Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vertical Gardens - A Living Organism, Patrick Blanc in San Francisco

"A vertical garden becomes a living organism by itself," Patrick Blanc, creator of vertical gardens speaking last night at SPUR (San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association) about his contribution to the ‘New Roots’ project for Drew SchoolPh.D botanist and a passionate plantsman, Blanc showed beautiful vertical gardens from Hawaii to Osaka, and from Bangkok to Manhattan.
During his presentation Blanc told of a new Begonia species he discovered in Thailand, an understory plant adapted to low light levels.
Green trousers... green shoes.... and yes, green hair.

Recent project: Caixa Forum museum, Madrid - photo, courtesy Patrick Blanc.

Blanc's living wall for Quai Branly in Paris - photo, courtesy Patrick Blanc.

Blanc holding a sprig of Zauschneria californica.
Invigorating to learn Blanc plans to use California natives for the new project!
Not only does California possess a wealth of natives, but Blanc believes it’s important
for Drew School students to be exposed to native species.

On his first day in San Francisco, Blanc mentioned seeing plants from Mexico, South Africa, Canary Islands, Australia, New Zealand and Chile in city gardens,
but few natives! Blanc reiterated what San Francisco gardeners surely appreciate:
the exceptional climate, mild temperatures & foggy conditions
allow a great diversity of species to thrive.

New Roots Project for DREW School
Architects: ROMA Design Group
Living Wall/Vertical Garden: Patrick Blanc
Living Roof: Rana Creek
Green Building Consultant: Simon and Associates
Blanc expects to use a large cistern to collect water from the roof of the school building, to use for irrigation during the summer dry season. Journeying to the far corners of the globe, Blanc studies plants in their natural environments, motivated by his scientific work, and the botanical artistry of the living walls he creates. Blanc showed images from countless expeditions where he has documented the hanging, bending forms of plants growing vertically - at times in pockets of humus that collects in holes on limestone cliffs. “Vertical gardens are not just fashion,” he said, stressing the ability to combine as many as 100 species in a vertical garden: far more than when grown horizontally in a similar space. A diversity of species with similar growth habits can be brought together in a vertical garden, lessening the chances of disease or parasites.

Mini-Rooftop Terrace Garden on SPUR Urban Center,
LEED Certified green building that opened in May, 2009.
Champagne flowed and hors d’oeuvres were offered creatively on a moss-draped wall
and upright columns by Savoy catering.

Stay tuned for updates on the progress of Blanc's San Francisco project,
with expanded information on the technique used to create living walls.


  1. I saw a programme about vertical gardens earlier this year - I think it was on BBC Gardeners' World - and was amazed! I'm sure Blanc was featured on the programme - I was very inspired!

  2. Oooo. So envious you got to go to this. So glad Patric's hair was green. Love his work, have since I first saw it years ago--no other even comes close to his level of artistry. A link to his website was on my What I Like Now list for over a year--along with that other inspirational Patrick--Dougherty. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. How interesting! That wall is gorgeous! I may have to try something vertical around my pond.

  4. I think that these vertical gardens are so beautiful. Living in an inner city, that is almost all concrete, this gives you a it of green without taking up alot of space. I think that it should be mandatory for new buildings to include at least one, they would do a superb job of cleaning the air.

  5. Only one word can be used to describe the clothes and the vertical gardens . . . wow!

    Great post


  6. Wow..looks like alot of fun happening here!! Great post! Gotta love those green pants!! Great job..enjoyed the photos very much!

  7. Personally I've been getting a little tired of the ordinary 'green walls' that are shown everywhere - but THESE are AMAZING! Well done! Beautiful writing as well as beautiful photographs!

  8. Man, what a shindig! Nice to see that he is using natives for this next project. Gotta love green!

  9. Wow. I remember being amazed when you first posted the vertical landscape photo a few weeks ago. The creator is just as interesting. I also enjoyed the picture of the vertical landscape in Madrid. Just Beautiful!

