Anybody can build a green wall, but to create a sustainable system that can be replicated and put in various locations is a different matter entirely.
GSky Plant Systems, Inc. prides itself on its green wall systems that have been installed across 788 walls in 19 countries, totaling 274,000 square feet in living walls. The company was founded in 2004 and originally made green roofs before shifting to green walls.
“Being in the business 15 years, we were an early pioneer,” says Hal Thorne, chairman and CEO of GSky. “So, there aren’t many green wall companies that know more about about putting plants vertically in places where they don’t normally grow.”
Another aspect that sets GSky apart from other green wall companies is the fact it offers not just one, but four different green wall products. According to the company, each system is unique in terms of design flexibility, installation location versatility, plant selection variety, desired size, cost, coverage time-line and system components.
The Versa Wall is designed mainly for interior projects and holds 4-inch potted plants. These are placed directly into trays, allowing landscapers to interchange the plant material throughout the year.
“We got excited about taking this same technology outside using potted plants,” Thorne says. “And so instead of 4-inch, tropical plants for inside, we developed the same sort of tray system that could hold one-gallon potted plants outside, (using) plants that are more native to whichever environment you’re in. We call that particular product the Versa Wall XT.”
The Versa Wall XT has no required grow time, thanks to its ability to hold 1-gallon potted plants that are interchangeable as well.
The other two green wall systems, the Pro Wall and the Basic Wall, are designed for exterior projects as well. The Pro Wall features a pre-grown modular system of 1-foot square panels. The company says this system is designed to accommodate artistic flair while withstanding challenging environments.
The Basic Wall is a modular vine screen system that can be anywhere from 5 to 10 feet tall. It is design to cover large areas that need to be kept lush and green.
GSky says there are at least six ways its green walls can add profit to landscapers’ businesses.
The six suggested methods are: designing the system, installing the wall, selling the plants, maintaining the wall, offering a seasonal color program and finding new customer business.
“I think the ability to add a wall at the end of a patio, a swimming pool, on the side of a home is a real opportunity for them to do something that’s reasonably economical for their client, but also quite profitable in terms of the ongoing maintenance and support of the system and not that it needs a lot, but it does need some regular attention,” Thorne says.
GSky offers a warranty for its green walls, with a five-year warranty on hard materials, a two-year warranty on irrigation components and a plant guarantee under the company’s maintenance agreement.
Landscapers who want to become GSky dealers simply fill out a form and then GSky will call and interview them. Once a landscaper becomes a dealer, they will sell a project and GSky will come train them on how to properly install the system.
“Once they get their feet wet, then they simply get projects and they’ll send us drawings or the size and we’ll put together what equipment they need and what our costs would be,” Thorne says. “They take that and factor it into their installation costs and maintenance costs, present that to a client and if it’s accepted, then we ship them the product and they install it.”
Currently, there are over 150 GSky dealers in North America. The typical project size dealers work on is 100 to 200 square feet, but one project in London, England, was 17,000 square feet.
On the commercial side, a considerable amount of companies are interested in green walls to display their logo and boost their branding.
Green walls face a number of challenges considering their non-traditional set up. Thorne says air and water are the two biggest issues when it comes to creating functional green walls.
Exterior green walls have the additional issue of dealing with the changing seasons. Pre-planted green walls in the North typically have more plant loss due to freezing temperatures, but the Versa Wall XT design helps mitigate this problem.
“That’s one of the other benefits to our Versa Wall XT system that uses the one-gallon pots,” Thorne says. “You can take them out in the winter, and either store them in a nursery over the winter, or simply completely replace them with mature full plants in the spring and have a full spring, summer and fall beautiful wall.”
Light can sometimes be another concern, as clients may want to place a green wall in a location that does not receive enough sunlight.
“We train the landscape folks how to maintain and manage these factors,” Thorne says. “A well-managed wall will look and remain spectacular for a long, long time.”
The green wall market is expected continue to grow thanks to a number of factors including the benefits they provide, regulations supporting more vegetation in urban areas and increased biophilia.
Green walls have been known to clean the air, absorb noise, reduce energy costs by cooling buildings and are generally calming to people.
“Today, green walls have become very popular, and projections in the future are pretty spectacular in terms of the adoption rate and usage,” Thorne says.