Our Living Wall … One Year On

It’s been a great success, staff love it, visitors too … it’s our living wall.  One year on it still offers a thrill, still provides a resource for nature, looks stunning, and everyone loves having their picture taken in front of it.

Alice B - living wall May side

A view of the wall in May

From time to time we get requests for information on how the wall came into being, what materials are used, what plants it features, how we water it, what it will look like in future.  So a blog to answer some of those questions seems sensible.

Battleby might on the surface seem a strange venue for a green wall, after all our office is set in beautiful nature-rich grounds.  However, it is as a showcase that Battleby comes into its own. We get a lot of visitors, it’s easy to access the grounds, and you can linger and talk about the wall in ways that might be trickier in a busy urban setting.  So in effect it’s a demonstration site.

Alice B - Living wall February

Back in February the wall was pretty subdued looking

The wall structure is interesting. Our living wall used a pre-existing wall for support, but the theory is that most green walls will  utilise an existing vertical space. If not, then a key requirement would be to ensure the wall had sufficient strength to hold the materials (when full laden) which you are going to attach. The rule of thumb for the Fyotextile® system is 35kg per panel when watered and fully grown.

Alice B - living wall April

How things looked back in April as things pick up a little

The covering in which the plants grow is a Fyotextile® semi-hydroponic system.  These pockets hang from rails. The Fyotextile covering comes as a three layer system – a waterproofing layer at the back, a rooting layer on top of this which is made from recycled textile waste and finally a Fyotextile pocket layer which holds the plants.

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We were able to use a pre-existing structure to support the living wall.

Our wall covers 14sq m. Because our wall is near to Battleby House we were able to link into the mains water supply.  Between the supply and the wall we have an on/off tap and  the flow of water is controlled by an electronic timer. Most of the year this comes on as a trickle flow early in the morning and again early in the evening for 10 minutes.  We haven’t extended that often, but in the height of summer we did extend the watering to 15 minutes for a short period.  The water is turned off now and won’t come back on until early spring, in the meantime we will keep a watching brief.

I have had occasions when I’ve resorted to manually watering the wall. Once was before the automatic system was live, and once again when our mains system was out of commission. That involved lots of watering cans and a ladder. It also absorbed a good half-hour and no matter how hard I tried I failed miserably to avoid water running down my sleeve and under my armpits when watering overhead!

 

Alice B - living wall summer

A dash of colour in summer

You might wonder why we don’t simply capture rain water.  We did explore the options but found too many issues. These included challenges around dry periods (we do get them!), concerns about standing water, and the cost of installing a large water tank. The wall is south facing and catches a lot of sunshine, and the overhang of the structure’s roof  means the wall rarely benefits from any downpours,   So it was either manual watering, or latching into our nearby water supply.

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What did we plant in the wall?   A wide mixture of plants. Mostly selected to help pollinators, some had a role to provide cover and shelter for insects, others offered structure or were simply aesthetically pleasing. All of the plants were sourced from Scottish nurseries  and expected to be hardy and thrive in this area. However, we knew from speaking to other living wall owners that we could expect a die-off rate of around 15 to 20%. Fingers-crossed as we haven’t experience that level of loss, although having the talented Jim Carruthers, our hugely popular ‘celebrity’ gardener, on hand clearly helps, as he administers his skills on a regular basis and can spot problems and replace lost causes on his ‘latest baby’.

The plants Jim tends include a mixture of native and non-native species often found in gardens.  Pinks, strawberries, ferns, Campanulas, deadnettles and herbs all rubbing shoulders in a way which allows a close inspection of the flowers and the insects visiting them.  The plant species include Dianthus carthusianorum, Fragaria vesca,  Blechnum spicant (hard fern), Campanula poscharskyana , Dryopteris affinis (golden shield fern), Lamium maculatum Roseum, Aubrieta ‘Hürth’, x Mukgenia ‘Flame’, Liriope muscari ‘Lilac Wonder’, Origanum vulgare ‘Compactum’ and Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’.  A star of the wall was the spectacularly rampant Polygonum bistorta “Superbum’.

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Manual watering gave the plug plants a good start.

Challenges?  Watering initially was a bind.  Planting less so as colleagues rallied to a planting day (I’d recommend having a small army of helpers on day one), touch wood we haven’t had any pests of note, nor any large or invasive species popping in!

What to expect in future?  Clearly the soil in the pockets will become exhausted so we anticipate needing to feed the wall at some point.  Some plants will gallop on and need a trim, some will need to be split (which might be a good thing when it comes to filling gaps). As in traditional gardening the world over there are no guarantees, so we watch to see what thrives and what suddenly and sometimes inexplicably fails.   The pockets have a lot of life left in them yet but the constant watering, sun-bleaching and seasonal changes will surely take a toll over the years.

Alice B - living wall June

The big question … how different will things look next year ?

It’s been a great project, a thoroughly enjoyable demonstration of what is possible. Here’s hoping it inspires others to follow suit, if they do they, and a host of pollinators, are sure to enjoy.