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Living Walls and Vertical Gardens
Vertical gardens and living walls make smart use of otherwise bare or unused outdoor spaces and create possibilities for growing and enjoying plants in all types of environments and locations. From rooftop patios to courtyards and stairwells to concrete jungles, walls are coming alive and bursting with the living colors of succulents, ornamental grasses, shrubs, vines, ground covers (yes!), and even fruit trees.
Living walls add permanence and establish boundaries within a landscape. They offer privacy and screen undesirable views, like your neighbor's side-yard junk pile. While the term conjures images of the magnificent living tapestries that adorn public walls and buildings, vertical gardens include smaller residential versions, vine-covered trellises, borders of shrubs or closely planted trees, and walls decorated with traditional and repurposed containers.
Climbing in Popularity
There's no denying that vertical gardens are growing in popularity, for several good reasons. Among them:
- They take up less space, especially when the yard, patio, or balcony lacks space
- They provide instant privacy and can disguise an ugly wall or block an unsightly view
- They allow people to start or continue gardening in small spaces that usually wouldn't accommodate a regular-sized bed
- If well designed and maintained, they can be a garden focal point
- They are an environmental choice: Many vertical planters and wall systems are designed from recycled or repurposed materials
- Vertical gardens are often grown and thrive via a hydroponic system—basically a soil-free alternative
- Provide an opportunity to grow vegetables, fruit, and herbs in a small, urban space
- Reinvigorate plain exteriors with greenery
- Create more gardening opportunities and accessibility for people with disabilities
- Provide instant garden boundaries
From simple solutions to award-winning designs by top landscape architects and professionals, enjoy a tour of 35 creative ideas for living walls and vertical gardens.
But first, a little background information on how the movement originated.Continue to 2 of 39 below.
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A Brief History of Vertical Gardens
While it may seem like a new technique, the concept of vertical or walled gardens has been around for centuries. Records show that Egyptian gardens in 3000 B.C. established the tradition of compartments separated by plant-covered walls and arbors. The paradise gardens of ancient Persia were vast, park-like areas with monumental walls covered with grapevines and fruit trees. Moorish architecture and gardens influenced North Africa, Italy, and Spain, with features that included intimate and enclosed gardens with high walls.
The fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon (pictured), believed to be built by king Nebuchadnezzar II or the Assyrian king Sennacherib, would have been a walled structure with climbing and hanging vines and plants.
While the gardens of ancient Greece focused more on crops and enhancing public spaces, Greek architecture incorporated central columned courtyards and outdoor living areas. Formal Roman gardens influenced western Europe for about 500 years. Middle-class Romans lived in townhouses that featured small enclosed gardens used as outdoor rooms.Continue to 3 of 39 below.
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The Influence of Patrick Blanc
Considered the inventor and "father" of the modern green wall, green-haired Patrick Blanc is a botanist, artist, and author whose vertical garden projects have brought the concept to public and residential walls from Paris to Bangkok and New York to Singapore. His life-long passion for vertical nature has transformed drab concrete walls into refuges for biodiversity. If you wonder why so many groundbreaking vertical garden designs come from Europe, Australia, Asia, and larger cities, it's probably Blanc's influence that planted the seed, so to speak.Continue to 4 of 39 below.
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Wall Pocket Systems
To get started at home, try out wall container systems in which plants are fitted in crevices or planted in containers that allow them to grow vertically and cover all or part of the wall. Woolly Pockets (pictured) is one such system that has been around for awhile and has perfected its products.Continue to 5 of 39 below.
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Most succulents are drought tolerant and don't require regular water, making them a sturdy species for living or vertical walls. With their rich colors, textures, and fascinating shapes, succulents make a beautiful medium for living-wall art or tapestries. This wall thrives in San Diego County, California.Continue to 6 of 39 below.
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Bare exterior stucco walls without windows can be made more interesting with the addition of a vertical wall planter. Make sure the planter is sturdy enough to hang on a wall and has a flat back. Use the container rule of thrillers, fillers and spillers for a wall vase or pot.
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- Thrillers are taller, visually striking plants that go in the center or toward the back of a container and can be viewed from all angles.
- Fillers are more rounded or mounded plants and fill in the middle of the container. They tie things together and make he combination look fuller.
- Spillers are the plants that spill or trail over the edges. They are usually placed close to the edges of the container so that they can crawl up and over it for that natural spill-appeal.
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Known for creating imaginative living walls for residential, corporate, and institutional clients like Salesforce, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Dailymotion, Habitat Horticulture transformed a traditional Los Altos stairwell into a work of art. One thing the firm's designers do differently than others: they're bold in plant choices. Species they use vary in texture and height (or width), creating a less-compact and more visually stimulating green wall.Continue to 8 of 39 below.
