Living wall ideas –creative ways to plant a vertical garden

Springing up over vertical surfaces everywhere, green walls keep buildings cool, improve air quality, reduce noise and are a magnet for wildlife.

Looking for living wall ideas? Living, or green, walls, once the domain of temporary, designer installations and then pioneering commercial sites where tapestries of plants could be seen adorning the sides of prestigious hotels, shops and office buildings, have become the must-have decorative design solution for residential gardens.

Colourful, verdant and providing aesthetic and ecological benefits, they make use of vertical surfaces for planting – particularly useful where space may be limited but worthy as an impactful design feature in their own right. In urban areas, green walls can help keep buildings cool, improve air quality and reduce noise pollution, as well as provide a habitat for wildlife. They also help keep rain water away from exterior walls and provide insulation.

Public examples include the regeneration of Canal Walk in Swindon, where a vast green wall is suspended above the pedestrian walk, and the branch of Anthropologie on London’s Regent Street, where an impressive, 49-foot-high living wall stretches the full height of the shop interior.

To create these vertical gardens, plants are rooted into a structure which is then attached to an interior, exterior or freestanding wall. Systems can range from something as simple as plant pots hung on a vertical wall, to highly sophisticated modular, hydroponic panels where all the water and nutrient requirements of the plants are precision delivered and monitored electronically.

Garden wall

(Image credit: Alun Callender)

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CHOOSING THE RIGHT PLANTS

A large range of herbaceous perennials, grasses, small shrubs, herbs and even fruit and vegetables can be used. Be creative and experimental – try including scented plants, seasonal flowers and bulbs – but check you’re your chosen plants will suit the aspect, microclimate and conditions of the wall they will be grown on.

THE BEST PLANT FOR A LIVING WALL

  • Adiantum (Maidenhair fern)
  • Carex oshimensis 'Evergold' (sedge)
  • Saxifraga × urbium (London pride)
  • Pachysandra terminalis (Japanese spurge)
  • Fragaria ‘Mara des Bois’ (Strawberry)
  • Pelargonium peltatum (Ivy-leaved geranium)
  • Liriope muscari (Lilyturf)
  • Tiarella cordifolia (Foam flower)
  • Heuchera 'Purple Petticoats' Vinca minor (Lesser periwinkle)
  • Galanthus (Snowdrops)

WHICH PLANTING SYSTEM SHOULD YOU USE?

Successful systems for living walls need to provide a vertical support, a substrate for plants to root into and a means of meeting all their water and nutrient needs – usually via drip-irrigation. Many garden designers and all-in-one companies offer a range of solutions.

Living garden

(Image credit: Alun Callender)

HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN A LIVING WALL?

  • Little and often helps to keep a green wall maintained and looking good.
  • Pick off dead leaves and replace dead or damaged plants as needed.
  • Trim back larger plants, especially those that may be smothering smaller ones.
  • Check for pests and disease.
  • Most importantly, keep an eye on the irrigation and feeding system as plants can suffer quickly if this fails – particularly in hot weather

Take a look at our living wall ideas for more garden inspiration and advice.

1. MAKE IT THE FOCAL FEATURE

Luxuriant and dramatic these vertical gardens also help to insulate buildings, improve air quality and attract birds and insects to urban environments. Here, modular panels are pre-planted with plugs on a support structure, which allows walls of all sizes to be covered with greenery.

Living room ideas

(Image credit: Alun Callender)

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2. TAKE IT INDOORS

This striking living wall, which includes the fern Asplenium nidus obtusifolia ‘Crispy Wave’, Peperomia obtusifolia, Pilea cadiereiand Fittonia, was created for Anthropologie by Biotecture, biotecture.uk.com. Biotecture offers a sophisticated and highly precise, monitored irrigation system. Walls are pre-grown vertically offsite and installed semi-mature creating instant visual impact.

Living wall ideas

3. CREATE A VERTICAL ATTRACTION

A limited palette of carefully selected plants (Adiantum capillus-veneris, Asplenium scolopendrium, Carex Irish Green, Hebe pagei ‘Sutherlandii’, Heuchera ‘Marmalade’, Lavandula ‘Hidcote’, Polypodium vulgare, Polystichum polyblepharum, Soleirola solierolii, Uncinia rubra, Vinca minor Alba) are woven together to create texture and pattern.

Living wall ideas

Garden designed by Stephen Woodhams, stephenwoodhams.com.
(Image credit: Alun Callender)

4. TAKE INSPIRATION FROM NATURE

'There are lots of green wall systems on the market, but I think the units by Treebox are among the best. They are made up of deep pockets that provide plenty of space for compost and plant roots. I would also advise installing an irrigation system to ensure your plants are well watered from top to bottom. In this wall, I have chosen a range of leafy and flowering plants, including heucheras, Helianthemum (rock roses) and thyme,' says garden designer TonyWoods.

Outdoor living wall

John Lewis garden.
(Image credit: Annaick Guitteny)