curiosity about the ways of the world

Social climbers


Suddenly autumn has arrived on my windowsill and dumped a load of red leaves at the back door too.  Hard to believe we once doubted the weedy little Virgian Creeper would rise further than the garden shed.  Now it has not only reached our roof but it is working its way along the houses on either side of us. Luckily we have lovely neighbours.  Or maybe they just get a kick out of watching Ray collect the leaf mould from their kitchen roof every year.

Let’s call this our vertical garden – it’s full of sparrows, spiders, blue tits, bats and (once) a cheeky grey squirrel, all finding refuge in the grey jungle.  Garden walls are taking on a new significance for wildlife in places where people have developed an odd taste for plastering ground with tarmac so the car can sit still outside their house – so much space dedicated to cars going nowhere, hardly makes sense.  Anyway (Sunday is too short for ranting)  vertical gardens seem a great way of bringing softness and life back into the built environment. And not just outside.


At the Chelsea Garden Show last year there were some new ideas, inspired it seems by the rainforest, showing how planting on walls could create new habitats for disappearing birds and bees and bring quite a few benefits for humans at the same time –  improving the quality of city air, regulating temperature and reducing the risk of  flooding which has been greatly exacerbated by all those hard new surfaces for parked cars.  Ooops, sorry, I said no ranting…but a little Googling instead brings up a fascinating London Mayor document ( published in 2004 when Ken was Mayor).

Building Green: a guide to using plants on roofs, walls and pavements doesn’t rant at all but offers inspiring examples of innovative green urban environments across Europe.  I specially like this quote:

The skin of city – its roofs, walls, streets and other hard surfaces – can be transformed into a living landscape. Ecologically dead areas come alive again…

Perhaps it is not surprising that the authors draw heavily on examples from Berlin where (according to a Scottish architect, Howard Liddell of Gaia Architects, in the Econo report another source of imaginative ideas) the city operates a 50% rule, which means: “every square metre of built footprint has to have an equivalent amount of biodiverse rich landscape (soft surfaces and water).”

So lets hear it for green walls, roofs and pavements. Our creeper is making a good attempt to cover all three though at the moment, that’s not so much going green as flaming red.

Footnote: Building Green, by Jacklyn Jackson, an ecologist, and John Newton, an environmentalist was first published in 1993 by the London Ecology Unit, reprinted in 2004 by the General London Council.


  1. Administrator

    Hi Andy

    this is really interesting – I haven’t managed to reply before now because I have been away a lot, meeting an interesting bunch of architects and builders making a strong case for eco-building with homegrown timber. And saw quite a few green roofs in the process.

    It is a shame that the UK seems to lack imagination and courage in taking innovative action (could be good for jobs apart form anything else). But I agree with you, there are some encouraging signs. Including some very nice sedum roofs in and around Edinburgh – one of my favourites is the roof of the new visitor centre at Dawyck botanic garden (a beautiful building altogether).

    I wonder if anyone has produced a book, or guide to green roofs?

  2. Andy Barron

    Hi Fay,

    Similar to your Berlin example, thought you might be interested to know that Toronto recently passed a bylaw requiring virtually all new buildings to have green roofs. Some interesting information on what they’re doing can be found at:

    Its a shame that the UK is massively lagging behind when it comes to taking the bold steps that other cities seem to be taking. Indeed, I’ve experienced it in my professional life on projects where clients have instantly shot down the idea of green/brown roofs on new developments due to high costs and fear of setting precedents for future developments! (no names named!).

    There are some examples of things changing in the UK (i.e. this nice example which I cycle past on my way to work: But equally, there are examples of where things aren’t going quite as well:

    Here’s hoping we start to learn from the examples of others and make green roofs/walls/pavements a real (and obligatory?) part of urban development.

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