Consumers with deep pockets will find wall-garden systems that are elaborate and high-tech. GSky Plant Systems Inc., of Vancouver, sells a ProWall system that holds plants without soil in 1-foot-square stainless-steel units, watered through an automated drip system. Typical cost of a custom 10-foot-by-10-foot wall ranges from about $10,000 to $15,000, says Hal Thorne, chief executive. The company won’t install the ProWall system unless the homeowner or business agrees to a maintenance contract for at least a year—which for a 10-by-10 wall would cost about $150 a month.
“We don’t just build them and walk away,” Mr. Thorne says. “It’s a living system, and it needs constant attention and care.”
Bright Green, of Hartland, Mich., creates living walls from plastic trays of 10 or 45 cells, which hold plants in soil at an angle so they don’t fall out when mounted on a wall. Hand-watering is required. Water enters through notches at the top edge of the tray and travels down via a “moisture mat” made of a coconut-based fiber. A tray collects water at the bottom.
The system retails for $29.95 for the small version or $39.95 for the large. A kit including a wooden frame to set off the design on a wall costs $95.
Woolly Pocket, of Los Angeles, offers a system of 2-foot-wide planters filled with soil. Each pocket has a plastic-coated mesh liner that is both a moisture barrier to protect walls and a reservoir, focusing water onto plant roots. The systems generally are watered by hand or by an automatic system with a timer that can cost as much as $60.
The single-pocket “Wally One” planter retails for $40; three cost $100, five $150.
After some trial and error with plants, homeowner Angela Day, a financial analyst, enjoys tending her collection of kangaroo ferns and prayer plants. “When I walk by, it’s calming, just a little more serene, maybe a little bohemian,” she says. “It’s a lot different from where I am most of the day.”
Incorporated into a sleek interior, a green wall lends unexpected freshness and some appealing contrast, designers say. “It gives an otherwise smooth, straight, linear design some texture,” says Jason Lempieri, a 41-year old industrial designer in Philadelphia.
Mr. Lempieri’s recently remodeled 1920s brick row house has an open floor plan and a sleek, black-and-white interior.
Recalling plant-filled walls he had seen in Europe, Mr. Lempieri installed a wall garden in the dining room, on a partial-height wall 13 feet wide by 8 feet high with a skylight 30 feet above. He used a system of felt-like pockets filled with soil and, working with Philadelphia-based designer Peter Smith, came up with a palette of ferns and tropical plants. Total cost: $1,000.
Jason Lempieri, a Philadelphia industrial designer, installed a wall garden filled with ferns and tropical plants on the wall of the kitchen in his renovated 1920s row house. Wall gardens are a good contrast in linear modern interiors, designers say.
Mr. Lempieri says he enjoys watering and tending to it. “I’ve come to care for it like it’s a member of the family,” he says.
Wall systems are often modular, with stackable cells of plants that can be arranged in customized displays. Irrigation can be an old-fashioned watering can, or a hidden computerized watering system on timers. Plants may require soil, or they may be fed hydroponically, through chemical-nutrient mixtures in water.
For some, living walls can be a bad fit. Conditions indoors are more challenging for plants than outdoors, because there is less light and moisture. Homeowners have to be a little more “in tune” with their plants’ needs, says Kimberly Labno, a Philadelphia designer.
People may forget to set the timer on an irrigation system. Yet with automatic irrigation systems, there are risks of mold problems and overwatering, designers say. Manufacturers say their systems are safe, but many have been on the residential market for less than five years—not exactly a test of time.
Ms. Labno actually advises homeowners against certain automatic watering systems for their indoor wall gardens, because she says there’s too much that could go wrong. “If dust prevents a valve from closing, you could have a serious flooding event,” she says. The wall gardens she designs typically require watering by hand.
“I think the jury is still out,” says Rebecca Sweet, a Los Altos, Calif., garden designer and author of the book “Garden Up,” about vertical gardening. “Because this is such a new field, I don’t know any homeowner that has had any of these walls up for 10 years at a time.”