At this time of the year, my clients are coming back from their holidays filled with inspiration and ideas for their garden. Every few years a new theme for requested inclusions starts to emerge. Not that long ago it was water features, however more recently the most requested inclusions are for green walls.
In the right situation, where natural soil and space is limited, green walls make a lot of sense and may be the only solution for the inner city challenges of radiant heat, biodiversity and basic green amenity. However, we can’t forget that the role of landscape design is to creatively solve problems and rise to the challenges of the site to create a useable and loveable space. In doing so we need to avoid creating new problems just for the sake of fashion or WOW factor! After all, unless the wow is intrinsically linked to usability, it quickly looses its shine and, after a while, it turns from WOW! to “what were they thinking?!”
The 2013 TV series of Channel 10’s The Block is a case in point. The green walls fill no purpose other than to satisfy the WOW factor and to tart the building up for filming. There was no thought to the necessity of the green walls or their ongoing maintenance after the film crews left. Situated in a leafy part of South Melbourne, the building has access to natural soil and space for planting. Though the building is tall, it wouldn’t be difficult to find trees or plants to shield the building from radiant heat, whilst providing a pleasant outlook for the residence. Perhaps a much better solution in terms of maintenance would be to plant at ground level where the plants have access to natural rain and soil nutrients. Let’s face it, for all the benefits and WOW factor of green walls, they are really elaborate hanging baskets, and any of us who have tried to get a lovely basket of petunias to survive against the drying wind and nutrients leaching through the coir, know just how hard they are to maintain.
Green walls are too important to be reduced to fashion or WOW factor, just like that new Christmas puppy, the owners need to know that they are a long term commitment. Green walls are more likely to be maintained if they are a logical and necessary addition to the garden. As designers, we need to resist the urge to justify our fees and ego through inclusions that create more problems then they solve. We need to be careful to not overstep the mark from designer to fashionista. Otherwise, the future of green walls will go from being a cutting edge solution to the challenges of the inner city living to nothing more then dead plants adorning the walls of suburbia.