A living barrier provides a dynamic outlook, says Ben Crawford

I have a terrible track record with plants. I think I even killed a cactus once. In fact the greenest my thumbs get is when I mow the lawns, although I live in an apartment these days, so even those occasions are few and far between.

Before moving to Auckland, I had been known to cultivate a good crop or two of swedes at home on the farm and my hay wasn't bad either. In theory that's dead grass, but it was great grass before it died. So I'm not a complete botanical ignoramus.

Despite my poor domestic gardening skills, I'm seriously craving a living wall at home.

We all have a brick or concrete eyesore we'd prefer not to look at and I reckon that covering them with greenery is a brilliant option. They look amazing and because they're living, they constantly grow and morph into new shapes over time, providing an ever-changing and dynamic outlook.


But how do you even begin to create one? The very logistics seem overwhelming, to say the least. I decided to do some research and discovered a company called Greenair based in Grey Lynn who seemed to know their rhododendrons from their rhubarb. So I dropped by to get some advice from owner Simon Chamberlain.

Simon was brought up among the New Zealand natives of the Waitakere Ranges. When he moved to the city he missed the greenery so much that he established Greenair in 2001.

What was initially an office plant hire business has evolved into an innovative design-driven company that also creates customised vertical gardens for public and corporate spaces.

As I joyously discover, Greenair also make it super-easy to build our own living walls at home with some simple "plug and play'' solutions. I played around with the clip and stack systems and I'm certain that even clumsy gardeners like me can have drool-inducing vertical gardens at home.

Contact Greenair for more information on their DIY green wall products greenair.co.nz.

Simon's tips for expert-looking DIY green walls
1. Check your plants are suited to where you're putting them. Edibles are best outdoors in sheltered and sunny environments. Ferns are good for sheltered shady spots, or try tropicals in warmer areas. Also consult nature for clues; plants survive in the wild for a reason.

2. Plants need regular attention, so the more passionate you are the better. For the lazy among us, there are some cost-effective irrigation and nutrient delivery systems that automatically look after the plants for you.

3. Be careful inside because you don't want to rot away your walls. Ensure you've fully waterproofed the area and if in doubt, contact a professional for advice.

4. Let your creativity go wild as you turn those ugly walls into planted masterpieces. Don't worry if a few plants die along the way, they're easy to replace.

5. Get the whole family involved. It's a fun and educational pastime.


A winner's thoughts

I've been sitting on the fence long enough and the splinters are starting to poke me in the proverbial as we approach the business end of The Block NZ. The teams are only a couple of weeks away from their open homes, so it's time to make some predictions.

It's a two-horse race at this point between Loz and Tom or Alice and Caleb. They're the teams who have shown the most design nous to date, which I believe potential buyers will be looking for come auction time.

The boys are gone, I reckon. They're brilliant entertainment and I'd love to have a few beers with them after the show, but I just don't think their home, though structurally awesome, will fetch top dollar.

At the moment I can't get a sense of how each house is taking shape as a cohesive whole. There have been some great individual rooms, but are they coming together to form a home?

The exception is Alisa and Koan who've had a master plan from the outset. I admire their single-minded vision of recreating a period-feature heavy home, but I do wonder if they're appealing to a very narrow target market.

Ben Crawford won The Block NZ 2012 with sister Libby and runs creative advertising agency Libby & Ben.