Years of finesse has allowed Benjamin Heim create this botanical masterpiece for his clients vertical garden in San Francisco. The living wall started with mostly ferns and has evolved into an intense mixture of exotic species inspired by curiosity and experimentation. The result is astounding.
An aging bromeliad squeezes into it’s home while rooting into a Florafelt Root Wrap.
A spontaneous and inspired vertical garden masterpiece by Benjamin Heim of Groundcover Landscaping.
Florafelt Vertical Garden by Benjamin Heim of Groundcover Landscaping
Laura Mast of Kingwood Center Gardens adds an exciting new addition to their showcase greenhouse. Florafelt Vertical Garden Planters are hung from a metal unistrut frame and filled with a colorful combination of root-wrapped bromeliads. The historic house and gardens are located in Mansfield, Ohio.
A redesign of the vestibule in San Francisco’s historic Conservatory of Flowers has created a breathtaking introduction for visitors to this world-famous Victorian structure. One of the largest and most beautiful vertical green walls in the city is now on full display for visitors inside North America’s oldest public wood-and-glass greenhouse.
This dramatic 360-pocket wall (created with 30 Florafelt 12-pocket panels) reflects the spirit of the Conservatory. It was created with donated materials and labor by people with an enthusiastic love for plants. The result is an exquisite display of tropical greenery, flowering varieties and colorful vines for a luscious eye-catching wall that stirs the imagination.
It all began with the 2012 San Francisco Decorator Showcase that featured an exterior green wall designed by Davis Dalbok of Living Green Design and member of the Conservatory’s Advisory Council. The planted entry wall was made using the Florafelt vertical garden system invented by Chris Bribach of Plants On Walls.
Jane Scurich (above right), Director of Development at the Conservatory of Flowers, remembers the Decorator Showcase wall as “breathtaking.” After the event, she asked Davis about acquiring a section of the display. Davis replied, “You don’t want a postage stamp, Jane, you want it to be the whole wall.” Davis contacted Chris about the project, who donated a custom-designed system to one of San Francisco’s most prestigious and beloved institutions. It was installed behind the greeter desk with special requirements to preserve the integrity of the elegant Victorian structure.
Around that time, volunteer Conservatory greeter Marilyn Singer passed away and her family donated many of the first plants in her memory. Later San Francisco Foliage donated more greenery. Senior Nursery Specialist Guadalupe Cota culled prime specimens from her greenhouse. As the number and variety of plants grew, it became clear that a stunning attraction was being created.
A drip line water and nutrient-delivery system also donated by Plants On Walls kept it lush and beautiful. Not long after, Guadalupe left the Conservatory and Nursery Specialist Mario Vega maintained it for the next few months. That’s about where I came in.
Originally volunteering as a docent, I switched to the horticulture side in 2013 out of sheer fascination with the plants themselves. I was beyond thrilled when Mario put me on “vertical garden duty.” The last three years have been an invaluable education in what tropical flora do when prepared in Root Wraps, or the recycled PET “diapers” (as I affectionately call them), and stuffed inside pockets to grow vertically.
As I worked with the vertical garden, I found that plants were so happy they began to take over. The vanilla orchid vine grew with such force it pushed its neighbors up out of their pockets. The bromeliads flowered furiously and the philodendrons’ roots clamped on so ferociously I had to cut out entire pockets. Gesneriads, lipstick vines and exotic grasses spilled over and fought for light.
When the wall garden was finally tamed, I added more specimens to vary the color and texture. Now there’s a habanero pepper plant and two carnivorous Nepenthes, which I keep neatly trimmed because they tend to take over.
In early 2016, the Conservatory welcomed its new Director Matthew Stephens. Among his other exciting plans, the greeter desk was moved to the other side of the entryway allowing everyone to experience the living wall up close. The larger foliage at the top has been trimmed to reveal the building’s beautiful original stained glass. With the wall now on full display, this unique and astounding vertical jungle finally feels complete.
