The Green Man

A couple of years ago I was so thrilled by the sight of a vertical garden that I would write a post about each one I saw. Since then this has become so common, that it tells me two things: how strong a need people have to connect to plants and growing things, and how quickly commerce can expand into niches. Two months ago I saw this clever use of a vertical garden while speeding past a construction site in the middle of south Mumbai. “How nice”, The Family said, “beats all the badly painted metal sheets that builders usually put up in places like this.” Then over the last two months I realized that this multimedia installation is now used extensively. Someone has caught on to the idea that it catches eyeballs. I have seen three construction sites which have the same image with a green wall used as the man’s hair.

It is still a clever design, and The Family’s amazement is right. Please stand up and introduce yourself if you designed this.

Sleeplessly shuffling past green walls

Soon after writing a post on a vertical garden in Berlin, I was rushing through Mumbai airport to catch a flight. Imagine my surprise when I passed the garden you see in the featured photo. Had I really never noticed it before? I take a flight out of gate 42 or nearby at least once a month. Maybe it was the act of writing about vertical gardens which primed me to notice this. I took the photo and examined it on the flight. I think all the plants which you see there have been in our balcony garden one time or the other.

After landing on the other side I googled for more gardens in Mumbai. There are companies which specialize in creating such gardens. Amazon sells the components of vertical gardens. There is one company which claims to have a contract to maintain all “green walls” in the airport, implying that there are other vertical gardens which I’ve not noticed! Garden spotting is a game I can play now if I am in the airport and have some time on my hands.

During the long taxi ride after this, I recalled a long twenty-foot high wall covered with creepers in the garden of my grandmother’s brother; Green Wall Tech 1.0. I messaged an aunt asking whether she remembered this. She did. Any photos? No. I’ll have to ask my extended family. Maybe someone will have a photo of the first green wall I remember.

A warning to weary travelers

Let my experience be a lesson to every weary traveler. Write it down. When I did some reading about Berlin I found that there were a few vertical gardens. I’ve only recently started being interested in them. There’s a really large one in the bookstore called Dussman’s on Friedrichstrasse. Walk along the road, cross Unter den Linden, and soon you come to Galeries Lafayette where there is a small vertical garden outside. I’m afraid I completely forgot about Dussman’s. The garden in Galeries Lafayette is small but rather beautiful, completely green even at the end of October. I think it is designed by Patrick Blanc, whose work in Madrid had first introduced me to the medium.

A vertical garden

A wonderful stop while wandering through Madrid on a Sunday was the Caixa Forum, not far from either the Prado or the Reine Sofia museum. The Forum is a museum and a cultural centre, which holds contemporary and retrospective exhibitions. The building repurposes an old electrical station. The oxidised iron roof sitting atop the old brick walls of the electrical station give the whole a very contemporary look which is, nevertheless, in keeping with its surroundings. But the star of the show is the vertical garden next to it.

It was in flower when we walked up to it, a week and a half before midsummer’s day. The stunning garden has been designed by one of the modern innovators of this form: Patrick Blanc. It is such a beautiful idea that it takes you some time to figure out that there is a deep problem with vertical gardens, requiring much ingenuity to solve.

A garden turned on its side would tumble down due to gravity: the soil would slide down, and water would wash out whatever little remains. One solution is to use many little pots stacked one above another to build a larger version of a balcony garden. A different solution is used by Patrick Blanc. He prefers to staple synthetic felt on to a plastic plate mounted over the wall. Plants root themselves into the felt. The roots then wick up a nutrient solution that is dripped on to the felt.

There is a lot of interest now in vertical gardens, and new methods are being tried out. As you can see, it looks even more interesting than an ivy-covered wall.