Residential VGM Living Wall, San Francisco, CA

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Residential VGM modular living wall, all photos courtesy Michelle Bond of Thumbellina Gardens

Many of our customers looking at the Tournesol VGM modular living wall system intend on using it for commercial installations. This is a wonderful example of what it can do in a residential setting. The design, by Michelle Bond of Thumbellina Gardens in San Francisco, covers the back wall of a back yard at the bottom of a large hill. This installation was one of the best-documented that we’ve seen, and we’re fortunate that Michelle shared her images with us. 

San Francisco, as most know, lies on a series of several steep hills. This backyard area is built into one of them. Previous landscaping was nice, but Michelle worked with the homeowner to create something spectacular.  The wall at the back of the yard was built up to be level across the top. The overall size is approximately 340 sq. feet.

The backyard - before.

While the installation went in at the end of November, it had been planned since April.  Michelle worked with the homeowner, Tournesol Siteworks, and our partner Ewing Irrigation on the job. To cover the area, Michelle used 96 VGM modules and 1,536 plants.

The plant layout for 1,536 plants in 96 modules

She worked with a relatively small crew, using the homeowner’s backyard as a staging area.  It shows that you don’t have to be a huge company to make something like this work!

Getting started, collecting plants and assembling the VGM

She installed the system using a 50/50 mix of “Ultra Potting Soil” and perlite. Ultra is a locally available coir-based mix.  We would typically recommend a less-organic mix (90/10 inorganic/organic).

VGM Modules were planted with ultra potting soil mixed with perlite

As you can see, just setting up and assembling all the modules takes up most of the owner’s backyard space.

VGM assembled, ready for filling

Because they had a very specific planting plan, each module was marked with a number when planted.

Planting up the VGM modules

While planting the modules, the rails were hung.  They used unplanted modules in their frames to verify the spacing and location.

While planting the VGM modules, the rails were prepared (background)

The planting is nearly complete...

Once the planting was done, the plants were left to grow into the media. They used relatively large plants, installed one per window. They let these grow in for about 3 weeks prior to installation. Had they started with plugs, the grow-in time would have been significantly longer.

Planting is complete, now for the grow-in

To install the rails, they calculated where the middle of the wall was, determined the closest rail position, and started from there. The rails were positioned using the unplanted modules and framesets.

As they hung the rails, they used boxes to verify the positioning

There were a lot of rails to hang!  There is a little space between the last rails on either end on the wall.

Rails are complete - 16 columns by 6 rows

They used Tournesol Siteworks’ recommended irrigation layout, running a horizontal main line.  The laterals were run up the rails.  At the top of each box a multiport drip emitter was installed, with individual emitters run to every box.

Once the rails were hung, the irrigation and emitters were installed

The plants were prepared for the vertical by tilting the modules up at 45 degrees about halfway through the grow-in period

As the plants grew in, they were then tilted to 45 degrees

Looking down on the modules, which are angled at 45deg.

The variety of species that they chose for the wall was simply astounding. Michelle used different colors and textures across the wall.

More images of the plants at grow-in

At the big install, they started with the bottom row and went level by level (with the exception of the outermost row). It allows for the easiest installation of the irrigation that way.

The VGM modules being hung, row by row

The final product! Even though they were only grown in for three weeks or so, the coverage was really quite good. The leafier plants covered immediately, and the smaller ones covered most of the internal windows separators.

Here the modules are fully hung

Compare this to the original wall – as it grows in you’ll realize how it brings nature right into the backyard.

The final product, immediately upon completion

Viewing the wall from the side gives a better idea of how well the plants were grown in at install.

looking from the side

another angle

Michelle just sent us several updates on the wall, taken three weeks after planting. Not only did she do the back wall, but you can see that she’s planted VertiGreen trellis on the sides of the yard, as well.

Now 3 weeks after install, growing along well

Lovely work, Michelle – thanks for sharing!

Plants starting to fill in (3 weeks after install)

9 thoughts on “Residential VGM Living Wall, San Francisco, CA

  1. Thank you for sharing this with our office.The presentation is most educational. We have a potential job which is similar as far as an ugly concrete wall is concerned and suggested a similar solution.

  2. Very nice! I will pass this on to two of the cities I work with as well as several clients I’m designing for. Great Job well done.

  3. How do you plan to maintain it when weeds start growing in between the plants? Can you just replace one plant inside a cell without really disturbing the others if they don’t do well?

  4. Yes, the wall will require maintenance such as weeding. There isn’t much space for the weed seeds to land and take root in, but it will require watching. Plants can be removed and replaced in a vertical configuration. Typically you’d need to put a horticultural stake through the rootball to hold it in place as it grows in.

  5. Daniel-
    We recommend anchors that will support 100 lbs. As to the actual load-bearing capacity of the wall, you’d be best off consulting with a structural engineer to make sure that the wall will support the VGM system.

  6. I am very interested in proposing this to one of my clients here in Aspen, though with the dryness here, I am hesitant. is there any one you can suggest that I talk to who has done this in Colorado? Or anyone with that knowledge? Any help you can give to me would be appreciated.

    Thank you

  7. Jennifer-
    I’m passing along your info to our regional sales person in Salt Lake. One of our distributors there (Ewing Irrigation, who also has branches in CO) has been experimenting with this system in their climate. They should be able to give you some guidance.

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