Living Wall: Iteration 02

Felt Pockets and Pot Bound Plants

So after one season of the felt pockets it turns out that even the biggest available pockets are too small, and most of the plants become pot-bound. I had a chat with a gardener from the local private garden centre and they told me that it always takes a bit of experimentation, but was able to recommend some plants that instead of becoming pot-bound would just no grow as big as they would roaming freely. Most of the alpine plants available in spring provide a good cover and early flowers. Another plant I am fond of is the winter pansy. I planted mine in late January and we have mid April now, they have been blooming since and are now developing nice foliage and keep getting new blooms. I would say the £3 spend in ASDA were definitely worthwhile.

Don’t Waste your Money

Self watering green wallsystem

Since the felt pockets are prone to dry out really quickly–and I am living in Scotland!–I decided to try out the self-watering system. BIG no no … firstly for the size of our living wall at the cheaper end the pots would have costed me £600. So I bought two rows only for proof of concept, and boy was I glad I did. These pots became waterlogged really quickly (USDA 8) the the plants literally rotted in them. I eventually took my drill and drilled the bottoms of all the pots. As you can see in the photo above most of the plants did not take in the pots, also they appear to be bigger than they are. Due to the double bottom in them, and the slanted shape, they cannot even take plants the size the biggest felt-pockets could. Additionally if you water a lot of the soil gets washed out.

I am now planning to take the pots I have, fix them on a South-facing fence and add a mix of sand and rocks for good drainage and create a fence with colourful succulents in them.

Keep in simple!

Well, I had an idea. Considering that I could not find a ready made wall system that was affordable and had the appropriate pot sizes for my plants, I figured I could just get actual planters, which are sold in packs of 10, and won’t loose space due to either how the pockets are sewn or the design of the hanging wall system. So without much ado here is the solution that actually works without breaking the bank.

Tip: pre-drill a hole before fixing the pots to the wall to avoid the plastic from breaking, put a washer between the screw-head and the pot to prevent it from tearing and providing a better fit. You want to make sure to use outdoor screws and washers so they don’t rust.

I bought simple brown plastic planters, 17cm, placed a square of an old bath towel in the bottom to prevent the soil from washing out through the holes, and then filled the planters with the soil mix described in the previous post and planted herbs, flowers, and strawberries. Mind you the strawberries weren’t too keen on the small planters and I would have to go for different type of strawberry such as wild strawberries. Having busy Lizzies in the living wall had a dramatic effect and covered all the pots so it literally became a living wall.

Why have a living wall?

This might be an observational bias but the amount of insects and spiders living in the wall definitely increased biodiversity in the garden. Also the wren came back and feeds on the creepy crawlies every morning, as do other song birds. We have had different kinds of bumble bees and bees in the garden. So strictly no weed killers or insecticides.

Living Wall: Installation

It’s alive!

This was 2018 when we installed the first iteration of the living wall. 

So this weekend was the weekend to install the first bit of the living wall. The last planting pockets are still on their way to roost. Okay let’s start with the frame.

Tip: if you buy the textile planting pockets (don’t install the frame before they arrive) despite specifications they are between 1-2 cm off in size.

Last weekend I prepared the frame for the living wall, painting the wood with a weatherproof coat.

After this it was time to install the frame. We could not place heavy duty anchors in this wall, so we decided to mix it up: wall screws at strategic places and the we used CT1 to chemically bind* the structure to the wall.

Once we had all the laths up on the wall we placed a waterproof sheet over them, as the pockets are textile and we wanted to protect the wall from direct water. Also the layer of air between the wall and the cover creates insulation.

photo of tarp that protects the wall from moisture

Then we began to put up the pockets. When I was standing in front of all these pockets with my plants sorted according to height, I had a moment of feeling slightly deflated. These were a lot of pockets and a lot of plants. The pictures show only about half of each.

I am going to write a post at a later time (once we have observed which plants do well where) about layering the plants. Basically which plants go at which level on the wall. At the moment some of these are under observation, strategically planted at different levels. But as a rule of thumb, the alpine plants are higher up (dry, more light) while herbs and violas (fairly resistant and sturdy) can live at medium height. The grasses and peppermint (basically indestructible) are living at the bottom levels. But I will report back with observations throughout the year.

Tip: I realised that once the pockets are wet the textile stretches more. So I am wondering if next time doing it I would soak the pockets in water before setting them up.

Mixing the Soil

So after some discussion with the gardener we decided to mix the soil 2/3 compost 1/3 sand. To make it lighter and prevent water-logging we threw a couple of hands full of gravel and perlite into the mix. It was amazing when I mixed the soil how much lighter this suddenly became after adding the perlite.

Tip from the gardener: cut the perlite bag open and fill it with water, this way the material soaks up water and you can see it changes the volume, it makes it easier to handle, but also adds moisture into the soil. img_20180414_1239391024016101.jpg

First glimpses

While the final planting pockets are still on their way. Here are the first glimpses of the upper layers.

*That’s an internal joke. Basically a fancy term for using glue.