Innovative new uses for living walls

Innovative new uses for living walls – the increasing fashion for which is creating aesthetically-pleasing displays in urban environments -­ were discussed at the latest Rural Focus Press Group held at Tonbridge (Kent) based Hadlow College earlier this autumn.

The group (which included local academics and environmental campaigners) agreed that living walls are likely to become increasingly important – and their uses more varied – given the need to grow a burgeoning global population on less land. Howard Porter, co-ordinator for Tonbridge and Malling Friends of the Earth, said: “The requirement for intensification is going to make it inevitable for horticulturalists – they are going to have to look at vertical gardening.” In addition to their current use of creating show-stopping displays and helping to reduce pollution levels, the group therefore suggested that living walls could be used:

  • to grow food such as salads and herbs
  • on farm buildings to regulate the buildings’ temperatures or to grow companion plants that could help protect horticultural crops from pest damage.
  • as sound barriers, such as to reduce the noise of motorway traffic, and
  • to reduce vandalism in housing estates.

John Guest, founder of The English Appleman website, said: “As we get a greater understanding of how these things fit into the circle of life there will be greater opportunities – factors you wouldn’t have thought of.” Yet despite their great potential the possible disadvantages of vertical growing were also considered at this press event. These included their expense and need for ongoing maintenance, which, noted Porter, is “possibly the biggest hurdle to the widespread acceptance of this technology.” Professor Chris Atkinson of the University of Greenwich’ Natural Resources Institute added: “It requires someone dedicated [to the maintenance] … The technology exists but it’s expensive.” Hadlow college lecturer Dr Howard Lee asserted that, while the necessary knowledge is out there, “there’s an awful lot of potential to do more.” He warned that walls that have been designed and installed in the UK had been “looking great but a year later they were dead because the watering system hadn’t been properly looked after. So there has to be that [long-term] commitment to them.” He also revealed, with an eye on the future of growing, that Hadlow College now boasts two living walls, both of which were this year designed and planted by its students. Lee said: “The EU [which funded the walls] wants us to develop the curriculum to make sure the subject is covered for our students. Training for students, that’s the name of the game.”

The Rural Focus Press Group is managed by Patricia Crawford Associates. This year’s press group was sponsored by Hadlow College and photographer David Bartholomew.

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