Patrick Blanc And the Vertical Garden: Background information when reading The Human Age

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The Human Age

The World Shaped By Us

by Diane Ackerman

The Human Age by Diane Ackerman
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2015, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright

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Beyond the Book:
Patrick Blanc And the Vertical Garden

Print Review

In the past twenty years, planted walls and vertical gardens, one of the many innovations showcased in The Human Age, have gone from novelty to mainstream, as part of the reconciliation ecology movement that is working to preserve or increase urban biodiversity. All around the world, vertical gardens are creating dynamic ecosystems that attract butterflies and birds, help clean the air, produce more oxygen, and reduce noise, while also softening contours, feeding the human spirit, and reconnecting urban dwellers with the natural world.

Patrick Blanc One of the people responsible for the creation of many of the large-scale vertical gardens is French botanist Patrick Blanc. Widely referenced as the modern innovator of the green wall, Blanc spent years traveling the world and studying plants that flourish vertically in their natural habitats. He has observed plants that grow in and around waterfalls where damp walls are often completely hidden by vegetation—places like Cuba, Wales, Java, Thailand, the Canary Islands, Cameroon and Venezuela. He's looked at how plants thrive up and down river banks in Sumatra, Kyoto, on a small mountain north of Valencia, Spain, in Mali and in Ecuador. Blanc has studied plants growing on cliffs and rocky outcroppings where species have adapted to tolerate droughts, caves with plants growing on rock surfaces where water seeps through, and vegetation that grows in dark glens, on slopes and in forests.

He has used what he learned to recreate these natural habitats as artistic, living green tapestries in major urban centers across the globe, developing a process that allows plants — flowers, mosses, vines, and shrubs — to grow without soil along the face of a wall, where they attach their roots to a felt irrigation cloth that evenly distributes water and nutrients across the entire surface. The irrigation system is designed to minimize water consumption — usage varies with heat and sun exposure, but the vertical gardens typically use less than lawns or other green spaces. Blanc also considers plant texture, leaf color, size and shape when working on his designs.

Green Symphony His first piece was presented to the public in 1994 at the International Festival of The Gardens at Chaumont-Sur-Loire. Shortly after, he was commissioned to create a wall for the Parc Floral in Paris, which continues to thrive by using green algae and excrement from the ducks, tortoises and fish in the adjacent pool for nutrients. Soon his vertical gardens were scattered throughout his native France, from parking garages to numerous museums including the Quai Branly Museum in Paris and the Contemporary Art Center in Albi where instead of using the irrigation cloth, the plants are attached to a roughly sanded polystyrene "boulder" by means of a non-toxic glue and irrigated by a pipe running along the top of the boulder's dome.

Outside France, Belgium was the first country to take interest in his work, commissioning him to cover the broad surfaces of the Brussels Parliament's central courtyard, including a 100-foot chimney.

Today, Blanc's vertical garden tapestries can be seen all around the world from the Genoa Aquarium in Italy, the CaixaForum Museum in Madrid, the French Embassy in New Delhi, FAAP University in Sao Paulo, and several shopping centers in Bangkok. His "Green Symphony" covers two walls along the main entryway in a concert hall in Taipei and his "Green Bridge," referring to the bridge that must always connect nature to the city, grows inside the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa.

Picture of Patrick Blanc at Bukit Larut, Perak, Malaysia, May 2014; Copyright Pascal Heni
Picture of Green Symphony vertical garden in Taipei from Mur Vegetal Patrick Blanc

Article by Sharry Wright

This article was originally published in September 2014, and has been updated for the September 2015 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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