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GARDENING : Vines Keep Walls From Closing In


Small lots have made it appear as if walls are enclosing the homes of Orange County.

What to do with all of these walls? Well, they can be incorporated into your landscape by growing plants on their surfaces.

Perhaps all you can see from your kitchen window is a wall. Rather than resigning yourself to a room without a view, plant what is called a "living wall," which produces a lush gardenlike feeling in areas with little space.

"It's like painting a picture on a wall," says Jeffrey Garton, a partner in Paradise Designs of Dana Point. "You can use plants to create a design and even spell a name or form a family emblem."

Anne Roth is a landscape designer for Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar. She designs the framework, irrigation and plantings of living walls.

"We did one wall that was a focal point out a window. There was no room to do any planting of large items, such as trees, so we constructed a moss wall with a dolphin fountain that spits water into a pool below. You can create any pattern or design you want--checkerboard, stripes, a solid pattern or even a logo."

The plants can grow close to the wall or can produce a three-dimensional effect by having some jut out from the wall.

When choosing a site for the living wall, pick a highly visible area.

"Don't stick it in the side yard where you keep your trash cans," Roth says. "Put it near the entry to your front door or outside of a window that is a focus of attention."

If you would like to use only vines and ivies, plant them at the base of the wall and let them climb. Vines and ivies don't have to be replanted, but "they can be aggressive growers that will take over," Garton says.

"One of the best self-attaching vines to use in this area is the creeping fig. Others that grow well are Virginia creeper and many of the ivies," says Lynn Capouya of Lynn Capouya Inc., a landscape architectural firm in Newport Beach. She suggests planting vines such as the creeping fig every 10 feet since they are hardy growers and will fill in the entire wall.

Since this vine is an evergreen, you may want to add some color to your wall.

Perennials that make great wall additions include rosemary, ice plants, Mexican evening primrose, Cape primrose, santolina, Scirpus cernuus, blue fescue, bedding begonias, asparagus meyeri, fuchsias, maidenhair fern, glacier ivy, varieties of campanula, baby tears, trailing vinca and ivy geranium.

Add annuals in their season, such as lobelia, alyssum, marigolds, ornamental kale, petunias, pansies, impatiens, primrose, ageratum, dwarf phlox and brachycome, an Australian daisy.

When buying plants, make certain they are all suited for the amount of sunlight or shade they will receive on your living wall.

To incorporate perennials, annuals and herbs plants that aren't self-attaching, you'll need to tie and train them. But first, you'll have to construct a frame to house the living wall. The procedure is similar to building a sphagnum moss hanging basket.

Start with a masonry block wall. A wood wall, even if it's redwood, is likely to deteriorate because of the constant moisture it will receive. To further protect your block wall, apply a waterproof seal.

"When constructing the wall, you essentially create tiny little potted areas," says Garton. "To do this you must build out the block wall. This takes adding occasional horizontal redwood divider pieces that go down the length of the wall and project about two inches. Attach chicken wire to these dividers, insert sphagnum moss, then potting soil behind the wire."

To plant, start at the base of the wall and work your way up, inserting the plant roots between the chicken wire and into the moss and soil. Depending on the root size of the plants you're installing, Garton suggests using 1- to 2-inch wire. The plants will cover the structure, creating a lush wall covering. Design whatever pattern you wish as you make your way across the wall. The procedure is time-consuming, so don't expect to get it all done in one day.

During the initial construction phase, you need to integrate a drip-irrigation system into the wall, which will allow you to control watering. When planting, also keep in mind the water requirements of various plants.

"Some plants require less water than others," says Garton. "Plant those plants that need less water at the top of the wall and those that need more at the middle and bottom. Also try to avoid a great deal of watering by choosing a location that doesn't get a lot of hot afternoon sun, because the sphagnum dries out quickly. To further conserve water, put plants at the base of the wall so that any water runoff can be used by them, rather than ending up on a sidewalk."

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