In addition to the known benefits of urban vertical gardens – cleaner air, improved acoustics and energy savings – the UK’s largest vertical garden is also expected to be a flood deterrent.
According to experts, the 21-metre tall living wall lining the façade of The Rubens at the Palace Hotel in London has the potential to reduce the risk of urban floods by soaking up surface water through its' 16 tonnes of soil and 10,000-litre storage tanks.
The Palace Hotel living wall came to life through a Green Infrastructure Audit - a mapping process identifying new locations for green space in the area by the Victoria Business Improvement District (BID) with the hotel identified as a suitable location for a vertical garden.
The hotel then commissioned Gary Grant of the Green Roof Consultancy for the design, which was installed by Treebox. Victoria BID CEO Ron Duston has called the project an iconic model that delivers a model of best practice for London.
Aesthetically, the 3,767-square-foot living wall is incredibly striking housing more than 10,000 ferns and herbaceous plants. In addition, native species including buttercups, varieties of crocus, strawberries and those recognised by the Royal Horticultural Society as attracting insect pollinators will also be planted to draw bees, butterflies and birds.
This is particularly important due to the alarming decline of the bee population, the rate of which has more than doubled since 2012 in the UK according to the British Beekeepers Association from 16 per cent last year to 34 per cent in 2013.
London Mayor Boris Johnson supported the living wall project as part of a wider climate change plan to implement urban rooftops and gardens that will increase the cooling effects in London’s hot summers along with collecting rainwater to protect flood prone areas such as Victoria.
According to recent assessment by the Environment Agency, there are around 534,000 properties in London on the Thames (fluvial flooding) floodplain. This equates to one in four that are at risk of flooding partly due to the low absorbency of urban surfaces.
“London's abundance of trees, parks, gardens and increasing numbers of living roofs can increase resilience to extreme weather,” Matthew Pencharz, the Mayor's advisor for Environment and Energy told The Daily Mail. “The Mayor is encouraging more green initiatives like the living wall to make sure London can continue to compete, not only as the greenest city in Europe, but as the best big city on earth.”
The Palace Hotel is happy with the project's objectives, stating it takes the issue of sustainable tourism very seriously and citing the wall as a way to minimise the hotel’s impact on the environment while also improving the air quality and aesthetic in London.
"We're excited to be able to positively impact the people living and working in, as well as the huge amount of visitors passing through, this area by improving the air quality, attracting wildlife and reducing the risk of urban flooding,” said Rubens general manager Malcom Hendry.
One of the first green infrastructure initiatives of this kind was Britain's first living wall, which was installed on the exterior of Paradise Park Children's Centre in Islington. The 30-foot high project unfortunately failed due to a faulty irrigation system which led critics to accuse the city council of waste taxpayers money on “green extravagance.”
Council was quick to defend the project stating there was a certain amount of risk associated with it given its status as the first of its kind, adding that it is looking at restoring it.
In the meantime, the Victoria BID remains optimistic with future green infrastructure plans that aim to improve workforce satisfaction, increase local property values along with the environmental benefits of cooling the city and making it resistant to floods.
The Victoria BID's recent report reveals its plan to absorb 80,000 cubic metres of rainwater by creating a leafier London through the installation of a further 25 hectares of green roofs and gardens (new and enhanced) each year to to prevent surface flooding.