By Annemarie Mannion
T,he appeal of live vegetated walls is being recognized by retailers. They’re using them to attract customers, increase dwell time, buoy shoppers’ moods, and inspire purchases. Commonly called green walls, these tropical plant-filled structures are gaining in popularity. “They were introduced in Europe and they’re gaining traction in the U.S.,” says Matt Hills, a staff architect for Ambius, a global company that produces them. “They’ve been taking off in a lot of different spaces, from retail to universities to residential.”
Benefits for store spaces
The appeal is easy to see. “It’s a growing, living piece of art. It’s a great way to bring nature indoors without using up a lot of floor space,” says Daria Snyder, a developer and designer for Blondie’s Treehouse, a horticultural firm that designs the walls.
Incorporating greenery into a retail space draws foot traffic, she adds. “Drawing people into a retail environment and having them linger increases sales,” she says.
Timberland engaged the community in urban greening events with this NYC popup whose 30-ft.-long green wall served as a backdrop for merchandise displays on a cable system. PHOTO: JOHN MUGGENBORG
Green walls, which often are made from recycled materials, also have sustainable attributes. They can reduce heat and cold temperatures and improve indoor air quality.
For designers, green walls offer an aesthetic element. Not just for merchandise display applications, they can serve as accent pieces behind a counter, for instance, or near a window to attract passersby. Varied colors and textures of the plants can be arranged as logos, graphic elements, or messaging. “There are endless possibilities with it,” says Snyder.
Hills notes that these elements can range in size from a 2-ft.-by-2-ft. “picture frame” to a 10-ft.-by-10-ft. wall treatment.
Ambius offers roughly 25 different tropical plants, while Snyder’s company will advise customers on what plants are best suited for the retail space.
Considerations for retail designers
A large green wall entails several components, including the structure that holds the plants, containers or trays for the plants, and an irrigation system that runs within the walls. Smaller walls can be watered by hand.
Nearly any retail space can accommodate some sort of green wall element. “We can make almost anything work,” says Snyder. “Our designers can recommend what plants are best for an environment that doesn’t have a lot of light coming in.”
Notcutts evokes a sense of hominess for this home and garden center in Pembury, UK, by having shoppers begin and end their customer journey with plants via green walls at the entrance and rear of the building.
But retail designers must consider a few factors in order to incorporate a larger green wall. Required nearby utilities include an electrical supply, an electrical outlet, a water supply pipe, and a floor drain. While Ambius designs and installs the walls, retailers will need to ensure that any needed utilities are already in place.
Hills also recommends using LED lighting in the ceiling above a wall, as it can help the plants grow and enhance their look. “It highlights the plants’ colors and really makes them pop,” he says.
Maintenance is important to keep green walls looking attractive. The first year of maintenance is included in Ambius’ installation cost.
“It is a specialized landscape. Without maintenance, they can fail quickly,” Hills says.
When living walls are impractical or lower maintenance needs are desired, a touch of nature can be added to a wall using preserved moss, as seen at this Whole Foods Market in Austin, Texas, US. (PHOTO: TOM DIMATTEO PHOTOGRAPHY) Similarly, lichen can evoke the outdoors; Miller Zell turned to organic lichen to represent the green spaces of the community surrounding this TD Bank in Boston in an area map on the wall. (PHOTO: MARK A. STEELE PHOTOGRAPHY)
Another possibility for bringing the look of nature into a retail space is a moss wall. Made of preserved moss, they eliminate the maintenance concerns of live plants.
“They require little upkeep other than blowing the dust off of them and replacing any piece of moss that get damaged,” Snyder says.
As with the green walls, different colors and textures of moss can be arranged to create a logo or signage.
Moss walls are also a less expensive alternative, running about $75 to $125 per square foot compared with about $125 to $225 per square foot for a green wall.
“They’re a little less expensive, but you’re still getting that visual cue of nature,” says Hills. “It looks alive and gives people a feeling of being around nature.”
Whether a retailer uses a green wall or moss wall to bring a natural look into their stores, Snyder and Hills believe they will reap benefits from customers who are in happier moods when they catch a glimpse of nature in an unexpected place.
Annemarie Mannion is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area.
Left: In addition to serving as an interesting visual element, a green wall can subtly reinforce brand messages. This now-closed Main & Vine grocery in Gig Harbor, Wash., US, emphasized localization with native plants in a living wall that soared overhead. PHOTO: LISA ALLEGE PHOTOGRAPHY Right: Designers can infuse a space with greenery anywhere that can accommodate plants. Here, a column is wrapped in living plants to help draw shoppers into the store. PHOTO COURTESY OF AMBIUS