It's green all the way to the top

VERTICAL PARADISE

It's green all the way to the top

walled garden The soaring column of green at ITC Gardenia stretches up to the 12th floor. DH PHOTO BY dinesh s k

“Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made by singing: – “Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade.” – Rudyard Kipling

Well, what’s true for England holds for our Bangalore as well, and our fair citizens are certainly not sitting in the shade. With the squeeze on outdoor spaces in Bangalore, and the soaring per square feet prices, people are starting to look up. Literally – for gardens are going vertical. “Its easier to find vertical space in the city”, says Chandini Harlalka, Founder of ArtFlute (an online community to buy and sell original art) and proud owner of a 8’x4’ vertical garden in Bangalore.

What’s a vertical garden, you ask? Well, it is a normal garden turned on its side. Instead of occupying precious land space, it runs up the side of walls and terraces, turning them into many-hued oases. Any space, no matter how small, can be turned into a garden. A vertical garden can even be indoors. For example, the ITC Royal Gardenia on Residency Road commissioned Patrick Blanc, the creator of the vertical garden and he delivered in spades. The soaring columns of green that stretch up to the 12th floor are created from 1500 species of philodendrons and are a visual delight. A steel structure supports the plants and a state-of-the-art irrigation system ensures that each one of the 25000 plants are provided the correct amount of moisture. Other work by Patrick Blanc include the exterior of the Musee de Quai Branly in Paris. This living garden is about 200 metres long and 12metres tall. And India may soon be home to the world's largest and tallest vertical garden, courtesy Mukesh Ambani. The exterior of his residence Antilla is designed to be a living wall all the way up to the 40th floor!

Why would I want one?

“People are getting more conscious of having green space in their surroundings, and we have been asked about vertical gardens several times in the recent past”, says Veena Nanda, co-founder of  Sunshine Garden Boutique in Bangalore’s Indiranagar that sells gardening items and garden artifacts.

And vertical gardens are a healthy trend, in more ways than one. The health benefits of plants in close proximity to your living space are many. Rather usefully, plants breathe in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. There are some species which specialise in high oxygen output. In addition, some plants also purify the air e.g. the money plant absorbs formaldehyde and other volatile chemicals from the air, while others, like the marigold, act as mosquito repellents. All gardens, vertical or otherwise, also help in water recycling.
Vertical gardens also reduce heat absorption by walls, thereby reducing heat radiation at night. The resulting savings due to increased energy efficiency and reduced use of air conditioners can be significant.

If you are ever doubtful about the provenance of the organic vegetables sold in our local shops, worry no more, for you can grow your own. Vertical gardens are also often used for growing herbs and even vegetables such as tomatoes and beans. This earns them the moniker ‘Edible walls’. Imagine the cool quotient in plucking a tomato off your living room wall!!! The Sky Farm in Toronto, Canada has 8 million square feet of growing space on the exterior of a 714 feet high building. Strawberries, potatoes, cucumbers, peppers, wheat, soybeans, carrots and green beans are some of the produce grown in this huge vertical garden.

Accessibility and cost

In Bangalore, you could call My Sunny Balcony (info@mysunny balcony.com) that specialises in creating green patches, provides potted plants, developes balcony gardens, designs entire landscapes and delivers vertical gardens. MSB has done research into identifying plant species that grow well on a living wall. “We avoid mono-species gardens. They are boring and people like variety in their garden” says Reena Chengappa, co-founder of MSB.

“It’s good to mix artifacts with plants because that lends character to the garden and eases maintenance,” is the professional advice from Veena Nanda. Most garden consultants will take about two weeks to create gardens and your garden should cost you about Rs 300 per square foot.

For that, you will get an intersting combination of wall mounted pots and a bamboo substrate, the experts will work with you to select from a variety of plant options and create the garden you desire. They will also give you the low-down on what they have planted, how to take care of it and an organic maintenance kit, though the initial setup should not need maintenance for 8 months. To keep your garden healthy and cheerful, you need to spend approximately 1 - 2 hours for watering the plants. Alternatively, ELT (www.eltlivingwalls. com), which is a global leader in vertical gardens and offers readymade modular wall panels with pre-grown plants that simply need to be mounted on your wall. ELT living wall installations can also be fitted with self-irrigation systems fed from water outlets, which means you dont have to water them manually. In other words, your living wall can be ready overnight and needs little maintenance. They are available in India through ELT India (www.eltindia. com), but do cost a premium. A DIY approach is “window farms” (www.windowfarms .org). Window farms use recycled plastic bottles to  create a vertical wall of hydroponically grown plants in your window.

Typically, high yield and low-energy plants such as tomatoes, lettuce, beans and cucumber are grown. A water-pump based system with top and lower reservoirs provides drip-irrigation. As for seeds and plants, the Indo-American Hybrid Seeds (www.indam seeds.com) is a good bet, while the nursery at Lalbagh is justly famous for the variety of plants you can get there.

Walls in the shade or indoor walls may also require additional lighting which is provided through LED lights or solar powered lights. These technologies are yet to make their way into India, though. But you can always look for the right lights when you travel or look for the large selection available on www.20north.com and get them home delivered.

Whatever you choose, “the living wall is a very good idea and a great way to bring some green into your balcony”, to quote Chandini Harlalka.

Just another plant on the wall

Making your own living wall can be done in one of two ways — as a fully bespoke model or something more off-the-rack. Whichever you choose, there are a few things to keep in mind.

- Vertical gardens are heavy, and not every wall is strong enough to support one. Check with a carpenter or your landlord to make sure the designated wall can handle the load.

- When selecting a spot for your living wall, make sure the area gets plenty of light. The best light is natural, but you will also need to install artificial lighting.

- Custom installations like the ones Patrick Blanc builds require a frame that can be attached to the wall, a waterproof barrier to protect the wall, a surface material like felt or cork to hold the plants in place and an irrigation system with PVC or polyethylene tubing and a submersible pump (the kind found in aquarium shops).

- Ready-made vertical garden kits have small containers angled to hold dirt and can be watered manually. After you plant your cuttings in the dirt, you’ll need to let them grow horizontally for several months so they develop strong roots. Once the roots have taken hold, you can attach the kit to the wall. (Kits are available from a number of sources, including eltlivingwalls.com, sgplants. com and floragrubb.com.)

- Each wall has different requirements, depending on its light and plants (talk to a local nursery or green-roof specialist about the best plants for your wall), but many people water their vertical gardens three times a day for 8 to 10 minutes. You will need to add fertilizer to the water to make sure the plants get necessary nutrients.

Kristina Shevory
NYT

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