Growing “Up” in the Ripley Garden
Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist Janet Draper discusses the new living wall in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden:
For quite some time I have encountered numerous versions of vertical gardening, and I really wanted to create a vertical green wall for the Ripley Garden. I started checking out all of the numerous possible ways to create a living wall. Basically you can green any vertical green space if you just use a little creativity. I loved exploring all of the options because there were so many creative possibilities.
After exploring many methods, I ended choosing a system from Gro Vert that utilizes plastic cell trays specifically designed for green wall installations. The cell trays are about 2.5 inches deep with slanted dividers so that when installed upright, the soil stays in place.
I knew the completed wall was going to be in an area which receives full sun, so I chose perennial plants that are drought tolerant and can stand up to the heat of a DC summer. (See the plant list below.) I planted up the plug trays to create patterns with the various plants, and then let them get established horizontally before actually installing them vertically. This was a very important step in the process, otherwise much of the soil would have washed out with the first watering (or rain storm).
My Co-worker Rick Shilling assisted with the mechanics of installation, which involved attaching two-by-fours to the fence area where the wall was to be installed, then attaching ‘cleats’ (which came with the units) onto the two-by-fours. The metal brackets fit into a slot on the back side of the tray to hold the trays in place. Rick also secured the trays with long screws to ensure that they would not be knocked off the brackets. Ever resourceful, he utilized some bamboo screening scraps we had used for holiday decorations years ago to hide the mechanics. We then finished the process by attaching a water-holding vessel to the top of each tray to slowly drip water down to the plants.
The response from visitors has been overwhelmingly positive, with lots of inquires about the specific system I used, and questions as to its care and maintenance. I am still learning, but it is just like any other container plant. You need to check the watering frequently, especially the plants on the bottom half –the water from the top irrigators only makes it down so far, so supplemental water needs to be carefully delivered for the lower bits.
How will it do during the winter? We shall find out! But overall, I am very happy with it and hope to see other vertical gardens popping up around town.
-Janet Draper, Horticulturist
Plant list for the living wall:
Acorus g. ‘Oborozuki’
Carex conica ‘Snowline’
Ajuga ‘Chocolate Chip’
Dianthus grat. ‘Tiny Rubies’
Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Kyoto’
Sedum spurium ‘Ruby Mantel’
Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’