Tips and styles to make the most of the vertical g...

Tips and styles to make the most of the vertical garden trend in interior design

By: Alexandra Stilwell 

Photo: Hélio Ramos 

Striking interior features or outdoor walls of greenery, vertical gardens have become a must-have feature, whether natural or artificial

Vertical gardens are a growing trend as sustainability awareness continues to grow. Whether it’s a small garden to grow herbs on a balcony or a large-scale architectural feature for a villa, these vertical oases are flourishing must-have features.

As increasingly more cities embrace the distinct gardening approach for its visual appeal and positive impact on health and sustainability, these verdant walls have also gained recognition as bold statement pieces in rural areas 

If well-designed, installed and maintained, vertical gardens won’t just look good; they will also provide numerous positive benefits. They will enhance the aesthetics of any area and optimise the use of space, but they will also contribute to better air quality, provide insulation for increased energy efficiency, absorb sound to reduce noise pollution and act as a natural barrier against extreme temperatures.

Now, that may all sound extraordinary, but there is a catch: intense heat during summer months can make these blooming projects more difficult to manage in places like the Algarve.

To determine the most suitable options for each situation, Vanessa Contreiras, Director of Q Landscape in Quinta do Lago, lays the ground rules: “Check the location and size of the wall and its sun exposure”, to which she adds essentials – “there has to be water, drainage, and lighting if it is indoors.”  

When designing an outdoor vertical garden, it is vital to consider its location and positioning in relation to natural light throughout the seasons and times of day. Vertical gardens thrive on walls that do not get much direct sunlight, but if you are dealing with a west-facing wall that gets afternoon sun, you will need to choose hardy plants to make it work.  

Once the location has been established, plants have to be selected. The beauty of vertical gardens lies in their ability to accommodate both decorative and edible plants. You can create a stunning display with vibrant flowers and trailing vines, while also growing delicious herbs and nutritious greens, as long as they are suited to the environment. To create the most favourable growing conditions, the design of the wall must take into account the distinct requirements of each plant, including light, moisture, and temperature. In Portugal, autochthonous plants are better suited because of the hot weather during the summer months.  

Vanessa Contreiras and her team strive to bring their clients’ vision to life. “We ask them which shades of green they like best, if they prefer mostly greens or more colours, and if they have any plant preferences. What shapes they would like to see on the wall and whether they want a mixed wall or a more uniform shape,” explains the landscape architect. “We then make a photo montage for the customer to approve and adapt accordingly.”  

For one particular wall in Quinta do Lago, Vanessa and her team incorporated Mediterranean plants, which “have greater tolerance to sun exposure and heat, and consume less water. The foliage might not be as striking as what can be achieved indoors, but we can play with colour and flowers, which makes it interesting”. For this, they use Santolinas, Alyssums, Lantanas, and Lavandula, plants with purple foliage, and plants that spread out more to cover the wall. 

A sturdy support for the plants must then be created. This can be achieved with trellises, vertical planters, or wall-mounted systems. As the backbone of the vertical garden, the host wall must carry out a range of vital tasks, including supporting the entire system’s weight, which includes the plant containers, support structure, soil, plants, and irrigation and lighting elements. 

Vanessa recalls having worked with plastic in the past, which, in her opinion, “was not the best because the material that held the substrate was black PVC, and what happens in the Algarve, especially in the summer? It gets hot! The substrate in the bags heats up and ends up burning the roots”. Nowadays, she uses structures made with coconut fibre “because it doesn’t heat up as much as plastic and it’s a natural element that can better retain moisture. It’s more sustainable”, she affirms.  

As for irrigation, whilst it is possible to manually water vertical gardens, a more reliable option is to irrigate them with an automatic system that supplies each plant directly with the water and nutrients it needs, optimising water consumption.  

Although Q Landscape gets more requests for exterior walls, they get the occasional interior one, such as a striking project in which the spiral staircase wall, which went from the basement to the second-floor ceiling, served as the support. Such projects work best with tropical plants, with different shades of green used to achieve various textures and volumes. “The plants we use indoors are greener, with large foliage, like the ones normally seen in indoor pots,” Vanessa explains.  

Indoor plants are highly sensitive to light and require a carefully designed and constructed environment to survive. If a vertical garden does not receive adequate natural sunlight or ambient light, artificial lighting will be necessary to support photosynthesis, which is vital to plant life. It is an essential condition which can also be creatively used to enhance the visual aesthetics of a vertical garden. 

As the landscape architect points out, caring for a natural vertical garden is time-consuming. Regular maintenance is key for this type of garden, typically needing to be tended to twice a week. This involves clearing away shedding foliage, trimming plants, testing the irrigation system, checking grow lights, adding fertiliser, controlling pests, and updating seasonal plants. 

“Several customers gave up because of the costs involved with this type of wall,” Vanessa admits, adding that an artificial vertical garden is a simple alternative to a high-maintenance natural wall, although this might sound less appealing, these days.

“Plants are made of very good quality plastic, which has specific UV protection to withstand our levels of sun exposure. The ones we have used have a 10-year guarantee. You have to get very close and touch them to realise they are artificial,” she assures.

While these faux plants may not have the health benefits of natural foliage and, initially, be a more expensive solution, “there is no maintenance, and in the long term, they are much less expensive”, she concludes.  



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