It's spring at last and everything in the garden is looking rosy. Or is it?
What about that bare garage wall that has defied all attempts to clothe itself in creepers on account of the fierce summer sun?
Send for Maryse and her gang at Green Riviera (www.green-riviera.com) and she’ll show you a true wonder of art and nature combined. Using Sphagnum moss as a growing medium and a cunning and invisible system of wire supports and drip-watering, the wall can be instantly covered with an astonishing vertical garden, providing a green, flower-strewn, vista where before was uncompromising concrete.
Maryse Moizan takes her inspiration from a Breton childhood in a home where both mother and father were serious amateur gardeners.
“I have always wanted to work with plants,” says the gentle and pretty 48-year-old, who has home, workshop and showroom on one property near Valbonne village.
“I know people who had created ‘vertical gardens’ in Paris, and I have worked and studied hard to adapt that concept to the Mediterranean.
“The Sphagnum moss, la sphaigne in French, has unique qualities that make it ideal for this very special kind of plant display.”
Maryse works with the moss in its dry form. It looks and feels like a cross between hay and string, and seems completely inert. After the framework has been constructed, you have something that looks like a large mattress stuffed with light-brown dead moss. No beauty prizes for the moment.
The miracle occurs when plants are carefully chosen and embedded, water is added and the mossy threads are soon turning a deep emerald green as they come back to life.
In place over a wall, the vertical garden will absorb and store rainwater like a sponge. It acts as a thermal buffer in summer, reducing heat penetration to the home, earning lots of ecological Brownie points by radically cutting the use of air conditioning. It’s a superb sound insulator. No fertiliser is required as the moss generates its own.
I asked Maryse if the structure could cause damp to enter the protected wall. “No danger of this, as there is a gap between the vertical garden and the wall,” she replies.
Maryse has learnt from her years spent in California and the UK that the concept of service, as expected by the British and particularly the Americans, is not always readily available in France, and she wants her company to change that. “After we have installed one of our gardens we will be ready to perform routine maintenance, or if needed to train a client’s gardener to look after it properly.
“Not much work is required, by over time some plants will die and need replacing, and the drip watering system has to be checked regularly as limescale can build up and block the tiny tubes.”
Green Riviera can also provide you with a green roof, for an outbuilding with a flat or slightly sloping top, for example. On a flat-roofed residence, the heat absorbed by the plants will dramatically cut summer temperatures in the rooms below.
Living walls can work to stunning effect in interiors – even on yachts. But lighting and siting is everything. “We have to be very, very careful when positioning an indoor vertical garden; if not enough light is provided the plants will suffer, so specialist lighting is often required. This can produce beautiful effects.”
A more modest investment in a living wall appealed to the cook in me – the hanging herb garden. Terrace space in my flat is limited, and I would love to have this creation of Maryse on the outside wall by the kitchen. She tells me that thyme, the recumbent form of rosemary, chervil, marjoram, mint and a host of other herbs (strawberries too!) thrive in this special environment. But one herb that doesn’t get along in this mossy heaven is the capricious parsley.
Green Riviera are also introducing a form of art that looks alive, but isn’t.
Maryse showed me examples of framed ‘pictures’ composed of moss and plants, beautifully natural to the eye and touch. I sensed this was a piece of South of France frippery that would have the shelf life of crab salad. “Lovely, but how long do these last,” I asked. “They will still be as perfect in 10 years,” said Maryse. But how? Advanced plant technology makes it possible to replace the sap of certain plants with a preserving fluid, apparently.
Green Riviera will make the Antibes Yacht Show (April 18-21 2013) come alive with their exterior and interior living walls. Not to be missed.
How to make a wall flower
- Nick Kent