In land-scarce Singapore, the quest for green space is going vertical. While horizontal space is being rapidly filled with condos, malls and warehouses, the large expanses of vertical space these structures offer are full of potential. Filling endless concrete walls and thousands of balconies with greenery is a trend that has taken off in the past decade and is now gathering pace. Increasingly, people are becoming aware of the opportunities to create a healthier and more attractive urban environment.
Slowly, the blanks walls of commercial buildings are being transformed into living art that provides visual relief from the severity of concrete surfaces. But the appeal is not just aesthetic; these spaces can be productive, too. It is even possible to grow your own fruit and vegetables in a small apartment.
Here are two very different types of vertical gardening options: a budget-conscious DIY fruit and vegetable patch for hands-on types, and a sleek vertical garden that’s hassle-free to install and suitable for renters, too.
Option #1: DIY Fruit and Veg
James Lam, founder of U Grow Gardens, has been tinkering with sustainable food production for years and is an advocate of home-grown fruit and vegetables. His portable, DIY garden for apartment dwellers with limited space ticks many boxes: low cost, environmentally friendly, practical and sustainable. There’s also the option of incorporating the recycling of garden and food waste.
He thinks vertical gardening is ideal for people living in apartments because it offer more plants per square foot of space, and he’s confident that even a small garden can produce an abundance of food. And if the garden is located in a common area, he says, don’t worry about neighbours stealing your produce.
“Put up a sign saying ‘We are happy to share, but please don’t help yourself. We will harvest it together.’ There should be more than enough food to go around.” This is a project that will get your hands dirty, and children will love getting involved too.
How do I set it up and what are the costs?
There are square or round styles of varying heights, which can be customised to suit specific conditions. A frame is constructed with wire, lined with jute and plastic bags, filled with a special lightweight soil medium, a drainage cell base, and a unique irrigation system made from polypipe that waters the entire unit precisely. The garden is set on a base with caster wheels so it can be moved around easily. About 100 vegetable seedlings can be planted in each system at a cost of approximately $180. There’s no dengue risk, as the excess water drains off through holes in the bottom.
Can I build a vertical garden myself, or is an expert needed?
Following the simple instructions, someone handy can use household tools like pliers and wire-cutters, saws, screwdrivers, nails, tape measures and hammers to assemble the unit. The system is designed for easy transportation and assembly. Because it is homemade, the unit design can be customised for specific conditions.
What fruit and vegetables can be grown?
Keep in mind the growing conditions: how much sun or shade does the area receive throughout the day? As a general tip, green vegetables like kai lan, cucumbers, corn, beans, eggplants and herbs, and fruit such as dwarf bananas, papayas and avocadoes, grow well on balconies.
Want to learn more? Check out the displays at the café at HortPark. There’s also a free information session on 16 November from 9am to 10am at the Greenhouse at HortPark. To register for a hands-on workshop from 11am to 1pm ($120 for two people) on the same day, call 6471 5601 or email email@example.com.
Prettying up the walls around you has not only aesthetic but environmental and social advantages too. Darren Neo is the enthusiastic director of Vertical Green, one of several landscape companies in Singapore that specialise in the design and installation of vertical and roof gardens at locations as diverse as the Google offices and Changi General Hospital.
What are the environmental benefits?
It’s well known that plants improve and purify air quality, and research by our National Parks Board has shown that plants can reduce ambient temperature by up to 12 degrees Centigrade. What’s more, the insulating effect of the garden reduces noise.
How do vertical walls work?
A specially composed wall surface named HyGroWall holds the plants in pockets, and an automated system takes care of the watering and fertilising. The plants are grown hydroponically, and there is scope to use a wide variety of species which offers the freedom to be artistic with your selections.
How do the plants stay on the wall?
The HyGroWall panels can be fixed with mounting brackets on any wall, after which the irrigation system is installed. Plants are then placed into pockets in the outer geotextile felt layer of the panel. The plants eventually root into this layer and absorb the moisture and nutrients within the two layers of fabric.
How does one maintain it?
As watering and fertilisation is automated, the system is perfect for people who travel, or who are forgetful or busy. The plants need pruning every four to eight weeks and replanting only occasionally.
What is the cost?
It costs $1,500 for each 1m x 2.2m HyGroWall panel, and $750 per square metre of customised wall.
Vertical Gardens as Art: where to see them
Shopping centres, schools, hospitals and commercial buildings are getting into the action. The first vertical garden here – and one of the most dramatic – is the 10-metre high, 18-metre wide “Rainforest Rhapsody” inside the Capital Land building at 6 Battery Road. Populated with 15,000 plants from 120 species, it was designed by one of the pioneers of vertical gardening, French botanist Patrick Blanc.
For more helpful tips head to our living in Singapore section.