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Repurposed Soda Bottles
Projects that recycle or repurpose common products like plastic soda bottles proliferate on sites like Instagram and Pinterest. This variation of the pop bottle plant container features an alternative way to hang them, using monofilament (fishing wire) or regular wire and anchoring the planters to a wood frame or other overhead structure.Continue to 9 of 39 below.
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Splendor in the Grasses
The namesake landscape designer of Amelia B. Lima & Associates used her own yard to experiment with vertical gardening techniques, with gorgeous results. Behind 40 feet of ornamental grasses and ferns is a steel structure covered with marine plywood and two layers of non-organic felt. Lima recommends Patrick Blanc's book, The Vertical Garden, for plant ideas and to select varieties that thrive in your zone. Among the plants that embellish her wall are sweet flag, fiber optic grass, carex, Scotch moss, philodendron, Boston fern, Colocacia, and begonias.Continue to 10 of 39 below.
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If you have a garden in tightly packed London, it's likely small and often situated on a rooftop or between walls or buildings. For a family garden, Harrington Porter, which specializes in bespoke city garden environments, used artificial grass on the floor and walls, along with an artificial green wall from Fake It Flowers (co.uk). Softwood walls and a bench were painted in a dark hue to complement the house, while the herb planters are made of polystone.Continue to 11 of 39 below.
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While the front facade of a historic home in San Francisco's Cow Hollow district remained for preservation purposes, Matazrozzi Pelsinger Builders redesigned the property to meet the homeowners' modern needs.
MPB built large concrete retaining walls and installed a store-front-style folding door system in the den that opens to a rear stone patio. Terraced concrete planters lead to a striking living wall that is planted with bonsais, ivies, mosses, ferns, orchids, fuschias, junipers, succulents, grasses, and Daphnes.Continue to 12 of 39 below.
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Other than its external walls, not much of the original 1950s-built home remains of this house in London. Redesigned by Stephen Fletcher Architects, the two levels of the house are tied by a living wall, which brightens the space on gloomy days and softens the acoustics. Designed by Treebox, the wall was created with recycled and environmentally friendly materials.Continue to 13 of 39 below.
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A refurbished home in London's Dulwich settlement features a patio designed by Antonia Schofield of CP Landscapes. Conceived to complement the home's architectural design, the space has walls teeming with a variety of plants like hardy agapanthus. The benches were made from softwood decking boards, feature casters for movability, and a hinged top for storing pillows and other outdoor necessities.Continue to 16 of 39 below.
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Sustainable Mountain Home
Outdoor structures besides walls can serve as vertical gardens, like this vine-covered arbor designed by The Garden Route Company. The modern mountain home in Northern California features sustainable construction methods that blend with its natural surroundings, while being environmentally conscious.Continue to 17 of 39 below.
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Greenwich Village High Rise
Reclaimed barn doors provide a focal point to a Greenwich Village courtyard garden created by Jeffrey Erb Landscape Design. Originally a dark space, the firm added built-in planting beds, salvaged pavers, a trellis wall, and a two-tier planting system that lets vines climb up two stories toward more light.Continue to 18 of 39 below.
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A crisp, white house in Madrid is made even more appealing by Casa Josephine with the addition of a wisteria and laurel (bay) tree. The two were planted near each other so that at least one (the evergreen laurel) is always green and in bloom. The designer tied the wisteria's main branch to a vertical wire suspended from the roof and it is also supported by wires that are anchored to the wall. The purple-blooming wisteria covers the home's facade in spring and summer.Continue to 19 of 39 below.
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London's Scenario Architecture designed a well-organized outdoor space for their clients that makes smart use of tight quarters. When not in use, children's bicycles and garden equipment are stored in the built-in hardwood benches. Plants are meticulously maintained and include a pomegranate tree, grapevines, heuchera, olive trees, English boxwood, wisteria, and assorted herbs.Continue to 20 of 39 below.
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Walls of Chelsea
A roof deck in New York's Chelsea neighborhood bursts with color. Designed by architect Lynn Gaffney, the space is situated in the midst of an industrial/commercial area, but offers lots of privacy with living walls.Continue to 21 of 39 below.
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An antique Balinese temple gate with a Japanese basalt stone lantern leads to an Asian-influenced garden with a custom-designed maze and blue stone. San Francisco-based Zerterre Landscape Architecture used hundreds of plant species to create an exotic fantasy-type garden that features varieties like red-leaved banana trees, giant birds of paradise, towering black bamboo trees, and Japanese blood grass.Continue to 22 of 39 below.
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Mod Wall, Mumbai
Living space is extended to the balcony of this Mumbai home in a high-rise. KNS Architects used Jaali lazer-cut Corian that is backlighted to provide a soft glow for the outdoor space. The Midcentury Modern-inspired chairs resemble spun-fiberglass designs from the 1960s and early 1970s and echo the shapes in the ceiling panel. A bright living-green wall provides contrast.Continue to 23 of 39 below.
