Posts tagged ‘green wall’

Going Vertical in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden: Year Two!

Last year I tried out a new thing in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden – growing a green wall!  Like all things the first attempt is often a learning experience. Happily, last year’s wall turned out well enough that I decided to repeat it again this year.

The 2014 Ripley Garden green wall. My first attempt at growing vertically in the garden.

The 2014 Ripley Garden green wall. My first attempt at growing vertically in the garden.

I’ve received many questions from garden visitors regarding the construction of the wall so I thought I would share how it was built. This is by no means the only way to grow a green wall, just my own experience with the project.

green-wall-2I started by selecting frames specially designed to hang vertically. The individual cells or containers of these frames slant downward to minimize soil loss. Last year I planted the cells with things like Creeping Thymes and Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ which root in wherever they touch the soil making them perfect in this situation.

Since I can’t do the same thing two years in a row, this year decided to try succulents. I ordered an assortment of succulent plugs (small rooted cuttings) and selected a variety of plants we were already growing at the Smithsonian Gardens’ greenhouses to augment the purchased plants.

To begin, I filled all of the containers with a well-draining potting mix and laid them out flat on a table to plant. I really was looking for dramatic color and texture in this year’s wall so I tried to “paint” with the plants by creating patterns through my placement choices. After I finished planting, I marked each tray with a label so I would know the proper layout when the containers were transported down to the Ripley Garden.

Containers with newly-planted plugs.

Hanging containers with newly-planted plugs at the Smithsonian greenhouse.

The frames were planted in early March and allowed to grow flat on tables at our greenhouse until the roots were fairly established and the plants had grown enough to start holding in the soil. This took about four months due to my plant selection and the fact that I started with small plugs.

(L) The containers after about four months of growing time at the greenhouses. (R) Containers waiting for installation after arriving outside the Ripley Garden.

(L) The containers after about four months of growing time at the greenhouses. (R) Containers waiting for installation after arriving outside the Ripley Garden.

Hanging the containers was fairly simple. Each tray came with a metal cleat to attach to the hanging surface, in this case the Ripley Garden fence. My co-worker and mechanical mastermind, Rick, helped me run two-by-fours along the fence and then attach the cleats. Since I decided to do three rows of the frames, we spaced things accordingly.

Next came the fun part – installing the trays! The back side of each container had an indentation which allowed us to hang the containers directly on the cleats. We could have stopped there, but we wanted to be sure the containers would not fall off so Rick ran a screw through the side of each tray. We started adding the trays from the bottom and continued to fill each level, adding a screw to each tray. It took less than 30 minutes to install the trays once the cleats were in place. To hide the hanging hardware, we reused some bits of twig screen we had left over from last year’s garden holiday decorations.


The frames were easy to assemble. Here Rick works his magic.

Now that the wall is up, watering is a bit of a challenge. It is possible to purchase little water boxes that sit on top of instillation and allow water to slowly trickle down through the wall. I found last year, however, that watering this way did not provide enough moisture to the lowest row of trays. This year I’m watering by lightly misting the wall with a fine spray of water and taking care not to disturb the soil and cause it to fall out of the containers.

The finished product!

The finished product!

I’ve found growing a green wall a fun experiment, but one that does require more skill and attention than growing things horizontally. But hey, why not try something different!

I really like the way it turned out and hope it lasts through the season. Since I used non-hardy succulents, the wall will be taken down in the late fall and returned to our greenhouse where it may undergo a new transformation for next year!

-Janet Draper, Mary Livingston Ripley Garden Horticulturist

July 10, 2015 at 11:53 am 1 comment

Growing “Up” in the Ripley Garden

Green wall in the Ripley Garden

Horticulturist Janet Draper has installed a new living, green wall in the Mary Livingston 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).

Living wall in the Ripley Garden

A vessel at the top of the wall  drips water on the plants.

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 living wall provides a peaceful backdrop for a break from the busy city.

The living wall provides a peaceful backdrop for a break from the busy city.

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’
Delosperma ‘Starburst’
Dianthus grat. ‘Tiny Rubies’
Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Kyoto’
Sedum album
Sedum reflexum
Sedum spurium ‘Ruby Mantel’
Thymus ‘Elfin’
Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’
Thymus quinquecostatus

July 24, 2013 at 11:34 am 6 comments

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