Three Plant Design Tips for Living Green Walls

Developing the plant design is the most rewarding stage of a living wall project.  After all, a green wall is all about the green—the plants!

Done right, your plant design unfolds beautifully during installation and performs spectacularly in the long-term.  Both outcomes mean that your client is satisfied and that you are confident in your work.

Your challenge, in creating a thoughtful plant design, is working within the scope of your client’s goals and budget while creatively addressing project site and product limitations.

1. Discuss Plant Design with the Client

First, consult with the client on plant design ideas during the pre-design phase (Remember these 2 effective planning tips?).  A few points of conversation:

  • Plant Arrangement. Does the client want a monoculture, a random mix of plants, or a complex design?
    • A single-species setup would appear uniform and simple, but it might be risky to assume the plant will perform optimally in all sections of the green wall.
    • If the client is looking for a wild and natural look, a mix of plants is ideal. The random arrangement of multiple species might require less maintenance and will not look as barren if a particular species doesn’t fare well in part of the living wall.
    • A complex design requires more scrutiny in plant selection and arrangement, but allows for infinite design possibilities: flowing bands, checkered patterns, images, logos, text, and more!  Make it living art!
  • Maintenance Goals. Well-trimmed appearance or natural look?
    • Planting Design ExampleA complex green wall design, an exotic plant palette, or a client’s desire for meticulously pruned plants can quickly jump up the maintenance budget. It’s not a bad thing if you’re the maintaining entity; just be aware that you’ll be putting in more hours on a regular basis.
    • On the other hand, simple designs, easy-going plants, and a less intense maintenance schedule are ideal for lower budgets. Less pruning may provide a more natural aesthetic and allow the plant design to morph over time.
  • Temporary or Permanent. Is this meant to be a permanent part of the client’s space or a temporary feature?  Is there a budget for seasonal change-outs?
    • A permanent feature is better served by long-lived plants and very careful plant selection. A temporary feature is less limited.
    • If the client wants seasonal color, consider rotational designs and save greenhouse space for the extra plants.

 

2. Plant Design Considerations

After you’ve discussed the expectations and goals of the client, consider the other parameters of the project.  Keep project characteristics and limitations in mind as you move forward with your plant design.

  • Site Characteristics
    • Based on your site assessment, you should have a clear grasp on the dimensions of the project, the quantity and quality of light, any temperature variations, and the proximity to draft sources. A plant species in the top left of your design may perform differently than in the bottom right.  Keep these characteristics in mind when you’re plugging plants into your design.
    • The scale of the project, in accordance with the installation and maintenance budget, will also affect the plant design. For a small living wall, the light, temperature, and water conditions are basically uniform.  But for a large-scale living wall, there may be several light environments, numerous irrigation zones (and moisture gradients), and a wide-ranging temperature gradient.
  • Product Characteristics
    • Differences in product design can also affect your available plant palette. Each cell or pocket holds a specific volume of roots and growing media.  As a result, some living wall systems may require shallow-rooted plants.
    • Additionally, irrigation integration can vary from product to product. Some systems may provide relatively even irrigation, while others may have a gradient of moisture from top to bottom.  The moisture levels are going to influence your plant choices.

 

3. Plant Recommendations

When it comes to actually selecting plants for an interior living wall, so many factors come into play that a bullet-proof list of tried-and-true plants doesn’t exist.  Nonetheless, there are some plants that I’ve either come across frequently during research or used them myself in plant designs.  Some of these plants may be great for filling in large spaces or bands while others might be best as accents.  Mostly tropical plants:

  • Tropical PlantsPothos family (Epipremnum)
  • Philodendron (Philodendron )
  • Peperomia (Peperomia)
  • Ferns (This GSky project is full of them)
  • Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
  • Lipstick Plant
  • Croton
  • Prayer Plant
  • Snake Plant (Sansevieria)
  • Ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Bromeliads

What plants have you seen or used in an interior living wall?  What plants do you prefer?  What plants do you want to try?

Featured image courtesy of Mark Hogan

Mark is an accredited LEED Green Associate with a background in green wall research and product management and expertise in sustainability, ecology, green infrastructure, and green building. He currently works at Bela Flor Nurseries, a large wholesale supplier of annuals and perennials.

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