I don’t really have anything against trends.

If a bunch of people want to race out and get the exact same pair of designer jeans because they’re “in,” good for them.

If certain celebrities are “trending” on Twitter, good for them.

If boys want to wear their pants around their thighs instead of their waist because it’s trendy, it may confuse me, but good for them.

It’s not really my style to follow many trends – you do not want me to attempt the Macarena at your wedding, I will not buy jeans with holes already in them. But most trends don’t hurt anybody, so they don’t bother me.

Trends usually begin as bursts of creativity…a new idea, a new passion, a new look. I’m a big fan of that aspect. Humans need to make stuff, to do stuff, it feeds our soul. That’s why an idea can become the “latest craze” – we’re starved for creativity in our modern time-crunched lives.

One fault I do have with trends is that they can create sloppiness. A good idea is born, it grows, then becomes popular and people everywhere race to participate in it, to recreate it, to propagate it, to cash in on it. In that race, the art is lost, the creativity squandered. (Are you listening, facebook?)

Vertical gardening is a fast-growing trend. I love the creativity of gardening up or across or in any exciting new way.

But I don’t like everything about what I’m seeing so far with this trend. It’s already sloppy, and it’s barely begun.

Because plants are living, breathing creatures, building a garden, be it vertical or otherwise, cannot be rushed, cannot be packaged into neat little bundles and cannot be done without careful execution and thoughtfulness.

In the case of some of these big vertical gardens, a little sloppiness can have quite troublesome consequences. I’d like to use an example of a garden that was born bad, right here in Albuquerque.

This vertical garden is located in a newer building downtown. It looks pretty cool, eh? Sure does. From a distance. Up close, not so much.

I’ve visited this vertical garden twice now, first in October 2010 and again in May 2011. The photos above are from the October visit, not long after the wall was installed.

I’d made an appointment to visit the wall and talk with the CEO of the company. The appointment was not necessary – they’d received lots and lots of visitors eager to see and talk about the new wall so they were used to people just showing up to gawk. People came from all over to see it, so in that way, the vertical garden was a success.

I was pretty in awe when I first arrived. The wall, located in the lobby, is two stories tall and to the casual glance, looked great.

A closer inspection revealed a different story.

That’s what I was doing – inspecting closer – when the CEO found me. After he cheerfully said hello and shook my hand, we started chatting about the wall. Right away, he told me he hated it. He effin’ hated it, actually.

“Because of the mealy bugs?” I asked. I’d noticed that mealy bugs covered most of the plants. Ew.

He said yes, because of the bugs and the fungus gnats, but also the fishy smell the whole building takes on if he doesn’t flush the system every two days (the water that runs through the wall and waters the plants also heats and cools the building). He also didn’t like that he had to pay an extra $10,000 after the wall was built to buy a mechanical lift because no one had thought about how to reach that high to maintain the plants.

In short, the wall was poorly planned.

Here’s what I think happened: New buildings in Albuquerque can strive to achieve LEED certification. That’s a “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” ratings system, which guides builders toward building with greener practices. They get incentives to build green, the environment is a little better off, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Except for the people who have to work in these buildings.

This particular building achieved LEED certification, and the living wall was a big part of the design. The landscape architect was not local – he flew in, did the project, then went home.

He chose plants based on a list that NASA published of plants that have been “proven to clean the air.” He may also have based them on availability, because I’m not sure if all the plants he chose are on the actual list. I haven’t seen Scheffleras mentioned but he used a lot of them on this wall, as well as Crotons, Philodendrons and Pothos (the latter two I have seen on the list).

That’s great that those plants are proven winners. One problem they all have in common? They’re all super susceptible to pests, especially mealy bugs and scale, two of the hardest pests to control.

Can you imagine two stories of plants infected with mealy bugs?

You don’t have to imagine it, you can see it. So gross!

A landscape architect told me that insects are a vital part of an ecosystem and that we have to find a way to live in harmony with them. I agreed with him as long as we’re talking about outside. But indoors, in offices, no way – I’m not going to allow pests to co-mingle with my clients’ employees.

In my company Good To Grow, we don’t tolerate fungus gnats flying around the faces of employees. I’m not going to let mealy bugs gum up the plants in a lobby where people come and go.

If the designer had been more thoughtful about the plants, he would’ve planned for pest problems in advance of building the wall.

He would’ve also had a plan for what to do when plants die and leave big barren spots:

The regular maintenance of the wall was awarded to a company, who as far as I know, had no involvement with the planning or development of the wall. They inherited a nightmare.

It was easy for the designer to waltz in, build something pretty, then leave. He didn’t need to concern himself with petty details like maintaining the wall. Pffft! Leave that for lowly workers, he must’ve thought.

The photo above was taken in May. I asked the receptionist if they still had problems with mealy bugs and her response was “We always have some sort of bug problem.”

If that was my client, I’d be horrified. You don’t want your CEO telling anyone who will listen that his wall sucks. You don’t want your receptionist telling visitors about bug problems.

Six months is not that long in “plant years,” but it’s long enough to deal with a pest outbreak. It’s also long enough to make sure barren spots are filled:

A friend of mine asked if I would submit a bid to take over the maintenance of this wall and fix it. I just laughed. Even if all those mealy bugs are dead, you still have to manually remove them by wiping each individual leaf and stem. No thanks!

I’ve got better things to do. I’ve appreciated seeing other people’s mistakes, because that’s helped me learn what not to do. The trend of vertical gardening is in its experimental stage – that’s the time to watch the failures as well as the successes.

So while I appreciate what I’ve learned, I’m too busy building my own living wall panels to fix other people’s mistakes. I teamed up with a grower in the South Valley (Kathi, of Rio Valley Greenhouses) and we’ve been planting panels that are not only beautiful, but bug resistant. They’re perfect as pieces of living art for the home or office.

Because Kathi and I actually love plants, we work with designers and building owners to create living walls and decide how to care for them afterward. The maintenance isn’t an afterthought – it’s a critical part of the evolution of each piece of living art. As the plants grow, we’ll be there.

If you’re considering a green wall or living art project for your home, office, or restaurant, think local and shoot us an email. We can plant small vertical gardens for your patio, a vertical herb garden for your restaurant, a living art wall for your office lobby. We can even grow your company logo in plants. All the plants are New Mexico grown, you’ll be giving back to your own community.

We’re not sloppy with our work, and we won’t be with yours.