  10. He is SOOOOO cool!
    I am STILL not convinced about the viability of these as anything other than labor-intensive art pieces ... the natural landscapes that occur in cliffs and crevices are SO different from a building in so many ways, and those details have to be accounted for, but I'm sure if he has managed to walk the building code tightrope to create a living vertical garden in San Francisco, this must be well thought out.
    I ADORE the look - and am crossing my fingers that these gardens work over time and can be easily maintained. Do you know how old the oldest one of these projects are, Alice? This is fascinating and it would be GREAT if this kind of work could be used in modest residential urban gardens and not just very pricey ones.
    What great fun that event looked like! And a man with green hair? I want him in my pocket!

  11. This is exciting! I am definitely tuning in for the next installment. I am very interested in how he does what he does. This brings out the the little forest loving kid in me. I am so un-urban chic. hehe

  12. I am greeeeeeeen with envy. These are just amazing creations. Yet Germi is wise to question their long-term viability. The condo where my MIL lives has created a "green wall" fountain at the entrance. At first, I was excited to see what they'd do. But then I saw they'd planted bougainvillea, in a dimly lit space. Of course, it's already losing its flowers. Had they only asked me! Perhaps I can elbow my way in there.

  13. I had the good fortune to come across a book on his vertical gardens awhile back, stunning. I do agree with Germi though, I am unconvinced as to the viability of these gardens. Thanks for the post!

  14. Really inspiring, I've never seen such fabulous walls. He seems wonderful, quirky and passionate, I love him and his love for all things green. Umm, must consider vertical gardening now, or at least tell the hubby to do one for me. Great post, thank you x

  15. This expert has done a great job and he is certainly doing it all the way, dressed from head to toe in green. A very interesting person, passionate about his job. I guess vertical gardens is the in-thing now.

  16. Hi all,
    The event was spectacular and I can vouch for how accessible Blanc is to talk with .. especially considering his status as 'THE vertical gardens' expert.

    I wish I had BBC t.v. here in California! There's a dearth of in-depth garden coverage.

    Love your 'What I Like' feature... kudos Ms. R!
    I'm so overloaded these days that I forgot Blanc's website was moved from my blogroll to:
    Arboretums/Botanical Gardens/Horticulture!

    Janie, I want to see what you come up with...keep me posted ;-D

    Deborah, Ryan, Kiki, Janet, azpl, LeSan, AutumnBelle,
    Thanks for coming by and commenting!
    I was a fan of PB's before, and I'm fully convinced of his talent after hearing him speak.

    His knowledge of flora is vast, and the walls he presented looked lush and beautiful - growing in and filling out in ways that are beyond stunning.

    Rebecca, I'm so pleased that enjoyed the writing and the post. Thank you for the compliment!

    dear Germi , dg.....
    PB mentioned a project that was 27 years old using the felt he talked about as a material utilized in the design, which sounds to be incredibly advantageous for plants - Blanc explained a bit about the whole microbial system that develops around the roots of plants - he is a botanist! - but I wasn't able to keep up with him in terms of my note-taking.... He conveyed a lot of information. More than I expected.

    He also mentioned costs - various costs from high to low, but again, I was not able to get it all down on paper.

    From everything I saw, Blanc's projects grow and prosper, looking more beautiful with age. I saw an early project in-person at Pershing Hall hotel in Paris, and he showed a recent image of it looking spectacular.

    Maintenance is twice a year on average, from a ladder, cherry picker or scaffolding, depending.

    All gardens need care. All gardens die or are overrun by weeds if they are not cared for...All gardens change with time. He seemed extremely aware and concerned about water usage, so I give him points there, as well. And his projects seem to fill out very quickly... there really is something to the whole 'vertical' concept that appears to create a diverse ecosystem helping plants to thrive.

    Carrie, if you can get 'hubby' to do one for you, send him over here afterwards! I want one, too!

    Helen, You hit the nail on the head. We've all seen failed projects where designers simply didn't know what they were doing. There is expertise involved, and a lot of people seem to undertake such projects without having a clue.

