As gardens and patio plants wane and droop, indoor plants that grow and keep their act together year round can help feed our need for calming greens. The beauty and health benefits of plants can easily be brought to indoor spaces. While not everyone has grand sweeping hallways and opulently sized rooms or greenhouses for oodles of potted plants, there is another option: your walls!
Potted houseplants compete with valuable floor space or clutter up side tables. Living walls, also called green walls or vertical gardens, use vertical spaces to create beautiful backdrops indoors or out.
In recent years, living walls have popped up in commercial and corporate spaces, universities and faith institutions. Utilizing unused vertical spaces, living walls beautify and also act as air bio-filters. The plants’ evapotranspiration removes up to 80 per cent of airborne chemicals that off-gas from glues, carpets and other flooring, non-VOC paints and furniture. In large buildings, the process adds cooling and air moistening, which translates into dollar savings on heating and cooling.
Specific houseplants are particularly good at improving indoor air quality through their ability to remove the three most common indoor air pollutants: benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. In the late 1980s, NASA conducted a two-year study to determine which plants were best to filter the air of its space station. The agency published their findings, from which many top 15 plant lists have been created over the years.
The good news is that you can create such a beneficial living wall inside your own home. In addition to the health benefits it introduces colour, texture and feng shui without breaking your piggy bank.
Containers and Installation Options
First, take a good look at your space. Decide where you could install a living wall and how large it would be. Consider natural light (either direct or indirect), access for watering, visibility and ongoing maintenance. Depending on the system you choose, you can probably manage plant care yourself.
For residential or small commercial use on a smaller budget, you have several options. For a warm look and feel, you can go ‘eco’ with Woolly Pockets. Handmade in the US from 100 per cent recycled pop bottles, their thick, felt-like appearance allows plant roots to access more oxygen, which benefits growth. You can plant annuals, perennials or edibles. A military-grade plastic liner prevents water seepage and moisture build-up between the pocket and your wall. They come in four colours and various widths from the 33 cm Mini Wally for $18, to a 61 cm Wally One for $40, or a wider Wally Two or Three. In Toronto you can only buy Woolly Pockets at the Brickworks’ Evergreen Garden Market in the Don Valley. They also have several living wall installations to preview (canada.woollypocket.com).
For a heavier style with a self-watering tank, the company recently introduced their Living Wall Planter. It has a hard vented shell, sturdy design, and comes in seven colours, as well as a lower price point at $29.
A chic, sleeker version is the Urbio wall and planter system. As seen on the reality TV series Shark Tank, Urbio is a modular system made from Pantone white, partially recycled plastic. Variously sized magnetic vessels, i.e. flower pots, are attached to the installed wall steel plate to create and easily modify a living wall. The vessels are also suitable for storing small office supplies. The Happy Family starter kit begins at $75 (myurbio.com).
ELT Living Walls in Brantford sells the Easy Green Living Wall Panel, a modular panel with individual cells that can be either pre-grown or planted in place. Panels start at $90 and come in various sizes (eltlivingwalls.com).
If you want your living wall to be a major design element, consult an architect or landscape designer and get a professional installation. They can advise you on structural requirements and an automated irrigation system.
Living Walls in Toronto
You can see live examples of mid-sized to extensive living walls right here in Toronto – even in your own neighbourhood. I recently installed a small wall of Woolly Pockets at the Beach Business Hub’s co-working office at Queen and Lee. Call 647-748-1311 to book a viewing.
Other mid-sized self-watering walls can be viewed at the ING Direct Cafe, 221 Yonge St., and in the foyer of the Centre for Social Innovation, 215 Spadina Ave. The Hub at 2660 Eglinton Ave. E., in Scarborough has a two-storey living wall, and the Direct Energy Centre on the CNE grounds boasts a substantial living wall at the east entrance.
So don’t get green with envy – you can build your very own living wall.
Martina Rowley is an environmental communicator – firstname.lastname@example.org