Hanging gardens grow on cities





carlyn yandle/for metro vancouver


An otherwise unsightly commercial lane reveals some surprising beauty, thanks to a hanging garden — and residents who encouraged it.

When we’re not socked in by hammering rain, this is a breathtaking time of year in Vancouver. The yellows and reds of deciduous trees bump up the contrast to the sea and mountains. Fall-bloomers compel us to whip out the cameras.

But what stops me in my tracks is the surprise of gold and vermillion Virginia Creeper vines that almost consume the south side of the “cop shop” at Cordova and Main streets and some massive concrete bridge supports at the entrance to Granville Island.

Local celebrity gardener/author Thomas Hobbs might call it “shocking beauty.” I view these unlikely garden showcases as a sort of triumph of Mother Nature over urbanization. Even without any square footage to speak of, there’s always the possibility of greening up the place.

Hanging gardens not only create visual relief over the tedium of chain-link fences and cinderblock walls; they help offset the effect of CO2 emissions from vehicles and industry with little space requirements. Suddenly urban planners and architects around the world are working hanging gardens into their plans.

Vancouver is an ideal location for vertical plantings. We are situated in the middle of a temperate rainforest, after all, which guarantees enough moisture and balmy climate to keep those clinging varieties lush. With almost no effort — or, better yet, some neglect — ugly concrete facades can evolve into nurturing ecosystems. What starts off as a sheen of green mildew evolves into a mass of a wide variety of mosses, which filter water and provide bedding for other plants, which nourish larger vines, which attract insects which attract birds, and so on.

Unfortunately, if left unchecked, those mosses and creepers can actually take down the concrete edifices they grow on, first through moisture, then resilient root systems that can work into cracks. Encouraging hanging gardens in an urban setting requires a bit of forethought, but true gardeners love a challenge.

I’m not one of those by any stretch, but I love the thought of reducing my ecological footprint without compromising my scant outdoor square-footage that is my deck. I may not have room for trees, but wisteria, honeysuckle and ivy twist around trellises (kept in check so they don’t creep onto the common walls) while mosses carpet the bases of plantings and the sides of pots, encouraged by a wash of yogurt every once in a while.

Unlike in most of Canada, now is the perfect time to get growing.