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Vibrant in Seattle
A colorful, well-designed yard created by Kim Rooney Landscape Architecture features cedar-framed trellises that support English laurel hedges—great for creating privacy walls. For colder climates—like Chicago—Rooney recommends growing living walls with Hicks yew or a mix of shrubs and trees like hemlock, Serbian spruce, flowering trees, and fragrant viburnum.Continue to 24 of 39 below.
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Succulents are packed tightly into the slats of old wooden shutters hung on the wall of this house, providing a focal point, color, and greenery.Continue to 25 of 39 below.
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Orange, Greek, and Mod
Standing on the back patio, you'd never guess this Greenwich Village home is actually a Greek Revival built around 1840 and is 15 feet wide. Designer Axis Mundi's solution, naturally, was to use vertical space in the yard for greenery and privacy. The fence is clear-stained teak, the vibrant chairs are Paola Lenti. Others on the design team include John Beckmann and Richard Rosenbloom. Axis Mundi's living walls on a larger scale include their design for New York's MoMA Tower.Continue to 26 of 39 below.
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Shapes and colors dominate in this modern, architectural yard in Johannesburg, South Africa. Created by Young Landscape Design Studio, the vertical planter on the wall was formerly a bucket elevator unit from an old bread factory that closed down and was retrieved from a salvage yard. Plants include a selection of hardy echeveria hybrids and sedums.Continue to 27 of 39 below.
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Eiffel Tower View
Yes, that's the iconic Eiffel Tower as viewed from this rooftop terrace. Located at the ninth and tenth levels of an 11-story apartment, the building was constructed after World War I as social housing for Paris' Habitation Bon Marché (HBM) program. Artelier FB installed a 19th-century hut via a crane on the terrace for the shared garden. Trees, vines, aromatic plants, and cherry tomatoes growing in small jars were placed throughout the space for all to enjoy.Continue to 28 of 39 below.
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London Rooftop Garden
The sophisticated penthouses at London's Chelsea Creek include modern linear rooftop gardens with green walls designed by Aralia. While each planting scheme is different, all are unified by structure, form, evergreens, along with accents of rust, and orange flowers and foliage.Continue to 29 of 39 below.
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San Francisco Organic Garden
With an emphasis on organic, Native Sun Gardens redesigned the rooftop garden of a 16-floor apartment in San Francisco that produces vegetables and herbs for the building's residents. Using steel horse-trough containers and steel-engineered cages, the vertical landscape uses pesticide-free soil, an organic compost tea, and foliar spraying.Continue to 30 of 39 below.
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Years ago, whoever had these trees planted cared more about their privacy than the architecture of their house. Planted so precisely it looks like a measuring tape was used, the trees appear to have held up quite nicely and are doing their job. Note the giant birds of paradise peeking out over the hedge—they're evenly spaced, of course.Continue to 31 of 39 below.
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Plain walls of a London courtyard garden were adorned by Silva Landscapes with light-green vines and potted plants that appear to thrive in the damp climate.Continue to 32 of 39 below.
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Walls of Hedge
If you or your gardener are expert hedge trimmers and the shrubs are healthy, growing a living wall that takes sharp corners and curves is possible. Just make sure you have plenty of time for maintenance, along with a good set of tools.Continue to 33 of 39 below.
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Hideaway in Molina de Segura
The outdoor living space of a house in Molina de Segura, Spain, allows sun to filter in while the high walls provide privacy. A modern, natural look is achieved with hardwood furniture that can tolerate sun, along with sub-tropical plants that look striking silhouetted against the white wall. The space was designed by Alberto Garcia.Continue to 34 of 39 below.
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Honeysuckle Wine Cave
Orange cap honeysuckle vine runs rampant on a sprawling property in Northern California. Built by Reyes Landscape Construction, the estate features a wine cave built with concrete walls, a stone veneer, and heavy timber doors with metal hinges. Throughout the property, buildings and walls are covered with vines for a lush, old-Italian rustic lookContinue to 35 of 39 below.
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Ipe AccentsContinue to 36 of 39 below.
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An old frame is suspended from a wood pergola, where it acts as a support for a young tree and some vines that need to be attached to something. For extra support, the frame is anchored on the bottom by wire attached to the concrete base.Continue to 37 of 39 below.
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Gardens of San Miguel Allende
In the artistic Mexican town of San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato, Terra Landscape Design revived a brick courtyard patio with a pond, hanging gardens and colorful bougainvillea for an old-world atmosphere.Continue to 38 of 39 below.
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A lush living wall transforms a small courtyard into a beautiful outdoor social area. Designed by Biotecture, the wall features plants in a variety of textures and hues.Continue to 39 of 39 below.
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Dark Green Walls
Dark, richly textured living walls are stunning, as evidenced by this outdoor seating area designed by Urrutia for a home in Mill Valley, California. To prevent the walls of this outdoor room to literally cave in and grow wild, you will need to commit to frequent and precise maintenance.