Drew School, San Francisco (http://www.verticalgardenpatrickblanc.com/realisations/san-francisco/drew-school-san-francisco)
Is this picture taken by a person standing looking down down at the ground? Not at all. Above you see an example of a Patrick Blanc creation: the Vertical Garden. Blanc, a Botanist and inventor, realized the dream of Stanley Hart White who first patented the basics of the idea of planting vertically in 1938. Early on in Blancs career, he used White’s research and invention, and the surrounding world as a springboard for his ideas. The Vertical Garden has strong elements of bio-mimicry incorporated into its design to produce the most favorable growing conditions for the vegetation. Blanc got inspiration through observing waterfalls, karst and limestone cliffs, “epiphytes”, and the forest floor (1).
Karst Cliff (1)
Epiphyte (Araiostegia) in Thailand (1)
White had small prototypes in his backyard to display the patent, but Blanc is continuously working with architects and others to make some extravagant displays. He takes his designs globally, reaching into Singapore, New York, Tokyo, and Berlin just to name a few.
These gardens begin with the construction of a supporting structure. The structure is fashioned form 10mm PVC board mounted on a studs. “The solid PVC-board is sealed at joints, and an air gap between the board and the wall behind assure a double protection against moisture” (2). Then a super-absorbent, synthetic felt is attached to the PVC board in which the plants will be installed. Because hydroponics is the principle on which Blanc’s gardens depend, the structures do have to support the weight of soil.
Designed to prevent over-consumption, the irrigation system that Blanc implements injects nutrients and controls watering cycles to correspond to amount of heat and sun exposure. In addition, the gardens are broken down into sections so that a section that receives excessive sun exposure is more heavily watered. For the systems that are inside, which are many, they require artificial light. A metal halide light source is used; it “produces the essential wave-lengths that plants need and is an energy-saving and cost-efficient alternative” (2). The light, like the irrigation, varies in different spots according to the species of plants used. As seen by the properties of the irrigation and lighting, the selection of species can be severely narrowed by the location of the garden and by the simple fact that the plants are installed vertically.
Due to the automation of the plants essential needs, little maintenance is required. Putting a Vertical Garden anywhere is an aesthetic addition to the space, but strategically placing green walls has environmental benefits indeed. According to Sage Vertical Garden Systems, they reduce “thermal loading” to buildings (in turn reducing heating/cooling costs and carbon emissions), reduce noise in urban areas, disperse and absorb the suns rays which assist in lowering local air temperatures, and purify the air, especially in indoor spaces where more toxic chemicals can be present (3).
A skeptic from the Los Angeles Times sees these benefits of heat insulation and such are more easily remedied with existing solutions such as shade trees and awnings (4). Yet, unlike large shade trees, the gardens do not require fertile, existing soil or large amounts space for branches to flourish in an urban area. All of the vital resources needed to support the Vertical Gardens are easily manipulated and the price to install them is being undercut by companies like Woolly Pocket. They are already spreading and I think that Penn State UP could use one especially with that recent EPA intervention Dr. Devon mentioned.