For a small entry fee you can visit the Conservatory of Flowers and take a free tour or stroll around on your own. You can also just step into the vestibule without a ticket to experience the living wall for yourself.
Horticulturist Steph Kantorski describes her experience using the Florafelt System for the San Francisco Conservatory of Flower vertical garden.
Rebecca Sheedy of Floraform Design is thrilled that her first vertical garden is also one of her most visible. Marx Foods may be the first, but Rebecca has since spent five years creating living walls, and ran a business maintaining gardens for several years before that. “I just love plants and always find a way to be out there with them,” she says.
She honed her expertise while studying botany at the University of Washington and The Evergreen State College. “I’m really into color, contrast, texture and shapes,” she says. In fact, her expertise is international. “During college, I did research in Costa Rica to estimate the biomass of forest canopy. We found there’s more biomass in the canopy than on the forest floor.”
Rebecca’s vertical garden serenely packs a green marketing punch from its post overlooking the Marx Foods checkout area. “I started small with a Florafelt 8-pocket for the first 6 to 8 months,” Rebecca explains. “I learned what plants were happy where. It’s now 7 panels or 56 pockets.”
Plus a gorgeous frame that beautifully sets off the plants within. “The frame was Marx Foods’ idea. To hide the freezers, we incorporated the garden into the freezer wall. The garden sets Marx apart, makes a statement and generates a lot of buzz.”
Rebecca selects plants as carefully as Marx Foods shops for their clientele. The garden includes Homalomena, Medusa Bromeliads, Kangaroo Paw Fern, Vresia (a mottled leaf bromeliad), Spathiphyllum, Anthurium, Aglaonema (has a good sprawling habit and fills in the edges”), Philodendron and Schefflera ‘Soliel,’ which has stunning chartreuse leaves.
Rebecca shopped around before settling exclusively on Plants On Walls. “Back then a lot of people created walls themselves in a Patrick Blanc style, stapling felt to a wall. But I made sure to use a Compact Kit – it’s fully contained and operates on its own. I like how the hardware is invisible. People saw it and got in touch with me.”
Since then, Rebecca has created distinctive and beautiful vertical gardens for restaurants, homes, wine shops, doctors’ offices, you name it. Interestingly, doctors request the gardens for their examination rooms. “There is a big alternative medicine scene here – doctors prescribe plants as medicine,” she says.
Grateful for the spent fury of Jonas, our thoughts turn to that other superstorm, Sandy – and recall a vertical garden so tough, a historic hurricane couldn’t bring it down. In fact, for renowned New York restaurateurs Laurent Kalkotour and Leslie Affre, and acclaimed landscape designer FireDean Schilling, the logical thing was to build two more.
October 29, 2012: what is now Atrium DUMBO had been open just six months, following a year of pressure and preparation. The restaurant lies just a few feet from a waterside park in the eclectic and happening DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) neighborhood in Brooklyn.
For the opening, FireDean designed and installed a gorgeous 16×5-foot living wall made with Florafelt. “Vertical gardens are ideal for hotels and restaurants because you need a memorable experience,” he says. “There is an undeniable energy that resonates – maybe it’s the higher level of oxygen!”
A dark moment.
When Sandy hit, more than five feet of seawater barreled through the back door. Just about everything was demolished. The owners rang up one of their line cooks and then all went to the restaurant during the hurricane, but all measures to protect it were in vain. Closed for months, no federal assistance was provided to rebuild.
About the only thing that survived was FireDean’s green wall. “It was kind of an inspiration. It looked pretty good, but with a completely destroyed restaurant around it,” he says. The owners brought him back, thinking it also needed replacing, but FireDean said not necessarily.
“We took out most of the plants, cleaned them up, replaced them and fixed the irrigation system. We also kept the structure.” In addition, FireDean donated toward the rebuild, helped with the cleanup and promoted fundraising efforts.
To date, FireDean has created a second wall and is busy designing a third for Leslie and Chef Laurent’s newest restaurant as well. “Green walls make complete sense with their impact and beauty. They’re practical and they work. If you make it pretty, they will come.”
