Our Living Wall

I sometimes describe my approach as "chaos gardening" -- try something, even something a little crazy, and see what happens. Sometimes it's inspired by things I see other folks doing. In that spirit, a few years ago I tried building a living wall to help shade the house.

The picture gives the idea. The dark green passion fruit you see in the upper middle -- yes, it's one single plant, and the picture doesn't even capture its full extent -- is shading a good portion of the western exterior. (The yellowish green are some schefflera that were already there.) I can't quantify exactly how much heat it prevents the house from absorbing. However, just by walking along the house there's a noticeable difference, as the unshaded sections are radiating much more heat.

The frame is still only the first design I tried. If I were to rebuild it, I'd add some kind of perpendicular cross brace for extra stability. When it's covered in foliage it catches a lot of wind. The whole thing is more stable than you might expect, though, between the weight of the plant and its rootedness to the ground.

Another thing I'd change if I had to re-do it would be to move it away from the house a bit more. I left it some room to grow, but it ended up being thicker than I expected. In any case, you probably don't want it actually growing on the house, and every so often I have to steer some of its tendrils in a different direction to prevent it. My original inspiration was seeing this kind of setup on another house, only they had it actually attached. I can only imagine what kind of long-term damage that would do to the gutters or roof.

The metal frame is made of ordinary galvanized pipe. I discovered pretty quickly that the threads on the pipes weren't galvanized, so I covered them in beeswax to seal them. If you're in a hot/dry environment instead of a hot/wet one like us, you could probably use a wood frame instead.

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ClareBroommaker's picture

I think a vine screen could have all sorts of uses. Thanks for the demonstration. Maybe I could do that at the end of my property where there are public dumpsters whose rightful contents sometimes are set instead on my property. Use the screen to say, nope, this is the limit of the trash and recycling disposal area.

What kind of passion fruit are you growing? Does it grow from old stem each year, so that it gets bigger and bigger? Our native here has fruit that is pleasant (eaten sort of like pomegranate, for those unfamiliar), but really only a novelty food in my opinion. I think it is killed back to the roots by winter each year. Not entirely sure about that though. Regardless, I know our native does put on a lot of growth in a single season. Maypop, we call it.

Plus, who in the world could not find the maypop flower as beautiful and exotic as a dream? From wikipedia:

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A gorgeous flower.
Extravagant, unlikely, and verging on the alien.

They're perennials for us, with a lifespan of a few years. The first one I planted was taken out by a frost. The second one I bought, and it looks like it was a "sweet sunrise" variety. We're on our third one now, which I grew from seed from the second.

kma's picture

This is very nice!

I have learned, the hard way, that privacy plants are a worthwhile investment of time and energy on the downward slope. We have some (not so) friendly neighbors on one side of our property. In a northern client we have put some privet, hicks yew, and arborvitae in but it will be another 5 years before they do the job.

We have also tried to source an 8 foot fence but they ceased being available in 2020.

This years garden project is to propagate a Dutchman's Pipe vine that I have growing to shield the porch and buy or build some kind of structure in the back fence area to supplement the evergreens planted. For our climate, Dutchman's Pipe has become my favorite screening plants due to the easy nature and large leaves. I will look into your pipe method as my current best plan was to buy some big trellises at Lowes and run cord between them.

kma's picture

client = climate :)