Tips on Designing a Living Wall

By Rebecca Sweet

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But creating a living wall is more than plugging in a bunch of plants into a living wall system. It’s a living picture, after all, an artistic endeavor! Whether you want to grow succulents, tropicals, perennials or even edibles, living walls need to be well designed so they’re not only beautiful to look at from a distance, but beautiful close-up as well.

So how do you begin to design a living wall? Many of the same principles used in traditional garden design are applicable to living wall design: for example, contrasting foliage shape, form, color, texture, etc. In fact, the concept of contrast is one of the most important design elements to consider when creating your living wall. Use this underlying principle as a guideline when choosing and laying out your plants. Here’s how:


Contrasting Textures

When selecting which plants to use, begin by arranging them next to each other to highlight the contrast between different textures. For example, if you plan on using fine and wispy ferns, consider placing plants that have bolder shaped leaves (such as heucheras) next to them. Contrasting textures is particularly effective if you’ve chosen a monochromatic color palette. Imagine an all-green living wall, with textures that are similar as well – a bit boring, isn’t it?

If you’re using succulents in your living wall, due to their small leaves the texture will be more apparent when viewed up close, rather than from a distance. Try placing smooth leaved succulents next to those that are bumpy or highly textured. Remember, succulents with eye-catching characteristics are truly spectacular when viewed up close, but can be lost when viewed from afar.


Contrasting Form

Contrasting a plant’s form applies primarily to walls created with succulents or other tight, compact plants. Succulents are probably the most popular choice for a living wall, for many reasons. They’re not only super hardy with shallow root systems (able to thrive in the stressful and contrived environments of a living wall), but they also come in a seemingly endless range of colors, shapes, textures and forms. In this family of plants, you can have leaves that are geometric, conical, flat, corkscrew-shaped, and spiky – the list goes on forever!


Contrasting Color

To prevent the wall from looking chaotic as result of too many individual plants, focus on planting in waves of color, otherwise known as ‘drifts’. Just as in traditional gardening, where drifts are used to make an impression from a distance, the same technique can be applied to living walls. Not only is this an excellent method when viewing a garden from a distance, but planting in waves also helps to avoid the ‘one of this and one of that’ syndrome that can create a hectic and disjointed feeling in the garden. If your goal is a restful and serene living wall, then stick with drifts of green, white, and silver. Brighter colors with higher contrast, such as oranges, reds, and yellows, will bring more energy to your wall.

While these are merely suggestions to help you design your living wall, the most important thing to remember is to have fun with it! Move your plants around, swapping some out for others, until you have a wall that feels ‘just right’!