Urban living is the cool thing right now. More apartment and condo building are being built (or renovated from old buildings) in the downtown areas of most cities. Some Landscape Architects are being asked to design Vertical Landscapes.
Of course, some cities have more activity than others; typically cities with already decent or vibrant downtown activity and those attracting younger people who work downtown. Growing numbers of Baby Boomers are selling their suburban properties and moving downtown too.
Vertical Landscape Challenge
Landscaping within the urban environment has always struggled with one issue: limited space; congestion. Often there just isn’t enough space to plant an attractive landscape area. Today, people are looking to landscape vertically.
Vertical landscaping is really interesting. Imagine having trees, ornamentals, perennial, annual, and even vegetable gardens… on the 40th floor of a high rise! Wow! But, think of the challenges now put forth on Landscape Architects and contractors to design and install such plantings.
Just getting all that soil and plant material to where it’s needed means cranes and specialized equipment. What plants will work? How do we handle plants when they grow too big for the contained space? How do we irrigate the plantings? Heck, trimming trees could mean a operating like a window washer! Imagine tree branches falling 40 floors to the street below.
Well, given the challenges of design, installation, and maintenance this trend seems to be picking up some steam all around the world. I suspect if you have not yet been involved in such a project you soon will be.
Irrigating a Vertical Landscape
In our little corner of the landscape world, we irrigators must also consider new challenges. How are we to get suitable water supplies to the plantings? Obviously a building with vertical landscape must be constructed with the irrigation water supply incorporated. Which means irrigation needs to be considered very early on in the building or renovation plan.
Backflow prevention will be an issue,especially with the elevations issues. This is not an insurmountable problem, but water departments may have some concerns.
One question has a clear answer; irrigation will be accomplished with micro-irrigation product. Wind, space, overspray, and run-off concerns eliminate any overhead irrigation. Micro irrigation fits perfectly in in a vertical landscape. Low water pressure might be an issue that micro-irrigation product can handle as well.
Considering the Factors
Even the irrigation control may require more advanced options. Will each apartment/condo owner have control over the irrigation on their balcony? Perhaps a centralized control system provides a better option. The building operator will control when and how much irrigation happens. This would eliminate “operator issues,” such as flooding or run-off due to over irrigation.
Irrigation under the control of the building operation people would also limit the number of irrigation service people running up and down the elevators. Likely, one irrigation service company would handle the whole building. This would be far better than having 30, 60, or 100 residents hiring their own firms.
Centralized control also means centralized monitoring. The building operators will often know about problems and can summon their service people to handle them long before the resident calls in an issue.
Misconception for Vertical Landscapes
Some say no irrigation will be necessary for vertical landscape, to which I strongly disagree. Even using drought tolerant plants or being in area receiving ample rainfall, plantings in this environment will need supplemental water. Let’s remember, this is not a natural condition.
The planting beds will have limited root zone depths and breadth. They will be surrounded by concrete with elevated heat levels. In essence, they are large pots. Some of the areas will be shielded from rainfall. Irrigation is an absolute must for long term success.
The funny thing is that the actual irrigation will be rather cheap. Micro-irrigation product in the planting areas will be minimal. What will be costly? The water supply and control systems. And, these must be built into the building. Adding irrigation for a vertical landscape after the building construction/renovation is virtually impossible or at least at a super high cost.
Vertical Landscaping at its Finest
I like the concept of vertical landscape. Yes, I mentioned a lot of issues; but only to illustrate that good planning is needed. None of the issues I opined about are that big a deal and we (the irrigation industry) have multiple options to handle them. If asked to design a vertical landscape, get your irrigation designer involved very early.
Self serving conclusion: We hope your irrigation designer is us. Yes, we’ve done these type of projects, not only in the U.S. but around the world.