06/25/2013 10:28 am ET Updated Aug 25, 2013

Build a Vertical Garden in Your Home

I often say that the number of plants that I bring into my home is directly proportional to the time I spend away from the outdoors. As of last year, I had 140 plants and over 60 species in my 1200-square-foot apartment, from the delicate, ladder-like growth of my sweet-scented jasmine to the sprawling, large-leaved fig -- all my plants have climbed, crept and catapulted their leafy arms towards every window.

Having filled up just about every horizontal surface with flora, I turned to the wall for inspiration. I had seen plenty of outdoor gardens -- including the Patrick Blanc orchid installation at the New York Botanical Garden last year -- but I wanted to get a sense as to whether it was possible to build a healthy vertical garden in my home.

After doing some research, I had heard some rumination that many of the indoor vertical gardens weren't surviving after a few months of being installed. Issues with water and nutrient distribution across the vertical space, inappropriate plant species, and inefficient light are just some of the reasons that can cause "green walls" or "vertical gardens" to require constant upkeep. I didn't want to build something that was destined for failure -- so I enlisted the help of my friend Kyle, one of the most prominent developers in the tri-state area, to help find a team that could advise, oversee and build a perfect system for my already overgrown place.

In entered Kari and Edwin from Mingo Designs. They proposed a semi-mobile wall equipped with a state-of-the-art sub-irrigation system, which hasn't always been employed in traditional green wall systems.

Since I already had over a hundred plants, Mingo suggested that an automatic sub-irrigation system be installed. This was for a few different reasons. Firstly, gravity-fed watering does not evenly distribute water to plants, so it often generously waters foliage at top while plants on the bottom often dry out. Secondly some gravity-fed watering systems can be sloppy; and if any water happens to spill out, my hardwood floors (and my neighbor below) would not be pleased. Thirdly, sub-irrigation systems are often superior over gravity-fed systems because it waters plants from the roots, so plants can "sip" water when needed vs. being force-fed water from the top. Lastly, the sub-irrigation system could be put on an automatic watering system -- and seeing that I had already well over a hundred plants on my hands, a little help watering this new crop of 80 plants would be much appreciated.

Since its build-out over six months ago, my plants are thriving, and if you haven't noticed, have served as part of the backdrop for my new weekly Conversations series. The greatest compliment I got recently was from my agent who saw one of the videos and said, "I didn't know you had an outdoor space!" Ah, what joy I got in that statement. Though it hasn't replaced the need for my time outdoors, the vertical garden has definitely transformed the energy (and humidity!) of my living space and has provided inspiration for many-a-guest to bring more plants into their homes.

Check out the video here or below to see the whole wall come together.

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