Vertical gardens can breathe life into smaller urban spaces. Teja Lele Desai finds out how

Shrinking spaces and apartment living have ensured that the balcony is the new garden. With even balconies turning into slivers of space, there’s often no provision at all for a green patch. What’s a homeowner to do? Bring home a vertical garden, that's what. Also known as a living or green wall, this could be the perfect solution in space-strapped homes. Once prominently used in commercial buildings, these botanical tapestries now bring nature into residential spaces too.

Why?

If designed well, a living wall can cool concrete surfaces by a few degrees, help improve air quality, lower energy consumption and recycle grey water. Clearly, a vertical garden can make an existing structure energy efficient without major alterations. Before you begin, though, check that your balcony can take the weight of the living wall when it is fully saturated with water (about 6-8 kg per square foot).

How?

A vertical garden can be created on any kind of wall, be it indoors or outdoors, with or without the use of soil. It can be a green façade (climbing plants grow directly on a wall or on specially designed structures; when plants grow along the sides of a building, they are rooted in the ground) or a living wall (consisting of modular panels of stainless steel, geotextiles, irrigation systems, a growing medium and vegetation). Most of these walls are modular systems that can be installed to suit any size. They can either be clad on the wall or installed on a fabricated structure. ELT India, Greengrower and GSky are among the firms that install and service green walls.

What plants?

More than 125 varieties of plants can be grown, depending on the climatic and micro-climatic conditions. A light intensity of 1,800 lux for six to eight hours allows many varieties to be grown indoors. Varieties that need proper exposure to morning, evening or afternoon light include Pepromia, Tradescansia, Setcretia Purpuria, Zaferlily, Jade, Rhoeo, Opeopogon, Chlorophytom, Dracaena, Pilliea, Philodendron, money plants and ferns.

Indoors, with a light level above 1,800 lux, Philodendron, Syngonium, Dieffen Bachia and money plants can be chosen. For a light level above 5,000 lux, the choice includes Pepromia, Tradescansia, Opeopogon and Cryptanthus.

The cost

This depends the kind of plants used, installation challenges and overheads, size and location of site, and others. The price of good systems ranges between Rs. 1,650 and Rs. 1,800 per square foot. Some basic systems, consisting of a box and sacks, can cost any where between Rs. 800 and Rs. 1,200 per sq. ft. In case you want to green a roof, special systems are available that are suited for terraces and sloped roofs. These vary in price, depending on the type of green roof and size.