November 29th Posted In Alternative Farming

Vertical Living Walls: Horticulture at its Height

The luscious green walls which feature in countless design magazines have a greater value than you might initially think. More than just an aesthetic hallmark of interior spaces, green or living walls are self-sufficient vertical gardens which have a wide variety of uses, especially for horticulturalists interested in exploring unusual technologies to grow and produce food.

Over the years, living walls have been used within commercial office spaces to improve air quality and employee wellbeing, where they have also become strong external wall features which reduce air pollution. This level of versatility, articulated by the various design and application possibilities, truly emphasises the beauty of living walls.

But from a horticulture perspective, living walls have a significant amount of practical value, particularly when it comes to producing fresh produce in our current global food shortage.

The ‘food shortage problem’

As 81.2% of the UK’s population live in urban spaces, there is an unending pressure on the nation’s growers to produce food which can feed the rising number of people occupying these areas.

Of late, there has been the added pressure known to us all as Brexit. Once the UK is out of the EU, it is predicted that fresh food imports will increase in price if the negotiations do not identify the best route for the industry. Without a suitable outcome, fresh food will potentially become unaffordable for many UK citizens. And this has huge implications on the consumer’s diet and overall health.

Therefore, the current picture is as follows: the UK has to become more reliant on domestically-produced food sourced from local growers. Whilst this will indeed benefit the UK’s growers and farm-shop businesses in rural communities, (and rightly so), the same opportunity must be extended to those inhabiting urban environments.

Fresh food must be made more available on people’s doorsteps to ensure consumer health is not compromised; where new avenues for urban productivity will also promise new business options for urban growers.

Are living walls a solution?

A crucial element of urban agriculture and gardening, living walls can potentially be a sustainable solution to feeding the ever-growing population for years to come. But how do they work? And how are they created?

For homeowners wanting to transform a disused exterior wall into a mini food-production oasis, felt-pockets available in a vertical grid format can be purchased and attached to walls. These can be hand-watered when necessary, as the felt-pockets are designed to retain water.

However, on more complex productions, a drip irrigation system is required. An irrigation tank must be filled on a regular basis to supply irrigation water. Water is pumped to the vertical living wall, distributing fluid to the plants installed on the wall.

A further option would be hydroponics, a widely recognised form of precision growing. Hydroponic technology is an alternative farming method, where roots are placed in a nutrient rich solution or a water-retentive material rather than traditional soil. This controlled system decreases water-waste, as water is pumped around and reused; essentially, it is a self-sufficient, sustainable growing system which assures energy efficiency and reduces carbon footprint.

With these production systems in mind, living walls have a strong capability to cultivate fruit plants within a small, compact area – the perfect answer to urban growing. Although they can be expensive to install, greater demands will inevitably drive down market prices. And the demand will come to fruition when the UK realises it needs to utilise urban growing spaces to produce food post-Brexit.

Striking to look at and a reliable alternative to conventional food production, living walls won’t be a thing of the future for long. Although their design and application versatility is a huge element of their beauty, essentially, their ability to produce food will make them a commonplace feature in the spaces we live, breathe and work in.