Vertical Gardening!

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.


Birmingham New Street station’s Vertical Garden

In a city famous for being a concrete jungle, the sight surprised me, even more than the mirrored exterior of the station itself.

Mirrored exterior of the station, showing the living wall wrapping round the footpath.

Mirrored exterior of the station, showing the departing trains and the ‘living wall’ wrapped round the footpath.

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.

Sunny swaths of golden creeping Jenny

Sunny swaths of golden creeping Jenny

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.

Oblique view of the Living Wall

Oblique view of the Living Wall showing flowering spikes more clearly

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.

Musée du quai Branly

Musée du quai Branly in 2013, seven years after planting – Patrick Blanc

Caixa Forum, 2008 - Patrick Blanc

The beautiful Caixa Forum, 2008 – Patrick Blanc

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.

About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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8 Responses to Vertical Gardening!

  1. Julie says:

    Gosh, that must of been a wonderful sight. We are just coming out the other end of university courses with our children, exciting times ahead for your son.

  2. What incredible planting and ingenious use of space. Will it be the UK’s equivalent to The Highline in NY, I wonder? Thanks for sharing Tang Yuhong’s stunning atmospheric image too.

  3. The Highline is something I would love to see and now it sounds like the London Garden bridge has big question marks over whether it happens, it may indeed be our answer to it!

  4. pbmgarden says:

    The Vertical Garden project is such a great idea–important for pollinators and for people who can’t resist pausing to enjoy the pleasure of nature for a minute.

  5. jenhumm116 says:

    My uni visiting took place last year and sadly I missed all sorts of horticultural delights along the way. Grrr!
    Glad you got to see, and share, that stunning green wall.

    • That’s a shame, but you do what you must and this year I hope that you are making up for it! The living wall is such a showstopper and a total surprise. Well done to Birmingham, I hope more towns consider the idea.

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