Kathmandu’s latitude is subtropical, but its altitude lends a distinctive climate, rich with summer rain and cooled with dry winters. There is enough moisture and warmth for plants to thrive, so a cityscape of blank walls and hard surfaces could easily be regreened by vertical gardens.
Iñigo Iriarte is inspired by French botanist Patrick Blanc, a pioneer of vertical gardens, but takes an ecosystem approach to his selection of plants. Many vertical gardens fail because they are ornamental and used for a wow effect, with little regard for how individual plants like to grow.
Iriarte optimises nature’s own tendencies to create resilient ecosystems and microclimates that regulate themselves. He selects plants and places them according to natural growth patterns: those that prefer drier root biomes are higher, where there may be less water. Plants that thrive in wetter conditions are placed lower on the wall.
He does not pander to those who just want a green wall — he will leave space free for moss and other unidentified free loaders to take residence on nutrient-rich walls. Sometimes, parasitic plants hitch a ride on their nursery hosts and take root alongside them, becoming part of the family. Occasionally, plants fail and need to be replaced.
One of Iriarte’s sites, at the rooftop Rain Restaurant in Jawalakhel, is alive with over 25 varieties, from orchids to monstera, ferns to succulents, bromeliads to bamboo and surprisingly — on a wall of matted fibre and root substrates of crumpled fabric — fruiting citrus plants. There is also rosemary, happily sticking to its sunny spot on the south facing wall. “Plant health and happiness, and their ensuing resilience, is key,” explains Iriarte.
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