Debra Prinzing

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Everyone wants a “green” planted wall

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009
Carina Langstraat's delicious planted wall

Carina Langstraat's delicious planted wall

Green walls are the hot, new, must-have landscape design element. The Europeans were the first to figure out how to engineer large-scale planted walls, inspiring some innovative American designers to follow with their own twist. From my research, most are here on the West Coast, natch.

My friend Flora Grubb in San Francisco has received quite a bit of press for her avant-garde planted wall tapestries that incorporate everything from succulents to air plants (Tillandsias). 

And recently, the Los Angeles Times featured green wall designs using edibles (by Go Green Gardeners’ Anne Phillips) and California native plants + succulents embedded with LED lighting (by L.A. artist Michel Horvat).


Garden writers have been describing “vertical elements” in the landscape for years. Traditionally, this idea involved arbors, trellises, fences and other structures upon which vines and climbing plants are trained. An explosion of interest in “green” planted roofs – including here in Los Angeles – followed. Pamela Berstler and Marliee Kuhlmann, two cool LA designers, create planted succulent “sky-scapes” for their clients’ garden roofs. I’ve seen, touched, and admired their work – and I can tell you, a lush, foliage-strewn roof is a lot more snazzy (and eco-smart) than tile, composite or tar!

But privately, some designers have confided to me their concern about liability issues involved in engineering green roofs. Even when I wrote on this topic for the Los Angeles Times in 2007, the experts I quoted cautioned that roof structures should be designed with load-bearing supports to manage soil/planting medium, handling moisture, and just the sheer weight of plants.

So, it’s only natural that the planted wall is the next installment of “plants-as-architecture” – a trend that seems more achievable than a green roof. I love seeing how designers are “going vertical” with a planted foliage palette.


One of my favorite designers, Seattle-based Carina Langstraat (who runs Langstraat-Wood Landscape Architecture & Design with her landscape architect partner Erik Wood), has recently engineered a 4-foot by 5-foot green wall prototype at her Ballard studio. She shared with me photos and tips on how she created the system. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities, whether you’re willing to play around with this concept on your own or if you want to hire a professional.