In February this year, on a visit to Paris and the Musée du Quai Branly, I first saw a Patrick Blanc creation and wrote about it. It sounds almost like a couture dress, fresh from the atelier, with the world’s fashionistas in waiting, doesn’t it- but no, we are talking wall gardens with great presence and surprise.
So, coming out of the gorgeous Philippe Halsman ‘Surprise Me!’ exhibition when it was almost dark, I almost missed my second Patrick Blanc, despite the fact that it was looming above me. It is an immense wall garden, towering above the plaza below, the scale of which you can see by the size of the passing lady in my photograph, taken later.
Right up against the Herzog and de Meuron Caixa building in the CaixaForum, there the wall garden was, absolutely holding its own with the monumental scale of the modern architecture around it. Rivulets of colour and big splodges of contrasting leaves and forms blend together, a bit like a Kaffe Fassett sweater on a colossal scale. Wherever you looked, plants were cavorting and spreading, scrambling together and fighting each other off. The whole thing was a stunning exposition of nature in action. I loved it.
It was too dark to take photographs so I had to wait until we passed by again, on our way to Atocha station, on a sunny day two days later. The colours were sensational- especially when you think that Madrid is seriously hot until October and now winter is here. And it is only now that the wall will have experienced rainfall as opposed its own self-irrigation system as devised by Blanc.
This wall garden was the first of its kind in Spain when planting began in 2008. The planting area exceeds 450m² and there are reputed to be more than 15,000 plants, and over 250 species, growing there. Reaching up to 78 ft above ground, the planting does actually move and bend in the wind, which adds a real vibrancy and life to the wall. For a time-lapse series of photographs and drawings showing the growth and extension of a Blanc wall planting over time, there is a very useful FunCage blog article here.
From an engineering point of view, the plants do the work, growing into polyamide felt, creating their own structures of roots and shoots, and watering, combined with fertilisation, is provided from the roof into the felt, allowing the plants to circulate and share the water themselves. This trickle effect creates a great micro-climate just above the surface of the wall. The plants themselves also contribute to pollution removal from the city atmsophere. No earth is used, and there are no silly planting pockets either.
The blogger, Twisted Sifter, has a compendium of some of Blanc’s work around the world. Check out some incredible installations that he has made to beautify and refresh our cities. What an inspiration.
And here is my favourite photograph of Musée du Quai Branly…