Growing Up

How living walls are changing B.C.’s corporate landscape

by Felicity Stone

Since French botanist Patrick Blanc planted the first vertical garden in Paris almost 30 years ago, living walls have sprouted up everywhere, including B.C.—and so have the Vancouver-based companies that install them. And while plants covering exterior façades may be more familiar, living walls are being installed inside commercial and corporate spaces where they are not only beautiful but improve air quality.

Unlike walls covered in vines that are rooted in the ground, in vertical gardens plants grow in a medium attached to the wall. There are essentially two types of system: hydroponic and soil-based. Soil-based living walls use various containers—trays, planters, pots, bags—to contain the soil. With hydroponic setups, plants root in fibrous mats with nutrients delivered via the irrigation system.

Installation costs range from $80 to $250 per square foot depending on the design, location, size and company: since the irrigation system is the most expensive component, the price per square foot drops as the size of the garden increases.

Like any garden, living walls require watering and maintenance. Maintenance services are always advisable—some installation companies insist on doing the maintenance for at least the first year or provide a guarantee as part of the service. Costs depend on the size and accessibility of the wall, ranging from $50 per visit to $25 to 65 per square foot or $200 to 300 a month. ■

Growing Underground Architek, which specializes in green roofs, vertical greening and site water management, used the soil-based ModuloGreen living wall system for the basement boardroom of Brenhill Developments’ office in Vancouver. Since the room has no windows, grow lights behind the stainless-steel valance turn on for a while every night.

In the Frame As well as teaching green wall technologies at BCIT to contractors, architects, designers and homeowners, horticultural engineer Nicolas Rousseau creates interior and exterior living walls and sells a variety of planting systems through his company ByNature. The 60-square-foot wall he installed at FS Financial in Vancouver uses his soil-based ModuloGreen system. An aluminum frame conceals the automatic irrigation apparatus.

Verdant in Vernon

GSky Plant Systems used its soil-based Versa Wall system to build a vertical garden in the atrium of Kal Tire’s headquarters in Vernon. Founded in 2004, GSky has done more than 100 living walls, both interior and exterior, all over the world, from the Oprah Winfrey Network in California and international West Elm locations to the Uptown Centre in Victoria, Vancouver International Airport and Whole Foods in Vancouver.

Living Tapestry The living wall in Lululemon’s Vancouver headquarters is designed to evoke wood grain with a knot in the middle. “Normally I do more abstract art pieces,” says Green over Grey co-founder Mike Weinmaster, who combines plants ranging from flowering perennials and ground covers to shrubs and small trees. Using a lightweight hydroponic system, Green over Grey has created interior and exterior vertical gardens for offices, banks, airports, shopping centres and residences throughout North America.

Botanical Branding As a brand based on an organic material, Icebreaker Merino Clothing wanted a strong presence of greenery with a lush, artistic look for the employee spaces of its Vancouver office. Heather May of Greenstems, a Gastown floral shop that focuses on small-scale indoor living walls, used a soil-based Woolly Pocket system for a wall in the kitchen/lounge and also provided terrariums and spatial planting.