The Whalebone Vertical Garden
06 July 2014 - by Lizzy Browne

Steve and Karen have run the Whalebone Public House in  Norwich for the last 19 years. It’s located in the Catton area of the city,  where I was raised and my parents still live. I have an affection for the  Whalebone. As a youngster I would regularly pop to its Off License serving hatch  to buy Walker’s Snaps and Corona in the early evening. This was long before  open- all-hours shops and it was the only outlet to buy tuck after 5pm.  Incredible how times have changed. Back then it was a typical ‘local’ and I  adored the odour of beer soaked carpet and nicotine that used to waft from its  doors. It would sadly have suffered the same demise as many other local pubs,  had it not been for a tasteful restoration and the offering of an excellent  selection of real ales and wine. It’s now widely regarded as one of the finest  watering holes in Norwich and is always busy. And it smells as fresh as a  daisy.

A great deal of attention has gone into providing a  comfortable outdoor area for smokers and non-smokers alike and to further  enhance this area, Steve asked us to help with the design of a Vertical Garden.  Being a handy chap Steve set about building the construction, referring to Jamie  Spooner’s excellent ‘how to guide’.  You can read more about the construction of a Vertical Garden on Jamie's Blog (click link below diagram)

How  to Build Your Own Living Wall or Vertical Garden

However, although Steve loves plants and tends the Whalebone’s baskets and  containers, he commissioned Urban Jungle to design and plant the wall. 

The Vertical Garden measures approximately 10ftx6ft. As it’s against the  outside wall of the Lounge Bar, it’s backed by plastic to prevent any problems  with moisture seeping through. We recommended more widely spaced pockets than we  have in the Vertical Garden at Urban Jungle to give the plants more space to  grow. We’ve found ours to be a little crowded.
It’s in quite a shady spot,  being permanently under a canopy, so we had to choose shade-loving plants. The  garden is used all year and Steve was keen for the Living Wall to remain  evergreen and have plenty of colour all year round.

We used 3 different  varieties of Heuchera – 'Fire Chief', 'Obsidian' and 'Stoplight' and Heucherella 'Kimono'


Heuchera Fire chief


Heuchera Obsidian


Heucherella Kimono


Heucherella  Stoplight

Carex ‘Evergold’ is an evergreen grass that reminds me of the Spider plant  and I put a bold diagonal line of these through the centre of the  composition.

Ferns are invaluable in a vertical Garden and we used 2 different  species in the wall. Asplenium scolopendrium (the Harts Tongue Fern) has long, glossy,  leathery leaves and in contrast to these we used Polystichum munitum, which  forms a loose shuttlecock of evergreen fronds and is pretty indestructible. We  considered using Cyrtomium fortunei instead of the Asplenium as it has  evergreen, holly like fronds but ours didn’t fair too well in the winter in our  wall. They survived but have been very late in reappearing and are still tiny.  Although the Whalebone wall is so much more protected that the one at Urban  Jungle I didn’t want to risk it.

Asplenium scolopendrium

Polystichum munitum

I noticed there was a section right at the top of the wall on the right hand  side that more light was reaching so we planted some Stipa tennuissima here.  When they’ve matured, their floaty foliage and fluffy flowering heads will add  yet another texture.

We added Fuchsia ‘Riccartonii’ to give  some floral impact. This Vertical Garden is so sheltered there’s a good chance  that the Fuchsia may remain evergreen throughout winter, and in mild winters  I’ve seen it in flower on Christmas day. It’s such a beauty with its arching red  stems and scarlet and purple pendulous flowers but will require regular pruning  to restrict its size.

Steve particularly liked the Hostas we have in our wall at Urban Jungle, but  of course they’re not evergreen so we used Bergenia ‘Overture’ instead. The  tough, leathery leaves of these can become quite enormous and turn the most  amazing red in winter. Coupled with magenta flowers in spring and then again in  autumn these should look fabulous. Looking decidedly unimpressed with the  Epimedium ‘Sulphureum’ I planted, I assured Steve that in spring this would be  his favourite plant in the garden. It’s evergreen and produces very pretty,  small, orchid-like yellow flowers, but it’s the abundance of new pale green,  heart-shaped leaves, suffused with russet tones in spring that will set it apart  from the other plants at that particular time of year.

Pachysandra  terminalis ‘Green Carpet’ is another plant that will be a scene-stealer in  spring. The glossy, fresh foliage, spilling out from the wall and small white,  delicately scented flowers, will perk up the planting early in the season.
To  disguise the gaps we added some variegated, trailing, tiny-leaved Ficus – a  species that will fulfil its role for this year but die in the winter, by which  time the permanent planting will have filled in. And it wouldn’t be a proper pub  garden without a few Impatiens. I was rather reluctant to plant these but I knew  Steve really wanted the wall to be colourful so I planted just 8 in a dark  salmon colour. I must admit, they do look lovely.

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