Botanist Patrick Blanc has been bringing the wilds of the rainforests to Parisian walls for over 30 years, most recently at the Jean Nouvel–designed Quai Branly museum. One lucky family, however, doesn’t have to go any farther than their living room to take in the wonders of Blanc’s vertical gardens. Oh how jealous Henri Rousseau would be!
A man who has lived among plants for 30 years is expected to have a green thumb. But Patrick Blanc has opted for the pinkie instead, with a disturbingly long nail slicked over in glittering emerald polish. He is a radiant evergreen, bedecked in Peter Pantone snakeskin shoes, khaki safari trousers, and a lime disco shirt, with mesclun highlights in his blond hair. Even his vice is green: He smokes menthols. Frankly, it wouldn’t take a genius to pick the botanist out of a lineup.
Getting your hands on him is another matter entirely. The creator of the “plant wall,” a living canvas for indoor and outdoor vertical space, is in high demand. His trademark technique for a top-down, no-fuss, no-muss irrigation system, not to mention the 30 years of botanical research on three continents under his belt, have made him an urban garden guru. Recent creations include the hip Pershing Hall hotel and the Fondation Cartier in Paris, the swanky Siam Paragon mall in Bangkok, boutiques in New York and Paris, and restaurants in Los Angeles and beyond. With the lavish opening of the Jean Nouvel–designed Musée du Quai Branly in Paris in June, where he created a lush, 8,600-square-foot façade with 15,000 plants, big-scale commissions are flooding in.
Blanc’s work began, however, with homes—notably his own, a tropical rainforest doubling as an apartment on the outskirts of Paris, in Créteil. Even as major jobs began to elbow out most private commissions, some homeowners managed to persuade Blanc to create outdoor vertical gardens, seeking to add a “rural” element to their city views. The indoor vertical garden—Blanc’s true calling as a low-light specialist—however, had to wait until 2004, when Jean-Marc Dimanche phoned up from his 4,400-square-foot home, which was under construction in the Left Bank’s 14th arrondissement, with an idea for the 20-by-23-foot interior wall that was beginning to take shape.
“I told him I’d found the perfect spot, and he said, ‘Fantastic! I’ve finally found a loon like you crazy enough to put the wall inside his house!’” Dimanche remembers. The adventure had begun. Two years on, it is hard to imagine the space without its forest canopy, a canvas of the living with some 150 tropical, low-light species assembled in harmony. It begins as a field of texture near the ground, then runs through violet and amber arcs of flowers and other ruddy blooms, broadening out near the ceiling into trees that overhang the room like a sheltering forest. It strikes an easy balance with both the raw elements of the home (concrete, metal beams, a transparent glass elevator that pierces the heart of the five-story structure) and the charming bric-a-brac of a family’s everyday existence (country-kitchen stools, orchids coaxed into bloom, battered leather armchairs that sigh beneath your weight). The effect, Dimanche agrees, is “very calming.”
Though he always kept a flat in Paris to be close to the communications agency he runs, his wife, Vivette, and their children moved from outside Rambouillet, an hour’s drive from the city, where they had renovated a longère, an ancient, low-lying elongated house nestled into a garden. “Basically, when we moved our house shifted 90 degrees, and so did the garden,” Dimanche says. “This house, for us, has meant a whole new life, a new lifestyle,” adds Vivette. “It’s not a purely conceptual house. It’s all about le vivant, le vécu,” she explains, the living, the lived experience.
For all its urban delights, Paris is one of the densest world capitals—two million residents packed into only 40 square miles—and it just cries out for a green manifesto. Blanc’s plant walls may be part of that, producing spaces that don’t deny the urban grid but weave it into the realm of the living. From homes and museums Blanc now wants to move on to the city’s least attractive spots—parking lots, public housing, train stations, “all those places where we don’t expect living things.” “The plant wall is not a criticism of the city,” he adds. “I’m only trying to reconcile it with nature.”
3 Great Indoor Vertical Garden Examples
Kristina Shevory writes in the NY Times about three vertical gardens and the people behind them.
Michael Riley is a former commodities trader and assistant director of the Horticultural Society of New York. He shared his passion for changing his Upper West Side apartment into a rain forest.
He took a number of expeditions into the rain forests around the world, “He realized that plants didn’t need to grow in pots with labels, he wanted to grow plants in ways that were natural to them”.
The process involved stripping the walls of plaster and affixing exterior-grade plywood . He painted bitumen paint onto the plywood to make it water proof. Cork bark was then stapled over the top. See a similar example here.
Plants were inserted into pockets in the cork. Sprinklers and lighting were installed overhead, trenches were put in at the base of the walls to catch water that trickled down, and pools were added in the middle of the room to increase humidity.
Matthew McGregor-Mento, 38, is an executive creative director at Gyro: HSR, a New York advertising agency. He and his wife, Emma, 35, a massage therapist, built a Patrick Blanc inspired vertical garden in their two-bedroom apartment in the East Village.
The process involved attaching an 8-by-10-foot aluminum frame to a wall in the entry hall. They screwed waterproof sheets of PVC to the frame and tacked on two layers of felt matting. Plants were then inserted into holes they cut in the felt.
A trough along the floor collects runoff water and a pump with a filtration sponge sends it back up the wall. Timers control the watering, which happens four times a day.
The living wall is made of some 400 plants — philodendrons, ivies and ferns. The total cost was $3,000. Read more about how Matt built his vertical garden from his website.
Peter Kastan, an unemployed movie location scout in Miami, built a vertical garden in a friends loft. Having never built a vertical garden before, he too was inspired by Patrick Blanc. He researched by contacting living-wall creators around the world for advice and driving all over Florida visiting nurseries to find plants. friend put up the 12-by-12-foot plant wall.
The hardest part he found was getting the irrigation, lighting and the plants right. So much so that in the first month, he lost several plants near the bottom of the wall that were getting too much water.
The total cost was about $10,000 and involves 650 plants, including bromeliads, hoyas, begonias and ferns, favoring those that were local and “the most interesting to look at. Read more about Peter’s living wall on his blog.
The College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Washington provides the construction process below.