How to create a living wall

Perfect for small spaces, a living wall adds a whole new layer of interest to a garden – here's how to create one

Living wall against slatted wooden fence
(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Living walls might have been the stuff of high-end landscape design a few years ago, but did you know they're growing in popularity? As well as being a great way to fill a gap in an otherwise plain fence or wall, they're also ideal for small gardens as they give you more vertical space to fill with plants.

A living room can look any way you want it to look. It could involve simply attaching wall planters to a bare fence or wall and filling them with trailing plants, or it might include a fully kitted-out system with an automated water feature. Use it across a whole wall for a dramatic feature, or create one on a section of wall to create an area that's full of cascading colour and lush planting from the ground up. Want to make one of your own? Read on to find out how.

What you need to create a living wall

What you need to create a living wall depends on how hi-tech you want to be. Technically, you can create a living wall by installing a trellis and training climbing plants to grow up it, but for the purposes of this piece, we'll focus on the two other types: living walls created with vertical growbags, and living walls made using specially-built products, some of which even include irrigation systems.

You can buy hanging planter bags with multiple pockets that can be attached to a wall or fence for an easy living wall, like this one from Amazon. Looking for something more complex? A living wall planter  is specially designed for a thriving vertical garden – the one we've linked to has an automatic dripping system that feeds water from the top of the plant down, saving you from watering as regularly.

You'll also need some compost and a selection of plants – see below for our picks.

How to create a living wall

1. Choose the plants you want to include. Small plants are best – they'll look strange at first, but they'll soon grow and fill out the space to create that lush look you're after. Cultivate a selection of plants for a full and colourful display.

2. Fill the planters, or 'modules', with compost and add your plants, taking care to leave room for them to fill out. Give them a good water.

3. Attach your planter of choice to the wall and, if you're using one, install the irrigation system according to the manufacturer's instructions. Your plants will then be drip-fed regularly. If you're not using an irrigation system, water plants from the top row regularly and make sure the water is flowing down so that all plants are benefitting from it.

4. As your living wall grows, trim it back regularly to encourage growth (with the exception of succulent walls).

What plants should I use?

The plants you choose for your living wall depend on the effect you want and where you're placing it. Here are some suggestions:

Herbs and/or vegetables

Placed close to your house for easy access, a herb or vegetable living wall will provide ample produce for meals, as well as a beautiful scent, while using up little space. You'll need to choose plants that grow in similar conditions: try chives, lettuce, parsley, rocket and Alpine strawberries for shaded spots, or strawberries, oregano, thyme and marjoram in sunny positions. 

Sun- and shade-tolerant perennials

Hardy perennials will do well in shade and sun, as long as they have enough water for the latter. Try Bergenia, Epimedium, ferns, hostas, Fuchsia, Tiarella and Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea', otherwise known as 'golden creeping Jenny'.

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