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Vertical Garden Experts Take Carex Grasses to New

Heights in New Take on Living Wall
by Lola Honeybone
January 2, 2011

Vertical gardening is arguably the trendiest garden practice the industry has witnessed in years. With the nation’s forward-thinking gardeners and designers pushing the limits of what is actually possible by steadily planting the sides of walls, fences and homes, vertical gardening has become the next frontier. Layering-up is the new secret weapon to maximizing small space, adding outdoor nooks and ‘rooms’ and ramping up curb appeal that goes beyond the traditional bed and container. But the mechanics of layering up is still a mystery to most. California designers and vertical garden experts Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet have authored Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces (Cool Springs Press, March 2011) to ease the guesswork of up-gardening.

West coast gardeners have experimented with and mastered vertical concepts in seasons past, but Sweet and Morrison hope to provide a first-scoop type moment with simple step by step instructions for a Carex living wall. They love Carex as the perfect alternative to succulents which can be finicky and difficult to maintain. More important – it’s a hardy choice and perfectly adaptable to the harsh growing conditions of a living wall. The wild and completely taken-off-guard look of Carex makes this either a grand statement piece or an opportunity to add height, dimension and movement to a flat garden.

Typically a Carex wall is built in a soil-less medium, but that doesn’t translate well for average gardeners. Sweet and Morrison want to take this “high-level” concept down to an “average level.” Using Wooly Pockets or a similar system that holds small soil-filled cells, Sweet and Morrison can make this concept easy.

The team uses a unique system from Wallfore, using Rockwool to act as the medium to hold the roots of the plants in a soilless wall. Using the basics of hydroponics, nutrients and water are mixed together and automatically circulated throughout the day, providing everything these plants need to survive. Rockwool is lightweight, fire-proof and is suitable for indoor and outdoor installations. Some interesting facts about Rockwool (made from Basalt):

Man-made material

Inert and pathogen-free

Easy to manage

More efficient with water and energy use

Good air to water ratio

In the attached photo, the Carex plants were rooted into 6 cm. stone wool plugs, grown flat. Once a bit established, the plugs were inserted into the prefabricated form and it was hung up where they continued to grow in situ. Sweet and Morrison believe the Rockwool system is the easiest to install and the most lightweight of all options.

Plants in the Carex family are perfect for many reasons:

They’re fairly shallow rooted

Carex tends to be evergreen, providing year-round color

Over 200 species to choose from

Beautiful variegated or colored foliage allows for colorful designs

Tough and hardy plants adaptable to a living wall’s harsh growing conditions

For Sweet & Morrison, vertical gardening is so many things – arbors, trellises, walls of edibles, layered top-to-bottom beds, climbing vines, and perennials in cramped and skinny spaces. Garden Up! is their inspired answer to creating a garden space that stimulates the senses, training the eye to look up for surprises and ingenuity. It is their artistic DIY approach to the most exciting concept to hit the industry and the backyard in years. It is their treatment of the Carex wall, however, that has the duo most excited to share.

About the Authors:

Susan Morrison is a landscape designer, garden writer, and Master Gardener based in Northern California. Her design philosophy is simple: To create beautiful, sustainable,functional gardens. In addition to writing for traditional media publications such as Fine Gardening Magazine, Susan blogs about her life as a garden designer and shares her challenges and successes as a home gardener at Blue Planet Garden Blog.

An early convert to the value of social media, she connects with gardeners from all over the world via Twitter and Facebook, and is a founding member of the Lawn Reform Coalition and the Garden Designers Roundtable. As a Master Gardener, Susan is active in the gardening community and speaks regularly on sustainable design principles. She is a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers and has served on the California Board of Directors.

Rebecca Sweet is the owner of Harmony In The Garden, located in Northern California. Rebecca’s signature ‘Garden Fusion’ style blends her clients’ personal desires with regionally appropriate plants. Her gardens have been featured in Fine Gardening Magazine, Fine Homebuilding Magazine and Beds & Borders as well as regional newspapers and publications.

In addition to designing gardens, Rebecca is also a featured columnist for Horticulture Magazine, a contributing editor for Fine Gardening Magazine, and writes design-focused articles for Fiskars. Rebecca contributes content to online garden sites as well, including Fine Gardening Online, Real Simple Online and Nest in Style and is a founding member of the Garden Designer’s Roundtable. It’s easy to get to know Rebecca better – chat with her on Facebook, Twitter or leave a comment on her blog Gossip In The Garden.

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