Look to your walls—inside and out—for planting inspiration.
“Anything that’s considered a host plant—tillandsias, bromeliads, orchids—can be used on living walls,” says Scott McCauley of Nature’s Palette in Orlando. “All they require is a once-a-day spray of water.” Bonus: These plants are unlikely to attract insects.
McCauley has been building custom living walls for clients for more than a year. The process can take up to a week, starting with finding the perfect wood frame. First, McCauley staples a mesh sheet to the frame, using either a wire or black plastic mesh. Then he loops moss through the mesh to create a fully green base from top to bottom.
Clockwise from top left: Erika Rech (3); Roberto Gonzalez
“You can use sheet moss, reindeer moss or sphagnum, but if you want color, I’d suggest using either sheet moss or reindeer,” he says. Once the moss foundation is complete, it’s time to add the plants. McCauley wraps the stems with floral wire and attaches them individually to the base. “That way if you want to replace a plant, all you have to do is unfasten it.”
Light and location are important considerations for a living garden wall. “These walls have to be where there’s bright light and some air circulation,” says McCauley. “They also need to be facing east. You don’t want them facing west because they’ll burn in direct afternoon sunlight.”
Jennifer Crotty, owner of Porch Therapy/99Market, sells many of the plants—including tillandsias and orchids—that are ideally suited for living garden walls at her shop in Audubon Park’s East End Market.
“These are some of the most uncomplicated plants to work with,” says Crotty. “Soil is not a large requirement, so dirt isn’t an issue in the house.”
Crotty offers a variation on the living garden wall: hanging transparent glass globes and painted pottery pieces that are perfect displays for tillandsias and other air plants. She calls them aeriums. Maintenance is simple. “All you have to do is once a week pull the air plant out, run it under water, and pop it back in,” she says. Whether your garden addition is large or small, both McCauley and Crotty believe that adding a bit of nature to a room is a necessity. For Crotty, it has to do with the well-being they bring to a home.
“Many plants do a good job of filtering the air,” she says. “The larger the leaf, the more surface area it’s using to pull in carbon dioxide. It puts out a new oxygen flow and, to some degree during this process, it pulls toxins from the air.”
For McCauley, it’s more about the feel of the space. “I’ve got to be surrounded by plants. I don’t think a room is complete unless there are plants in it.”
One of his other distinctive creations is a refurbished side table from which he removed the front wood panels and installed a living garden to give the piece an entirely new look. “This is living art in essence. Living walls are just a great opportunity to add plants in a way that you would probably never dream of when you’re faced with little room.”
Adds Crotty: “Having plants is just good for you all around. It softens the soul.”