Monday, May 19, 2014

Vertical Gardening Class at Longwood Gardens

On May 10 I took an awesome class at Longwood Gardens called “Vertical Gardening,” presented by Longwood employee Lorrie Baird. Longwood has some really excellent classes and this rates as one of my favorites, along with a class I took on carnivorous plants a few years ago. Both classes taught me something new and sparked a new interest.

The class focused on different types of “green walls” or  “living walls” and the advantages and disadvantages of each type. Here is a sample of a living wall that is at Drexell University in Philadelphia – they call it the Biowall.

Here are the different types of living walls:

Type 1: 

Plant-in-Pot-Systems use plants in their growing containers that are then placed within a framework that is mounted to a wall.  GSky has some nice home-sized versions of this style.

Advantages: Usually cheaper and easier to care for since plants can easily be removed to change the display seasonally or to remove unhealthy plants.

Disadvantages: Plants may dry out faster and also may become too big for container.

Type 2:

Peat-Based-Systems us plants that are removed from their containers and planted into a vertical structure that contains a peat-based potting mix. BrightGreen has a neat animation to show how this system works. I think it must be in Flash, though, because I wasn’t able to see the animation on my iPad, but can see it on my computer.

Advantages: Plants can be replaced easily and the potting mix will hold onto nutrients and water.

Disadvantages: Potting mix can be messy and can also breakdown within a year or two and need replenishing.

This peat-based-system is the type of vertical garden panel that we created in class. This photo shows it as I was starting to plant it.

Type 3: 

Hydroponic or “Hybrid-ponic” systems are planted into a soiless media, except for what is contained in the plant plug, and require an irrigation system to provide water and nutrients. Sage Vertical Gardens has some that use this system.

Advantages: Can be more permanent since the media breaks down slower than soil or peat and the irrigation system can provide water and nutrients as the plants age.

Disadvantages: Usually costs more to install and requires larger amounts of water since the media doesn’t hold onto the moisture. PH and nutrient levels have to be monitored carefully – you pretty much have to fertilize every time you water.

This is the type of system that Longwood Gardens uses for their living green wall. Here is a close-up of their living wall that shows this type of system. If you look closely you can see they are trying about three different media here since they discovered the media they were using was breaking down too quickly. The irrigation system runs horizontally across the top of each panel.

The man who is credited with starting living walls is Patrick Blanc. His style is more naturalistic then the geometric styles that you will often see. And yes, he has green hair.

After we learned about the different types of living walls, we went to see Longwood’s wall and the plumbing/fertilizing system for it. It is actually the largest green wall in North America.

Many people aren’t even aware of Longwood’s living wall because it is in a hidden area where the bathrooms are. Is this not the most beautiful bathroom area you’ve ever seen?

We learned a lot about the planning, growing, and installation of Longwood’s living wall. It was a huge undertaking. It debuted in 2010.

Longwood’s living wall is composed of 47,000 green, low-light plants. There are a lot of different types of ferns here, as well as spike moss, spider plant, philodendron, ivy, and lipstick plant.

When they first installed the living wall, the employees were told to remove the red blooms of the lipstick plant because the red was distracting. Now they just leave them. I think it’s kind of fun to hunt for them in the mass of green.

One side of the wall gets more sun than the other and also the top of the wall tends to grow the fastest. The bulk of the work that is done on this wall is pruning and keeping the plants tidy.

They spray a white paint-like substance on the top windows to help provide some shade for the plants.

This lovely Maindenhair fern is one of the plants that are a part of Longwood’s living wall.

This living wall has to be monitored carefully for pests. They practice a form of natural pest control by identifying what the pests are that are causing the problems, then buying beneficial insects that will attack or eat those pests. Here are some beneficial insect packets.

We had a rare opportunity to go underground to view the plumbing and fertilizing system. All of the conservatory paths at Longwood have underground passageways. This is the underground passageway at the living wall. Spoooooooky.

Lots of pipes that do stuff down here.

This is the fertilizing system. Sorry for all of the blurry photos. These underground shots were taken with my iPad.

After viewing the living wall and the underground system, we went back to the classroom to make our own vertical panels, as show at the beginning of this post. Our vertical panels contain herbs – sage, rosemary, peppermint, oregano, thyme, sweet basil, parsley, cilantro, dill, and spicy globe basil. We were given a sheet of some great-sounding recipes that utilize these herbs. Can’t wait to try some of those. My vertical panel is currently laying horizontal to allow the plants time to root-in. Then I will find a nice, sunny spot for it.

This class really sparked a new interest and now I am planning a shady wall panel. I’m sure there will be pictures of that at some point here on my blog.

Here is a list of classes at Longwood Gardens. It pays to be a member if you plan on taking classes. Each year they also offer some lectures that are free to members. It sure is fun learning new things!

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