process. Once the design team landed on the concept of bringing in natural elements, it was smooth sailing from then on.
Once the assessment is complete and a design is in hand, the installation process begins. While smaller living walls may be a simple installation, larger living walls always require the expertise of service partners and careful planning around when and how the living wall will be installed.
The installation is not just about planting; it encompasses setting up irrigation systems, ensuring proper drainage, integrating any technological components like IoT sensors, and guaranteeing the overall stability and safety of the structure.
The first project required more planning and coordination with our tenants. From design to installation, it took approximately one year. Since the wall was being installed outside, creating a bridge between the parking deck and the building, we had to close off certain levels of the parking deck as a precaution, so the wall could be installed in phases.
The second project required less coordination with our tenants since the living wall was completed as an independent project inside a vacant space. The installation of the actual moss took approximately two days.
A living wall is, as its name suggests, a living entity. Its health depends on regular and attentive care. This includes consistent watering—either manually or via automated systems—and supplying the right nutrients. Additionally, periodic trimming might be necessary to maintain the desired appearance and prevent overgrowth.
The first project required more maintenance since it was an exterior living wall and all the plant materials installed were new. We had to ensure that we maintained a consistent watering schedule and that routine plant care was completed at least for the first year to ensure that the plants were being rooted and developing as planned.
The second project required less maintenance for the living wall as special care was taken when selecting the plant material for this project. The design team selected moss as the main plant material. Moss walls do not require ongoing care in the way of irrigation, trimming, or feeding, which was well suited for the space.
Monitoring the health of the plants is essential to detect potential issues early on. Signs of pest infestations, diseases, or malnutrition should be addressed promptly to ensure the longevity of the wall. Furthermore, technological components, if present, such as sensors or automated watering systems, will also require periodic checks and maintenance to function optimally.
While you are developing your living wall, consider integrating Internet of Things (IoT) devices into your wall. IoT sensors embedded within living walls operate silently, continuously monitoring the health of the plants, the moisture content of the soil or growth medium, light levels, and any other metrics. These sensors can alert property managers to any changes, enabling preventative maintenance on the property’s large investment.
In spaces where air quality may be a concern, these sensors can monitor levels of pollutants and particulate matter in the air. Over time, this data can offer key insights into potential pollutants and their impact on tenants, helping managers devise strategies for further improving the indoor environment. By providing real-time feedback, IoT sensors ensure that living walls not only flourish but also function optimally.
For property developers, business owners, and tenants, embracing living walls is not just about staying ahead of the curve but recognizing and acting upon a global need. A need to be more in tune with nature, to build more sustainably, and to prioritize health and well-being in our everyday spaces.
As we move forward, one can only hope that such sustainable initiatives become the norm rather than the exception. Living walls stand as a testament to what is possible when we reimagine our spaces with a touch of green, and their impact can be far reaching.
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