    Blanc LOVES plants AND has a scientific mindset. The two taken together spell success. He surely wouldn't be doing projects on the scale of Quai Branly if he had not achieved so much over the past decade.

    I'll stop there ;~]

    But do stay tuned, I'll be in the city to shoot this project every step of the way. Thanks for visiting!

  17. Looks like it was a very interesting talk! Thanks for posting. By the way, Helen Hamilton, a local native plant activist also has green hair. She uses Electric Lizard Green from Manic Panic - just in case you get the urge to try it yourself.

  18. howitgrows,
    Your info is most appreciated: The name: Electric Lizard Green / Manic Panic... too perfect. I dare say, it's a tempting proposition!!

  19. I have such mixed feelings about all this... how are the plants sustained? Is there a place to learn how that part works... are chemicals used etc. ?They are amazing installations. Looks like a fun event... all the green is a bit much for me however. I do love the fact that he is into native plants. I hope he is truly green in his thinking and application of his success. You did a great job documenting this event Alice.

  20. I'm a great admirer of Patric Blanc's work - his gardens are more like the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the term 'vertical wall' cheapens them somewhat.

    However, I'm concerned about the maintenance of these fantastic creations. They're so expensive to create, but how much of the budget and planning goes to ensure they stay looking that good. And is a budget allocated for ongoing maintenance?

    I ask these questions because there's an example in London where the wall is now dead. We also have a minor version (nothing like as grand as Patric Blanc's creations, but part of an eco-home development) that's in the process of dying. Both schemes suffered from lack of maintenance.

  21. This is a great post.. Very informative... I can see that you put a lot of hard work on your every post that's why I think I'd come here more often. Keep it up! By the way, you can also drop by my blogs. They're about Vegetable Gardening and Composting. I'm sure you'd find my blogs helpful too.

  22. What beautiful living works of art! The green hair. . . not so much! Mr. Blanc must be quite a character.

  23. Carol,
    I'm beginning to feel self-conscious about being a spokesperson for Blanc's gardens ;~]
    Nonetheless, the more I learn about them, the more I will add to the dialogue. As I understand it, the gardens are fertilized with a light, 1/10 application of fertilizer: 1/10th of a normal application. But I have no idea what type is used. Thanks for the compliment.

    Hi VP,
    Can you tell me if the London project you refer to is one of Blanc's?
    I have seen a photo online of a dead wall - can't remember the location, but if I recollect correctly, it was not one of PB's.

    I can't imagine hiring him to create a vertical garden, and not following up with proper care/maintenance. Given a project like this, one would have to be thoughtless not to factor in maintenance costs along with the installation.

    Again, I see gardens installed in my town, and nearby, that were clearly costly to install, but the homeowners neglect them. There are plenty of people who do not connect the dots for one reason or another.

    I talk with designers about the tendency of many clients to hire a professional to create a landscape. But once it's installed, the homeowner drops the ball.
    Either they have no interest, ultimately, in engaging in any direct way with their own gardens. Or, they do not follow through because of the cost and/or the energy involved in hiring properly trained gardeners/horticulturists to care for the plantings.

    This is difficult to understand for anyone that nurtures plants, or revels in the aesthetic satisfaction of creating a green sanctuary that's uniquely one's own.

    I believe there are many people now entering into the business of creating green walls/roofs, but in fact, they have no expertise!
    They really don't know what they're doing, and it will catch up with them.

    Like any designer that creates a planting plan for a new garden, without having the knowledge of what will work in a given site.

    Michah, and gg,
    Glad to share this bit about his 'greenness' with you!

  24. Alice, I cannot thank you enough for posting this. I hate admitting I have missed Mr Blanc in the past and you have officially caught me up on this fascinating man and his artwork. I am absolutely pleasantly stunned - I don't think I can get enough, truth is. Your blog is really opening eyes, Alice and I commend you as highly as I possibly can for it. I officially adore this blog. The vote is in!