Helping out to make a greener earth

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Green Buildings and Vertical Gardens

One of the more visible trends in gardening that seem to have been gaining ground is the green building and its component part, the vertical garden.

It is not surprising that this trend will find more acceptance in more economically advanced nations as the push of continuous industrialization and expansion of commercial and residential construction in these countries will mean less and less space for people to use for plants and for gardening.

There is also greater appreciation in such countries of the role that plants can play in the need to urgently reduce global warming compared to the less developed ones where subsistence remains the main issue.

A stereotype building is made up of two basic exterior parts, the roof and the walls.  The green building, which in its entirety is all covered up with living plants (except for the windows and the doors), is likewise made up of a planted roof and walls cladded with living plants.

While the completely green building is still a rarity in the Philippines, a partially green one is easier to come by:  either small scale vertical gardens or planted roofs.

Various plants that may be hanged
One of the oldest concept of the vertical garden is the use of the vertical component of space for growing plants.

While gardening is mostly carried out horizontally as planting is land-based, the vertical element gets to be forgotten or not at all utilized.  This is the case of concrete walls and fences that have been left bare though the base have been planted adequately.

With the use of trellises installed on walls, vines or creeping plants potted and hanged on beams, or the use of epiphytic plants that are attached to walls, more and more vertical spaces get to be  filled up with greens.

Then of course there are plants that are grown on the ground and can literally attach themselves to walls as in the case of the creeping fig.

Such initial approaches have been expanded to the point that now, whole walls, even whole buildings have been enveloped with living plants.

While we have yet to see such examples in the Philippines, in other more advanced countries, these green buildings are becoming quite common.


A planted roof is a class altogether separate from the vertical garden.  However, the development of vertical gardens, is so closely intertwined with that of roof plantings.  In a lot of situations, it is first the roof and then afterwards the walls that are planted.

Of course, in a building, the roof would be considered the easiest to install with plants, especially if it flat or has little slope.  The only consideration will be the capability of the structure to carry the additional weight of the plant materials and the growing media or soil.


A modern home with a lawn installed on its roof.  Note the roofs of neighboring homes
Modern buildings with its generally flat concrete roofs are ideal candidates for such applications.  For as long as the building can bear the additional load, the planting scheme can be quite straightforward and is made up mainly of grass.

The major issue for such an installation in addition to the additional weight is the difficulty of correcting leak problems should this eventually crop up.

In very tall buildings, the logistics of bringing up the materials will also have to be planned real well.
From the roofs, the development has progressed to the walls.  These days,
covering the walls with living plants has been made easier with the use of technology.

There are systems that are now available that will allow the installation of a vertical garden ranging in size from a few square feet in area to several thousand square feet.

These come with planters, frames as well as watering systems.  They can even be fixed or portable as in the case of planted dividers which have rollers already installed at the base of each unit for ease of mobility.

These developments have made it possible to conveniently grow plants  that will cover a vertical wall like the one on the right.

These could entail a major investment in terms of the non-plant materials that will have to be used.  It would require considerable expertise on the part of the planner and the installer.

On the other hand, not only do such systems help the environment by lowering temperature, reducing noise and removing pollutants from the air, they also improve the quality of life of people as they can transform an otherwise drab area into a living work of art.



A fully planted wall instead of a plain concrete fence



Setting up walls such as the one shown above is made possible by putting together a series of planters and holders that interlock with each other.

These ingenious contraptions come in several forms but all provide enough planting media and drainage for plants to have a solid base for their roots and from which these roots can derive the plants' nutrient and water requirements.

In a sense, such walls are made up of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of small pots strung together to cover a vertical expanse and which when planted with selected plants that are suitable for the given environment would transform the space from dull to green.

Still another form of vertical garden is achieved not through the use of small pots or planters but through the use of a fabric-like material that may be planted and draped over a surface like a carpet of green.

This approach is used when a wall of grass is desired as shown in the background of the picture below.  On the more extreme side, it can be used to drape a three-dimensional figure with living plants as the dolphin in the foreground illustrates.  With this method, topiaries which could take a long time to develop become redundant as the same effect may be obtained at a fraction of the time.  To top it all, different plants may be combined to create a figure with different colors and texture, something that will be extremely difficult to do with a traditional topiary.




The "fabric" is made up of at least two sheets of heavy-duty synthetic cloth that sandwich a medium that can hold the roots of the plants as well as retain substantial amounts of water. The composite fabric is then stretched over a frame or a framework. As shown below, this fabric is slit at the areas where plants will be inserted.



Regardless of the approach, the finished "garden" is always a sight to behold!  Beautiful and at the same time earth-friendly.


Green building completely planted except for the glass windows and doors.

3 comments:

  1. Very informative and inspiring. Salamat!

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  2. Can you help me how and where to buy tropical plants here in the Philippines?

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  3. Hi! Thank you for this informative blog!

    I am doing a research proposal on green roofs for Philippines' urban setting and I am researching on the specific names of plants commonly used by landscape architects. Could you give me some information on what are the cheapest and locally available in the Philippines? I am looking for shrubs that can survive summer and typhoon season in our country. I hope you could help me. Thanks in advance!

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