Outdoor LiveWall Installation Creates a Vertical Garden Growing Fresh Vegetables and Herbs to Promote Living Walls for Urban Horticulture
Photos Courtesy of Phipps and LiveWall®
Founded in 1893, the LEED Silver (2006) Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a local landmark in Pittsburgh, Pa. and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Phipps has been Pittsburgh’s green oasis for more than 120 years. Nearly half a million people visit annually. Historically, Phipps has excelled at showcasing the beauty of plants.
Today, the conservatory is a green leader among public gardens — recognized for its leadership and commitment to sustainability including environmental conservation, renewable energy, green building design, and healthy living. Their latest innovation in green leadership is the installation of LiveWall Green Walls.
Phipps offers a variety of adult and youth programs, classes and events to educate guests about the benefits of sustainable gardening, raised-bed vegetable gardening, local food production, and healthy eating. In addition, Phipps sponsors Homegrown, an outreach program dedicated to increasing community access to fresh produce, promoting better food choices, and improving the overall health of families.
Since 2013, the program has established more than 200 vegetable gardens in urban and underserved neighborhoods.
However, space limitations for garden plots can be a challenge for urban gardening. That is why Richard V. Piacentini, executive director, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, encouraged the organization to explore green walls as a space-saving alternative.
“Growing vegetables and herbs on its green wall display is an innovative way for Phipps to demonstrate how families and community groups can grow their own fresh, healthy produce on vertical gardens if they do not have room for large garden plots,” said Dave MacKenzie, president of LiveWall.
Testing Green Wall Options
Starting in 2015, Phipps tested LiveWall Inspire Living Wall Panels alongside several other living wall systems on the south-facing wall of its Production Greenhouse Facility. Standardized Inspire panels are 4-feet wide and 7-feet, four inches tall. Each has 24 molded plastic modular planter boxes.
“The other options we evaluated all had shortcomings,” said Michael Bechtel, display horticulturist, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
“With just small pockets of growing medium, some of the other green walls dried out too fast on the sunny, south-facing wall. Others have plastic parts that did not withstand the hot summer sun and started to crack and snap off. In addition, with all the other green walls we tested, we had to water the plants by hand.”
According to Bechtel, LiveWall Inspire proved to be the system of choice because of its soil volume and depth for growing and sustaining plants on the sun-drenched wall, the strength and durability of its materials and components, and its integrated spray irrigation.
“It is most professional and well-designed system. The others just did not seem like they could hold up and scale up to the size of the vertical garden we wanted across the length of the Production Greenhouse Facility,” said Bechtel. “With its car bumper grade recycled plastic, the LiveWall planter modules are strong and durable.”
Inspire Living Wall Panels are pre-assembled green wall frames. They include vertical furring tracks that attach to the building wall and establish air space between the wall and the panels for ventilation. Rows of aluminum rails, which serve as conduits bringing water to each planter box, run horizontally across the tracks.
LiveWall molded plastic modular planter boxes then fit into place and are fastened onto the rails. Separate liner inserts, plant containers with growing medium and pre-grown plants, drop into the planter boxes. For outdoor installations, the system uses precisely metered spray nozzles for irrigation to water plants much like natural rain.
After completing initial testing in 2015, Phipps installed nine more Inspire standard panels in 2016. In the spring, beets, carrots, collard greens, kale, and kohlrabi grow in the vertical garden. Summer plantings include basil, rosemary, thyme, celery root, and various peppers.
Bechtel advises giving careful consideration to the growing medium selected for vertical gardening on living walls. In 2016, he experimented with a potting soil for the growing medium that was too lumpy and porous. Water flowed through too quickly. Switching to a different growing medium with better water retention qualities was a substantial improvement.
He and his colleagues have also experimented with various organic fertilizers. They found a slow-release granular product, which applied every two to three weeks during the growing season yields impressive growth.
Bechtel also has a supply of extra inserts for the LiveWall modules. He uses them to start plants in the greenhouse. Being able to easily swap the inserts in and out of the planter boxes on the wall is especially useful for transitioning from spring to summer plants as well as for preparing the living wall for winter.
The Fruits of the Garden
“With our green walls, we have the opportunity to study, evaluate and learn about growing edibles on space-efficient vertical gardens, said Bechtel.
“It is a forward-thinking approach that enables us to offer education and assistance to homeowners, schools and community organizations on planning, installing and maintaining their own green walls so that they can benefit from fresh produce.”
A visit to Phipps to see the green walls can be tasty as well as inspiring. Guests can see vegetables and herbs growing organically on the green walls and then taste them in delicious dishes served at Café Phipps, named by Food & Wine magazine as a “Best Museum Restaurant.”
~ Amber Poncé and David Aquilina
Publisher’s Note: The Phipps Conservatory Production Greenhouse Living Walls are featured as Greenroofs.com’s Project of the Week for November 20, 2017. See its Project Profile in The International Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database.
Amber Poncé is the Business Development Manager for LiveRoof Global, LLC. Since 2006, Amber Ponce has helped to expand the LiveRoof Global network of professional horticulturists and growers to an industry leading supplier of green roof systems. In her role as business development manager, she has trained dozens of professionals in technical aspects of green roofing. She has actively participated in the development of industry testing standards and building codes, and currently sits on the policy and growing media committees of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. She is an accredited Green Roof Professional with seven years hands on experience in green roofing – including experience with growing media formulation, plant selection and production, shipping logistics, installation and maintenance. Amber has helped participate in the development of standards related to green roofing and worked with a team of engineers to coordinate the first ever full-scale wind uplift test on green roofs.
Designed with a healthy regard for plants, LiveWall® is the patented living wall system that achieves simplicity and sustainability in harmony with nature. LiveWall is the result of four years of R&D by the professionals who created LiveRoof®, the superior green roof system. LiveWall green wall solutions are engineered with horticultural and structural features specific for indoor and outdoor environments. LiveWall supports plants as nature intended — roots growing down, stems and leaves growing up. With unsurpassed versatility to grow a diversity of plant types, LiveWall transforms ordinary walls into inspiring, thriving vertical landscapes that are simple to install and easy to maintain.
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David Aquilina, Strategic Storyteller (www.linkedin.com/in/davidaquilina), is a corporate communications consultant and freelance writer. David makes his home up on the edge of the northern prairie in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Contact David Aquilina: