Long relegated to corporate atriums and hotel lobbies, living green walls, or vertical gardens, are becoming increasingly popular in homes. Proponents of the lush walls of plants say they provide noise insulation, clean the air, and create a soothing environment. And many plant lovers view green walls as works of art.
“I’ve always had plants in our home because plants clean the air and I also feel like they emit positive energy,” said De Anna Caiozzo, who recently installed a floor-to-ceiling green wall in the parlor level of her Bed Stuy townhouse.
“We couldn’t do a bunch of potted plants because it made the room look so crazy cluttered,” Caiozzo said. “So, then we had the idea that we could balance the room and have all these plants cleaning the air if we just made this wall on the left side a living wall.”
Caiozzo spent about $10,000 for a four-foot-wide wall of ferns, ficus, cyclamen, spider plant, African violets and a handful of other varieties, designed to look wild and full of different textures.
“It’s pretty commanding. I like that about it. Our whole aesthetic is big, bold, loud but simple pieces,” Caiozzo said. “We thought of this as an art piece so we didn’t mind investing money in it because it adds so much to the room aesthetically.
There are dozens of DIY kits and online tutorials for green walls, but landscape architects caution against attempting to build a green wall on your own because a small mistake can result in leaks, pests or a wall of dead plants.
Gennaro Brooks-Church, who installed the vertical garden for Caiozzo, has been perfecting his green walls for 10 years. His company, Eco Brooklyn, installs them in homes across the borough, usually in modern renovations.
“At the beginning, we built walls that leaked on us or died or that had pests. You’ve really got to know what you’re doing to install a good living wall,” Brooks-Church said. “We’ve gotten it down to something that is really, really simple so there’s no margin of error or opportunity to make mistakes. The truth is, once you install it correctly, it just kind of takes care of itself.”
First, Brooks-Church attaches a piece plywood to the wall, covered by a sheet of plastic for waterproofing. The top layer is made of ground-up coconut coir and a synthetic binder. The plants are inserted into pockets in the coconut coir. An irrigation system drains into a trough at the bottom of the green wall that can empty into the sewer main.
The price is about $150 a square foot, or $12,000 for an 11-by-7-foot wall. Brooks-Church returns for maintenance every two weeks for the first two months, then every four months after that.
“They are plants, so they do need some sort of attention every once in a while, but it’s pretty minimal,” Brooks-Church said.
Green walls should be easily accessible to facilitate maintenance and the replacement of dead plants, said landscape designer Mac Carbonell, who installed a two-story green wall in the stairwell of a Williamsburg townhouse that includes at least eight varieties of ferns and a creeping fig.
“The bigger it goes, the harder it is to maintain and access is really challenging when it gets above 10 feet,” Carbonell said. “A garden in general is a lot of work. A green wall is a full-on commitment, and it’s years and years of work.”
Landscape architect Kim Hoyt installed two walls of vines in the two-story rear extension of a Fort Greene townhouse as a lower maintenance and cheaper alternative to a pocket green wall system.
“The clients did come to us wanting a vertical wall and I talked them into doing a wall of vines,” Hoyt said. “A flatter, thicker system would have made the room feel smaller.”
Unlike a traditional green wall, the vines are attached directly to a waterproof stucco wall and irrigated at the base through a pocket of gravel that is flush with the floor. She planted creeping fig as the main vine, supplemented by other plants.
“Initially, we were trying to make sure the vine grabbed onto the wall,” Hoyt said. “It was a little bit of an experiment to see how it would do and if it would take off, and I think it’s been successful.”
Gardener Michele Paladino, who cares for the vines, said the maintenance is easy and inexpensive, costing the homeowner under $1,000 a year. She also tends to a 6-by-16-foot green wall with a pocket system that costs about $4,000 a year for upkeep.
“A regular green wall requires a lot a lot more work,” she said. “It’s intensive.”
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