HAVE you ever heard of an urban ruralist?
Neither had I until I came across two of them, brothers Mark and David Milner who run their business Living Walls just outside Ashbourne, Co Meath, where they design and make living, breathing walls of garden planting for the interior and exterior of your home.
“We’re trying to balance the urban and rural in harmony, and bring rural life back into the urban environment,” says Mark, who joined with his horticulturalist brother David in 2009 to create the business.
Based on an idea originally pioneered by French botanist Patrick Blanc who coined the term ‘vertical garden’ and applied it to the outside and inside of buildings and even on roofs, it’s now growing in popularity in Ireland.
Developing the idea here, the green-fingered Milner brothers see the vertical garden wall as an antidote to the stresses of modern life and growing urbanisation, with an added advantage.
“To bring the garden inside is beneficial to a person’s wellbeing, and you have an immediate result, giving you a lush garden,” says Mark.
“You’re not waiting for up to four years like you are for outdoor plants to establish.”
Just imagine how a much longed-for herb patch to feed cooking projects could manifest in an unexpected way on your kitchen wall all year round.
Then there’s the added value of something beautiful to look at — extra oxygenation of the air, and every time you brush past your living wall, your nostrils are happily assailed by liquorice scented dill and sharp lemon balm.
But before getting carried away on wafts of herby fragrances, there are some practical matters to consider if you want one of these.
“From the client giving us the go-ahead, it takes six to eight weeks to grow the plants in our poly tunnel,” says Mark. “We then install them in modules which are hung on a rail attached to the wall with a baton.”
It seems there’s minimal interference with the wall of the room and, thanks to an integrated irrigation system running along each row of modules, there’s no dripping water on your floor. Surprisingly, it’s a soil-based system rather than the perceived ‘cleaner’ hydroponics.
“Plants do better in their natural environment,” says Mark. “Hydroponics require more irrigation of the rock wool material they’re grown in.”
This will come as good news for anyone worried about high water bills. “Soil-based systems don’t need to be watered continuously,” he says. “Hydroponics are cheaper initially but over the long-term constant water consumption is expensive.
“The only limitation is some plants don’t like the sun shining on them, but other than that you can have anything you want, even soft fruits like strawberries and chillis. We talk to the client about what they want — colour, texture, herbs or other planting. We take pictures and then come up with design options.”
And where there’s little outdoor space or maybe none at all, the vertical garden could be the perfect way to have a much longed-for green space, says Mark.
“If a client has just a small balcony, there’s the option of what we call living art which comes in a frame, like a picture, and there’s no need to run an irrigation system. Water tanks can be filled every four to six weeks and the plants self- water with capillary action matting.”
So you can have the soft greenery of a garden on your balcony and with enough room for a table and chair. Like any garden there is maintenance to consider but it’s low level.
“With herb gardens some plants will die off and need to be replaced but plants keep growing when they’re indoors as they’re not exposed to the elements,” says Mark.
But whether it’s an entire wall in a house or on a balcony or terrace, the advantages of this sort of garden are obvious and significant: vertical, living walls won’t take up space like floor-hogging potted plants will do, they’re a designer solution to what to put on a blank wall.
Some of the results suggest they are a living, breathing piece of art, which is almost poetic, and certainly an antidote to the hard surfaces and edges of the modern living environment.
“And it lifts the spirit,” says Mark. “You can brush against the plants as you walk past and get the different scents, touch and feel.”
From €500 for indoor walls and from €1,200 for living art frames. www.livingwalls.ie
Next week we look at spring trends.
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