Indigenous Nursery News Blog

Living green wall & vertical garden for biodiversity

Vertical gardens with South African indigenous plants

Freelance ecologist Tania Anderson designs ecological gardens. She designed and planted the vertical garden at House Miller in Parktown North, Johannesburg. This green wall garden is entirely south facing. The plants were chosen by the designer with input from the client to suit the shady aspect and attract insects and birds.

Vertical gardens

Many of the plants were purchased at Random Harvest Nursery in Muldersdrift. The client wanted the wall to be relatively easy to maintain.

vertical garden plants

The green wall system used was Vicinity Modular System which has honeycomb pockets and strong porous bags with adjustable strings to hold the plants. The latter are easily removed when necessary. The frame was installed by DesignNature while Tania planted up and placed the bags. The soil mix is lightweight and drains well, comprising plenty of compost, topsoil and vermicast (earthworm castings). The wall is too sheltered for adequate rainfall and the drip irrigation system has to be adjusted seasonally. Liquid organic fertiliser is provided through fertigation.

Suitable plants for vertical gardens

Tania emulates natural habitats in her designs and the plants are a cleverly arranged mix of shade loving species, giving the overall feel of a rocky grassland but focusing on herbaceous and bulbous plants, along with ferns. A grass species she knew could tolerate regular drip irrigation is Andropogon eucomis, the lovely glittering Snowflake Grass.

living green wall plants

Insects seen on or expected to be attracted to this suburban green wall with its unusual choice of largely locally indigenous species are solitary bees, wasps, moths, hawkmoths, Brown-veined Whites (butterflies) and honeybees, amongst many others. Bees are particularly attracted to flowers with ultra-violet markings and green flowers such as Eucomis autumnalis (Pineapple Flower) on the wall. Painted Lady butterflies are attracted to the Lobelia anceps (Swamp Lobelia).

Crab Spiders may find camouflage in the yellow petals of Hypoxis hemerocallidea (Star Flower). Carpenter bees which are quite common in suburban Johannesburg favour Chlorophytum bowkeri (Bowker’s Chlorophytum). Gaps have been left in the vertical garden with the hope that small birds will use these as nesting sites... and possibly rain spiders. These negative spaces initially highlight the diverse shapes of the plants which may eventually grow into them.

plants for vertical gardens

Some other plants on this diverse and picturesque living wall are Streptocarpus species, the small spotted Drimiopsis maculata, Plectranthus madagascariensis with its white- edged leaves, the small yellow-flowered Ifafa Lily, Cyrtanthus pondoensis, and Carissa bispinosa (Num-num) favoured by fruit-eating birds.

plants for vertical gardens

Several Crassula species can be singled out: C. expansa (Fragile Crassula), C. multicava (Fairy Crassula) and C. spathulata (Creeping Crassula) with its tiny white flowers. Curio rowleyanus (String of Pearls) makes a wonderful showing, along with the pink and white flowered Delosperma sp. Haemanthus albiflos (White Paintbrush) is another shade-loving bulbous species appropriate for this sheltered living wall.

Living vertical garden

Tania advises that plants should be bought small and allowed to grow into spaces. The Vicinity bag holds 3L and 2L plants are suggested. The vertical garden changes in appearance seasonally as flowers and fruit materialise, adding to the walls appealing aesthetic value.    

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