Those familiar with the Netflix docuseries Down To Earth with Zac Efron will already be familiar with our Green Living Wall here at The Rubens. Standing at 350-metres tall, it is an unmissable haven of foliage and herbaceous plants that stands proudly in the heart of bustling London Victoria. To mark ten years since the installation of our verdant living wall, we have spoken to Biotecture, the installers, to garner further insight into the importance and future of these green initiatives.

Could you outline what a green living wall is?

Green walls, also known as living walls, are a structure positioned on a vertical wall that allow plants and vegetation to grow as part of a biophilic design. They can be used on the exterior or interior walls of buildings. There are two main types of living wall systems – those that are attached to the building façade and those that are freestanding, with restraint fixings attached to the structure.

The plants in a living wall receive water and nutrients from within the vertical support system, usually through a series of irrigation pipework. The Biotecture living wall closely mimics nature and allows plants to grow to their full potential, whilst minimising the use of water. In an urban environment, living walls are not only aesthetically pleasing, but provide important health and wellbeing benefits for people.

We know that living walls are vital in restructuring the cityscapes to provide a greener, healthier future. But how important are they, and why are they so important?

Living walls are proven to help reduce air pollution, aid biodiversity, and improve the health and wellbeing of people by being close to nature. They also help building owners meet their sustainability targets and improve the visual appeal of a cityscape. Less obvious benefits include removing air pollutants, reducing urban temperatures, and providing thermal benefits to the building.

Scientific evidence also highlights the biodiversity benefits of creating living walls within urban environments. For example, 100m2 of a masonry wall will have around four species of invertebrate living on it, whereas the same area of living wall will support nineteen different species of invertebrate. That difference directly correlates up and down the food chain.

One of the celebrated features of our living wall is the variety of plants within it - 10,000 herbaceous plants to be exact. Why is diverse vegetation in living walls so important?

Having a wide variety of plants in the living wall affords a more diverse range of invertebrates and other animals. For instance, planting the living wall with berry-bearing plants provides birds with food, whilst the vegetation itself can be used for nesting. Living walls can also be designed to incorporate year-round foraging for pollinators, including bees and other insects. This is an important part of introducing more long-lasting biodiversity into the heart of our cities where previously there would have just been masonry and glass.

When choosing plants for living walls, however, it is important to consider the location of the building and the amount of daylight that it receives throughout the day/year, amongst other factors. We often work with the RHS to evaluate the best species to use on each project, depending on the customer’s requirements. This can include plant selections based on biodiversity and sustainability requirements. 

Have you noticed a trend in green living wall installations, and what do you think the future of their place in urban areas is?

Living walls have a vital part to play in our urban areas through a process called phytoremediation, which is the use of plants to improve the air we breathe and filter water courses. The benefits of phytoremediation are becoming better understood and we think this will become even more important in the future. In the last ten years alone, we have had projects commissioned by both the Clean Air Fund and Transport for London to address the high levels of air pollution in certain parts of the city.

One example of how cities are using Living Walls to address densely polluted areas is the recent installation of a living wall on a busy bus route, which guided the selection of plants based on their ability to remove pollutants (plants with micro hairs on their leaves are effective at trapping microscopic particles). Once these had been agreed with the customer, we grew the plants in our own nursery with a particular focus on establishing strong root growth. These were grown to maturity before being transferred to the living wall, meaning that the wall created an immediately positive, visual impression and provided phytoremediation benefits from day one.

In terms of aesthetic trends, one of the most popular aesthetics is a very pleasing and richly random, textural collage of planting. We usually design the living walls in a random patterning of plants to bolster biodiversity, and when doing so, choose species to suit where the wall is to be located. By tailoring the choice of plant, leaf colour, and texture, however, we have even been able to recreate company branding or tree trunks.

For people inspired by our living wall and wanting to create their own versions (or something similar) in their own homes, how can they recreate their own green living-walls? What are your tips for getting greener in the city?

There are free standing living wall systems available that allow people to recreate these structures at home. They are really easy to install - you create the living wall by stacking the boxes and fixing the back into a suitable wall or frame.

Our system is called PlantBox. It is made from 100% recycled material, is horticulturally endorsed by the RHS, and offers the perfect solution for greening bare walls and extending the square footage of garden. Because the weight loading is transferred into the ground, with only restraint straps needed, it is also easy to install, can be easily attached or restrained to railings, walls, or terraces, and the clever watering system makes looking after the plants easy, with no daily watering required.

Is there anything else you would like to share or let people know about our green living wall or living walls in general?

A recent United Nations report found that the loss of biodiversity in urban areas has ‘more than doubled since 1992’. Whilst this is a startling statistic, introducing biodiversity into urban areas is now eminently more possible through living walls. With support from forward thinking building owners who choose living walls, tackling climate change, improving biodiversity, and supporting sustainable urban regeneration is now within our grasp.