Living Walls (& Plants For The Rest of Us)

The Washington Post’s Adrian Higgins wrote a great piece last week that used Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Obama, seated as he is before a wall of flowers and vegetation, as a starting-off point to talk about the captivating power of a living wall.

“There is something magical about a wall of lush vegetation — whether unexpected on a canvas or cosseting in a garden,” Higgins writes. “A vertical, living tapestry has the power to clear the mind, lower the blood pressure and transport you to a place of delight. Achieving that ideal, like painting a portrait, is a lot harder than it may appear.”

The story goes on to talk about the technical difficulties of maintaining a living wall, whether it’s outdoors or inside. I was pleased to see the story mention—amidst references to famous versions in France at at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania—a local company that specializes in these installations: Furbish, of Baltimore.

I adore this installation the firm did in Silver Spring:

Furbish designed this BioWall at United Therapeutic in Silver Spring, Maryland. Photograph via Furbish


Michael said home-based installations are prohibitively expensive, but “we are working on prototypes, and we think we are on the path to something that is reasonably priced, lower maintenance and pretty reliable,” he told The Post.

A Boston-based firm that has an office in DC created a similarly moving installation up in Cambridge. ZEN Associates installed this light-filled courtyard for the Toyota Research Institute:

Photo by Zen Associates Principal Peter White


Photo by Zen Associates Principal Peter White

Here’s why it wouldn’t work at home: Custom wall panels had to be mounted with waterproof membranes and a trough at the bottom to collect and recirculate the water, Peter says. You can see those troughs at the bottom of each panel.

The Post story made me think about Peter and this particular project, because I’ve done some writing for the firm in the past. And wouldn’t you know, they are also featured in the current issue of Home & Design, where they did the landscaping AND interior design for this gorgeous riverfront home on Virginia’s Northern Neck:

(c) Maxwell MacKenzie, courtesy Randall J. Kipp Architecture


(c) Maxwell MacKenzie, courtesy Randall J. Kipp Architecture

Now, it’s pretty clear that most of us won’t be installing anything like houses that appear to float on water, or covering our walls with a living tapestry, but no worries! The humble houseplant seems to be having A Moment right now.

Just last week, The New York Times posted a story on plant-loving millennials, which started with a picture of (what else) living walls at Etsy’s Brooklyn headquarters,

New York Times photo by Brad Dickson

And then it featured the home of this plant lover, Summer Rayne Oakes (that’ CAN’T be her real name, right? Summer Rayne? Way too appropriate.):

New York Times photo by Brad Dickson

Summer DOES have a living wall in her bedroom, according to the article, but this YouTube video she filmed about it will tell you why—again—it’s not something most of us would want to try at home.

House Beautiful had people like me in mind in its January issue, when it featured the best indoor plants to have at home that are easy to keep alive. I have one of them on the list — the peace lily, which was given to me when my mom died last year, and it lives and blooms to this day despite my benign neglect:

House Beautiful via Pretty Nice

Closer to home, the current issue of Arlington Magazine has a story on designing with houseplants. The story quotes the owners of Falls Church-based Botanologica on tips for incorporating living elements within your interiors.

Photo by Kara Schab of Right Foot Creative for Arlington Magazine

Magazines love to talk about what’s on trend, especially with interior design. Living species aren’t immune, as Domino explains in its January story on trendy greenery.

On trend: Patterned plants such as calathea. Photography by Pistils Nursery via Domino.

Apartment Therapy offers up its own projections for indoor-plant trends in 2018. “What we are seeing now isn’t your garden variety greenery. Plant experts share the surprising trends they see on deck and ready to roar into 2018,” the post says. Calathea also makes this list in this report, but my favorite is the dwarf fruit tree:

Image credit: Martha Stewart via Apartment Therapy

The best thing about simple house plants is that they are eminently affordable. So why wouldn’t we think about interior design without them?