I’ve been out and about with my son during the last couple of weeks attending university open days. Friday’s challenge was to get to Birmingham from Cambridge in time for the relevant subject talks. Getting anywhere from Cambridge is always a trial, but we ended up in central Birmingham more or less on time to catch the one of the trains from Birmingham New Street station to the campus station (!). Headed to the station entrance, we turned down an alley where I stopped dead in my tracks as I realised that the outer wall was covered in plants. It was a solid mass of interwoven species extending for a few hundred metres.
In a city famous for being a concrete jungle, the sight surprised me, even more than the mirrored exterior of the station itself.
Apparently, the living wall was unveiled as part of the opening of the first phase of the station redevelopment in April 2013. Running along a length of 324m, the living wall contains plants chosen for their ecological biodiversity and wildlife value. Apparently it has proved very popular with bees and butterflies. The plants are mainly evergreen to ensure year-round planting and colour, but they are also suitable for the site’s southernly aspect. Most noticeable in late June are the large swaths of golden creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, spotted with a grey-leafed hebe and blue flowering spikes of hyssop.
As part of the green backdrop there are euphorbias and towards the bottom of the wall there are patch of ferns, presumably enjoying the more moist environment there. Higher up, weaving through the tapestry was a grass that I think was Bowles golden grass, Milium effusum ‘Aureum’. Recently finished flowering, by the looks of things, were quite large areas of Cranesbill geranium and Sea thrift.
My time was limited however, so these are just overall planting impressions.
From what I have found out since our visit, the ‘Living Wall’ is a key component of the station’s recent revamp project, managed by Atkins, which was aimed at achieving an ‘Excellent’ BREEAM* rating (the world’s foremost environmental assessment method and rating system for buildings).
It was great to see such an achievable, ‘homely’ example of vertical gardening, because my interest had been caught by the idea some years ago by the extraodinary work of Patrick Blanc (next 2 photos are Copyright Patrick Blanc). The scales of his work are typically somewhat grander and the planting inventory more exotic, but the overall impressions are similar.
I couldn’t resist ending by setting these projects in contrast nature’s relentless attempts to green and reclaiming sterile buildings and constructions. A recent news item showed this abandoned fishing village on Gouqi Island, China, as photographed by Tang Yuhong:
* BREEAM: Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method for buildings and large scale developments. It sets the standard for best practice in sustainable design.