In the 15th of a series of articles charting the Wild Wanstead project – which aims to transform Wanstead into a multi-garden nature reserve – Nicola Steele explains the benefits of living walls when garden space is tight
Wanstead is buzzing with builders, as usual. But how can we keep it buzzing with bees, too? In our smallish gardens, large extensions can significantly reduce available space for the plants and trees so essential for wildlife (and humans) to thrive in cities. But one solution to help enhance the natural habitat while you build is to wrap your extension in greenery – and a living wall is a way to do that.
Living walls are a growing trend around town and look set to become a more common feature of urban buildings because of the significant environmental benefits they bring. Whether for an office or someone’s home, green walls reduce air and noise pollution, create a natural environment that improves our health and wellbeing, support insect and bird life, and look great.
But one of their most important benefits is their thermal impact. With temperatures in France topping 45ºC this summer, it’s a reminder that Londoners are expected to face regular intense heatwaves in the years to come as climate change begins to bite. Urban temperatures are pushed higher by hard surfaces like roads, buildings, patios and drives which absorb and trap heat, and made worse by the heat released from air conditioners. This causes our city temperatures to be up to 10ºC higher than rural areas, resulting in what’s called the urban heat island effect.
Living walls are a great way to prepare for a new, hotter future because they help make buildings cooler in the summer (as well as insulating them in the winter). In fact, the cooling effect caused by plants transpiring means green facades effectively remove 50% of solar radiation.
There are lots of different ways you can create a living wall – from using a specialist supplier to produce a custom-made design feature to doing it yourself by installing vertical planters, or even just by leaving a few strategically placed flower beds so you can grow shrubs and climbers directly outside.
Living wall experts Scotscape say careful plant selection is important in vertical planters to keep the wall healthy and looking good all year round. You can download a plant list with guidance on the best options for living walls in all situations from their website (wnstd.com/scotscape). They also offer free living wall training days for anyone who’s interested in creating a feature wall using plants.
As the ecological emergency deepens, every square metre of land we are responsible for becomes a precious resource for wildlife, and thinking vertically opens up a whole new space that can increase the footprint of your garden. So, at the very least, why not let a few pollinator-friendly climbers bring new life to your brickwork? Clematis, honeysuckle and jasmine will all look a treat.