Green walls – why bother?

Green walls – why bother?

Our ‘Green Building‘ page has a summary of the benefits of green roofs. But what of green walls? Why kinds are there, and what do they do?

These days there’s a fashion for green walls that involve technical, modular systems which support pocket planting of a huge array of vegetation. Your local supermarket may have one, or you might spot an internal ‘living wall’ in a boutique in town. There’s no doubt these living wall systems can be stunning – with great examples at Westfields in Shepherd’s Bush, and on The Rubens at The Palace in Victoria, London.

However, simple is good too, and simple green walls using trailing or climbing plants have been around for millenia. Taken in the round, and considering the energy it takes to create and eventually dispose of a green wall, and the benefits during its life, these simple green walls perform best.

Benefits include:

  • Prolonging building fabric
  • Trapping pollutants which accelerate decay
  • Biodiversity
  • Visual amenity
  • Property value
  • Cooling

If you’ve got some spare time, take a look at this talk on Green Walls by James Farrell of Brighton & Hove Building Green and Lee Evans of Organic Roofs Ltd. at Green Architecture Day 2017.

Lee goes on to talk about living roofs, so it’s a twofer.

We have a historic example right here in Brighton & Hove. The green wall at Madeira Drive is the oldest and longest in the country, and was planted in 1872. It now supports over 100 species of wild plant and a range of other wildlife.

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Madeira Drive green wall, Brighton

Here is a short film about Madeira Drive Green Wall.

What about your house, block of flats, or workplace? Yes, they can have a green wall too. The book ‘Building Green’ contains tips on how to do it, and a handy planting guide to help you select the right plants for your local environment and the benefits you are seeking.

Building Green - a guide to using plants on roofs, walls and pavements

Get planting!

New study highlights importance of green wall plant choices for air quality benefits

The study by the UK Green Wall Centre in Staffordshire looked at this green wall at New Street station, Birmingham.

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It found ‘promising potential for removal of atmospheric PM (PM1, PM2.5 and PM10). The researchers noted that careful species selection is crucial to optimize living walls as PM filters. ‘Smaller-leaved species, hairy leaf surfaces and [waxy leaves] enhance the PM capture potential of living wall-plants.’

For more, go here.

 

The future of Maderia Drive – it’s in all our hands…and an important clue

Building Green attended an important first meeting about the future of Madeira Drive recently.

The Council hosted the meeting, and invitees included a number of community organisations like ours, local businesses, interested residents and others. There were some big names in the room, which bodes well for the level of interest in regenerating the neglected East Brighton seafront.

Building Green spoke about the value and importance of the Madeira Drive Green Wall, which contributes vital natural heritage alongside the built heritage of the seafront. We will be offering the expertise the support of our volunteers to ensure the green wall is protected and enhanced as part of any future development.

The meeting discussed the new crowdfunding appeal – to be launched soon – plans and suggestions for future development, and ‘meanwhile’ uses to bring much needed life, recreation and business activity to Madeira Drive.

On our way to the meeting, we stopped off at the Fishing Museum and found a woodcut that offers an important clue to the founding of the green wall. For some time, Building Green has been looking for evidence of when the wall was first planted (with Japanese Spindle). Our hunch was that it was earlier than 1880, though the only documentary evidence points to 1882 (JB Evison 1969 ‘Gardening by the sea’). Well, I know you’re holding your breath, so…the woodcut print was published in 1872 and seems to show evenly spaced shrubs planted along the footing of the cliff. How exciting!

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For a full history of our wonderful Madeira Drive, visit our unique page.

Who’s got the biggest green wall?

Is this a very male question? Maybe, but I was struck by the claims from the National Grid that their new car park green wall is the largest in Europe! Is our very own Madeira Drive green wall bigger and better?

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National Grid car park, Warwick

The National Grid boasts “a living wall of 1027 sq.m, making this Europe’s largest. The Living wall is home to over 97,000 plants of over 20 different species“. Undoubtedly impressive stuff.

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Madeira Drive’s green wall by comparison – planted by the Victorians along the East Cliff in c1880 – was approximately 20 metres high and 1.2 kilometres long when at its very best in the 1980s. 24,000 m2 in extent.

Now, substantially diminished with gaps where plants have died and not been replaced, the wall is – and I’m guessing here – very approximately a quarter of its former extent. Still 6000 m2 though!

Building Green and the Ecology Consultancy surveys have found 100 species of plant on the wall.

So sorry, National Grid – it appears our green wall is bigger than yours after all!

Madeira Drive A5 leaflet Building Green 1509

Maybe we need to amend the flyer now to say ‘The oldest and longest green wall in Europe!’.

The future of greening is plastic

I was struck by this news release from Scotscape this week.  A ‘hybrid’ green wall involving artificial and natural plants. The future of greening is plastic. Isn’t it?

 

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I remember over 10 years ago, the Argus reporting about a planned green roof at Brighton University in terms of the roof being special because it was ‘painted green’. An innocent mistake, but are we really advocating artificial plants as part of our towns and cities? Ever felt the disappointment of sniffing a convincing flower arrangement on a restaurant table?

Let’s not pretend this is real greening. We need more, not less nature in our towns and cities. More plants, habitats and natural landscapes to deliver multiple benefits – to improve our mental wellbeing, for wildlife, rainwater management, urban cooling and even sniffing.

It’s not just walls that are at threat from artificial greenery.  Research in 2011 revealed that 3,000 hectares (12 sq miles) of garden vegetation had been lost over eight years in the UK – which amounts to more than two Hyde Parks a year. Much, if not all, of this loss was down to decking, concreting over gardens, and the use of artificial grass –  with consequences for nature and urban flood risk and the disposal of recyclable waste. Praise be to muddy knees, worms, blackbirds, and daisy chains (John Terry take note).

Scotscape, by the way, do do some great stuff – ivy screens, for example, and wire trellis for climbing plants. Shame about the plastic.

Crowdfunding appeal launched for Madeira Terraces

Madeira Terraces, home to the longest continuous ironwork structure in the UK and the longest and oldest green wall, are derelict.

People Power called upon to help save Madeira Terraces.

Brighton Council has launched a historic crowdfunding appeal to restore them, and regenerate this neglected part of the seafront as part of the ‘Lockwood Project’.

Leader Warren Morgan said:

“We will harness the city’s energy, creativity and affection for the Terraces to get the project off the ground. At the same time we will leave no stone unturned, seeking every possible avenue of funding from government and other sources.

“We want to inspire private and corporate investors to join us in saving a nationally-important structure on one of the world’s most recognisable seafronts by the much loved pebble beach. I’m not giving up on this. We’re determined to find a way of funding the restoration of the Terraces“.

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Building Green will continue to push for the retention and enhancement of the Victorian ‘green wall’ – with 100 species of flowering plant it is a candidate local wildlife site, part of our historic seafront, and beautiful backdrop to the beach.

Madeira Drive A5 leaflet Building Green 1509

Find out more about the history of Madeira Drive on our new page here.

Green Gym keeping the Madeira Drive green wall tidy

Portslade Green Gym have done another great job removing persistent weeds from the bed of the green wall at Madeira Drive.

This is important work, as it keeps the bed clear for other plants to grow and keeps ivy off the edges of the beds. It also keeps the footpath nice and clear for pedestrians, buggies etc – so why not take a stroll down the green wall and enjoy the emerging flowers this Spring.

The other good thing about the Green Gym folks, of course, is they are volunteers doing this for the love and for their own fitness. They’re a sprightly bunch!

Proud of the partnership Building Green, the Council, the Ecology Consultancy and Green Gym have formed. Photos courtesy of the Ecology Consultancy.