Patrick Blanc, green work, green everything

2 December 2009 – The charming work of vertical garden artist created by French botanist Patrick Blanc was spotlighted  in Sydney this week when he dropped in to check on his new installation at Trio, the Frasers Property apartment project in inner city Camperdown on Monday and the next day was guest speaker at a City of Sydney Business Forum Luncheon at Customs House.

Blanc, who calls himself a botanist first and an artist second, – because, first, the “plants have to remain alive”- managed to be as charming and exotic as his green walls. His hair is tinted green, his shirt was white with green plant motifs, his pants were a fine green corduroy. And to seal the look, even his leather shoes were a strong- and maybe a little strange – tone of green, just in case we missed the point that he loves plants.

Blanc seemed delighted to explain how each vertical garden is different and must be approached as a unique work of botany-art.

In the Trio installation, Blanc has used only native Australian plants. But if you thought you could quickly replicate such a living sculpture on a tall facade of your own office block or apartment tower, be warned: each plant is carefully selected for its location, the regional climate, micro climate – including wind factor and solar intensity – and the orientation.

Further considerations include the length of the root systems and the size of the leaves. At Trio plants that tend to cling to cliffs and rock walls were chosen. Blanc hastened to warn people not to expect that on maturity this green wall would be sprouting with the lush profusion of his European installations. Australian plants tend to have small leaves, neat and restrained, he said.

The growing medium presents another challenge. Blanc, who has experimented for 27 years with his concept, has settled on a patented multi-layered felt matting that is non-biodegradable and designed for strength and water-holding capacity. In the past Blanc tried organic materials such as cotton but the problem was that these natural tended to break down and turn to compost.

…even the shoes are green…

After the matting, the right balance of plant food and water must be selected, in order to keep the plants from growing too much or too fast. This is distributed through an automatic irrigation system.

Blanc’s next project after Trio will be Fraser group’s planned $2 billion Central Park development at the former Carlton United Brewery site on Broadway, where much bigger vertical gardens will be built.

According to Frasers Property, the vertical garden at Trio is 33 metres in height and five metres in width. It comprises:

Plants
In total 69 species and 4528 Australian native plants from well known to quite rare including: Acacias, Alocasuarina, Carex, Correa, Dianella, Goodenia, Grevillea, Lomandra, Poa, Themeda, Viola.

Hydration
A dripper irrigation system of 11 lines running across the wall at three metre intervals. Each one is run in turn, six times per day and can be remotely controlled to increase or decrease the watering cycles as required by the environment. A 36,000 litre tank of water collected from the Trio site is used for the vertical garden, which will recycle the water so that its total net water usage is low.

A view from the top of the vertical garden at Trio, looking down

Maintenance
A maintenance team visually inspects the vertical garden weekly from the ground and monthly via a swing stage, involving a full day’s work for two people as they carefully inspect the plants, hydration and structure of the garden. Similar to any garden, the team check for plant health, treat against pests and diseases, prune plants that need it, and remove any rubbish.

Design
The vertical garden is designed to withstand seasonal conditions; plants which thrive with large exposure to sun and sunlight are selected for the top of the wall, such as Acacias wattles and poa (grasses) while more delicate plants such as goodenia (hop bush) and viola (native violet), which require more hydration, are chosen for the bottom

The design is based on the concept of fluidity – to create the impression of a fluid, soft and inviting garden with gentle curves in colour, shape and texture of plants

Installation
The construction and installation of the vertical wall took eight weeks including site inspection, access, installation of the control room (such as pumps, filtration and tanks), wall frames and boards, irrigation, felt and finally the plants

Other projects
Patrick Blanc has worked with many famous architects including Jean Nouvel, Andrée Putman, Francis Soler, Edouard François, Jacqueline et Henri Boiffils, Herzog et de Meuron, Marc Newson, Saguez et Partners.

His projects in Australia are: Melbourne Central Shopping Centre (2008), Qantas Sydney Lounge (2007) and Qantas Melbourne Lounge (2007).