Gardens Grow Up: Are Vertical Landscapes the New Green Roofs?

Even if you’re not a gardener or urban planner, you’ve likely heard a thing or two about vertical gardens and/or vertical farming recently. From applications that are purely aesthetic, to those aimed at greening buildings and cleaning air in urban environments, or sustainably increasing agricultural output in urban settings, there is a steady buzz around the notion that one does not need a horizontal substrate to grow things.

Proponents argue that there’s no reason to limit the exterior greenspace on a building to its rooftop. And that vertical farming would bring food production closer to urban centers while avoiding the problems that floods and droughts cause traditional farms.

Others say all this anti-gravity planting is growing in the wrong direction. Back in July of 2008, Adam Stein asked readers of his TerraPass blog: “How is this not the dumbest idea ever?” He points to the high cost of urban real estate, the complexity of the proposed farms and the comparatively larger positive impact of other approaches to our environmental woes, such as carbon pricing, as reasons for his opposition.

And while plant-plastered exterior walls look undeniably cool and while the green-haired vertical gardener Patrick Blanc has already completed some really stunning greenery walls including a recently completed fa├žade for the Athenaeum hotel in London, readers of a Wired.com story about the walls posted spirited concerns about bug infestations and the costs associated with such projects. In response, one reader countered that living walls can actually remedy bug problems by attracting bug-eating birds and that their value as an added source of insulation offsets their costs. (By the way, check out this interesting interview with Blanc.)

All in all, adding decorative plants or growing crops for local consumption atop existing roofs in urban centers seems a whole lot easier and cost-effective than new architecture that incorporates living walls and vertical farms. It will take many more roofs to produce as much air-cleaning plants or crops as these vertical landscapes promise, however.

What’s your take? Are you all for vertical landscaping or do you think green walls and vertical farms are bound to fail?

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to www.mcoconnor.com.