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At a parking garage in Bloomington, IN, squares of colorful flowers and plants spill out of an entire column of windows – giving what was once a standard, utilitarian six-story garage a lively addition to its exterior.
Green wall systems can be an easy way to incorporate green elements of design into your building or facility. That’s what Monroe County did after it built the 240-space garage in Bloomington for its employees in 2017.
Using technology from LiveWall, a living wall was installed, planted with different annuals that bloom in various shades, to fill a column of five window openings.
“The county commissioners envisioned adding something green and living to what otherwise is a nicely designed but plain parking garage,” says Amber Ponce, business development manager for LiveWall and LiveRoof Global. She adds, “A green wall can be an engaging and pleasing addition. A green wall can also create a visual relationship with adjacent landscaping at grade and help integrate the structure with its surroundings.”
The Installation of the Living Wall
According to Logan Messmer, project engineer for ProCLAD Inc. (the building envelope contractor that did the installation), the green wall for this particular structure called for a system that allowed easy access behind the wall inside the garage for maintenance and changing plants.
(Photo: The green wall needed easy access for maintenance and changing plants. Credit: LiveWall)
The selected system typically involves mounting a vertical garden on exterior walls. It’s comprised of furring tracks and horizontal aluminum rails that bring water to the system’s irrigation sprayers.
LiveWall’s modular planter boxes, which are high-impact- and UV-resistant, then slide into the rails, secured in place with a tightening screw. Removable and reusable plant containers are dropped in.
Because Monroe County installed its wall over the window openings, ProCLAD had to first establish a frame within the windows to secure the horizontal rails.
The results: five window openings, measuring 8 by 6 feet, each fitted with six rows of modular plant boxes that completely cover the openings.
“The integrity of the system underwent a challenging test the day the plants went in,” says Julie L. Thomas, Monroe County commissioner. “We had a huge, powerful thunderstorm with intense rain, wind and hail. The green wall and plants came through fine.”
The LiveWall Plants
Dave MacKenzie, horticulturalist and president of LiveWall, recommended that Monroe County use annuals, as they’re more varied and colorful and only require maintenance during growing season.
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“Annual bedding plants are also generally less expensive than perennials,” he explains. “Using annuals provides more flexibility to try different plants and change the appearance of a living wall from year to year or even from season to season.”
Included in the parking garage’s LiveWall are:
- Yellow-, red- and purple-leaved coleus plants, which bloom with light purple flowers in the summer and fall
- Dichondra argentea, also known as Silver Falls, which are silver-green leaves that trail down from the planters
- Red and pink begonias, which bloom from summer to the first frost
- Deep purple sweet potato vines
“Changing plant varieties makes a green wall come alive with distinctly different looks, like using evergreens in winter,” Ponce says.
How to Maintain Green Walls
“In workplaces, viewing plants and greenery can reduce eyestrain, relieve mental fatigue, diminish stress, enhance creativity and improve focus on tasks,” says Ponce. “In health care settings, patients, visitors and staff report positive feelings and greater satisfaction in the presence of natural elements.”
So how do you ensure those benefits?
It’s critical to maintain and care for the wall. Monroe County maintenance staff are in charge of their LiveWall. The amount of time and effort it takes to do this properly, Ponce says, depends on the size of the installation.
She explains that for a 100- to 150-square-foot installation, a bi-weekly schedule during the growing season taking 10-20 minutes per visit will generally suffice. Irrigation runtime and frequency might need to be adjusted according to the temperature to avoid over- or under-watering.
Professional landscape contractors, general contractors and indoor plant landscapers can install living wall systems. They might also offer maintenance packages. If you have facilities staff with experience in construction or irrigation installation, it’s possible to buy and install the system yourself.
Overall, the parking garage LiveWall in Bloomington has garnered feedback that’s overwhelmingly positive. Thomas says she’s received text messages, emails and comments from county employees and the public, all commending the addition of the green wall, which she says is rare for any county infrastructure project.
(Photo credit: LiveWall)
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