With 20 years of experience, FireDean is an urban landscape guru, tackling tough spaces, rooftop gardens and living walls. He’s excited about the future, too. “There’s a huge cultural shift. Young people are growing up with this. Coupled with an architectural background, we have a generation of people who will incorporate this kind of design in urban planning,” he says. “Before building, planners and architects now ask: where will the plants go?”
With New York City no stranger to sub-zero temps, FireDean takes care to help clients learn what works best in their climate. “I generally choose from a spectrum of plants that adapt to low light and feel like you’re walking in New York State. Look at the High Line (a public park built on an old rail line above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side). They chose scrub oaks and stuff that already grew there. We test growth habits, whether it’s a natural cascading effect or aggressive vine. And we emphasize maintenance to always look 100 percent.”
Seth Stottlemyer’s first vertical garden is a stunner! Trained in Washington, DC, apprenticed in New York, and now headquartered in Sarasota, this entrepreneur brings a little northern exposure to the sunny South.
As a rising star landscaper, Seth is big on keeping up to date ─ not surprising since he managed energy efficiency programs at Con Edison, received professional certification from Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (headquartered in Toronto), and studied at the New York Botanical Garden. He apprenticed at the renowned Town and Gardens firm in New York City, rising to manage high profile residential and commercial sites.
One might think that in Florida, only tropical plants that soak up the sun all day survive – not so. “Our vertical garden is north facing and doesn’t get a lot of direct sun. In fact, there is a slight roof overhang,” says Seth. So he created a masterpiece including ferns, philodendrons, bromeliads and peperomia, which work well in lower light. Peperomia’s many varieties include silver and burgundy stems and leaves for added punch; that and its attractively mounted compact habit make it a great wall companion.
Needless to say, the living wall creates “A lot of buzz. I think this will take off big for me,” Seth says. One project gained as a result is a 9×11-foot wall for a new client’s dining terrace, which is surrounded by indirect light.
Seth also creates gorgeous container gardens and raised vegetable beds, and is particularly adept at xeriscaping ─ the process of creating water-efficient, striking landscapes that replace those water-hogging grass lawns. (Xeros means “dry” in Greek.)
“Xeriscaping is taking off down here,” he says. “We’re using hardscaping like shells and rocks and drought resistant plants. There is a lot less maintenance: no need to cut, weed and fertilize all that grass.”
Seth grew up gardening and running the family business in Sarasota, but after years of work and education up north, he enjoys getting to know the southern plant palette again.
“We have a lot of courtyards where vertical gardens would be perfect,” he says. “I want to promote herb gardens and lettuces, which are popular here. With my experience in New York City, you have to bring your professional A game to high-end properties. I’m also excited to bring in my own artistry and flavor.”
Chris and Gary used a 12-Pocket Florafelt Vertical Garden Planter to create an easy care succulent display for their San Francisco balcony. Succulents are great for saving water and can be hand watered weekly.
The design by Chris Bribach of Plants On Walls incorporated earthy tones to blend with the natural wood siding. Then incorporated a base of green on the edges to give definition. Use of trailers let it hang down wile other succulents will reach upward.
The Florafelt 12-Pocket Planter is 32 inches wide and 24 inches tall. The felt pockets are pre-stapled to a lightweight plastic board that has nylon tabs on the top corners. Simply hung from deck screws.
Succulents are a great way to learn vertical gardening if you have the right conditions. First you’ll need lots of bright light and no frost conditions. Best for our more arid states and continents. Chris and Gary use a hand pumped pressure sprayer to water once a week and also rinse off the plants. Succulents like to go nearly dry between waterings. They are so easy you even place a cutting in soil and they will root and grow.
For their design each pocket receives a felt wrapped wrap grouping of plants. In this case two 4 inch potted plants are placed into each pocket. By arranging pairs or groupings a more detailed flow can be created.
Chris Bribach demonstrates how use Florafelt Root Wraps to create a succulent display.