A growing interest in green roofs and living walls is bringing gardens to urban centres.
Liam Hall began working as a landscaper in the summers while completing his bachelor of commerce degree at the University of Victoria. When his now-business partner Adam Weir presented a fake business proposal for a company that incorporates landscaping and green roofing for a business court, a spark was lit which led to the creation of Victoria's Paradise Cityscapes.
"To be honest, it was (Weir's) passion that drew me to green roofs," said Hall. "Not much green roofing was going on when we started, and it was my background in landscaping that allowed us to work to stay alive while the green roofing industry picked up enough."
Paradise Cityscapes have installed green roofs on Vancouver Island University's Cowichan campus, the Campbell River City Hall and Victoria's residential development Dockside Green.
Hall said that while the bulk of their business comes from commercial clients he has seen an increase in residential projects where homeowners are incorporating green roofs in their renovations and home additions.
Those considering embarking on a green roof installation would be wise to do some research on which plants will have the most success on a roof compared to a ground garden.
"For the most part we've had the best luck with grass plants," Hall said. "Anything that grows well on a green roof will grow well on the ground, but it's not transferable.
"There are many plants that fail on green roofs without having big deep planters with unlimited nutrients and water, but that's not exactly what we're trying to do. We're installing naturalized, native, low-input plants on the green roofs and those have a very small plant list."
The benefits of green roofs are comparable to living walls like the ones created by Vancouver's Green over Grey, which has created the largest vertical gardens in Canada.
Like green roofs, living walls provide insulation for buildings in addition to helping protect the structure itself.
"In terms of environmental benefits you protect the building from the sun and rain and you insulate the building. It is similar to a green roof," said Patrick Poiraud, design consultant and principal for Green over Grey.
"It can help with heating and cooling of the building which affects the energy efficiency of the building, which can translate to a 10 to 15 per cent change in energy consumption depending on how large an area you cover with the living wall."
Poiraud became interested in living walls as a child living in France and joined forces with Mike Weinmaster, who had a background in environmental engineering and helped Poiraud design the living walls.
"When I saw what was possible with living walls I think it really triggered my creativity and the same for (Weinmaster)," said Poiraud.
"What is very exciting is that you can take structures like a parkade or other concrete walls and transform it into a very lush garden in the middle of the city. You have so many possibilities in an urban environment."
Green over Grey recently completed the largest living wall installation in Surrey, B.C., which included 50,000 plants and three years of planning.
The vertical garden covers nearly 280 square metres of the Semiahmoo public library and RCMP facility. It includes 120 unique species incorporating large perennials, shrubs and even small trees.
Poiraud and Weinmaster have also installed living walls on projects such as the Edmonton International Airport, Les Courants for Desjardins in Levis, Que., and several residential projects.