Saturday, September 29, 2012

Building a Living Wall

One of my other passions besides fashion is gardening, and since I don't also have a gardening blog, I'm posting the project that I'm most proud of here. It's a living wall that I built in a bland, dead space underneath the staircase behind our house. Invented by Patrick Blanc in Paris, living walls now abound in San Francisco and I was inspired to build mine on a visit to the Academy of Sciences, which has a stunning installation in the central piazza area.

I built the entire wall myself, with the exception of the wooden frame that holds it up, which was Mark's contribution. Many of the plants in the wall were ones I started from cuttings.

Since the area is heavily shaded, the wall is comprised of lots of fuchsias, ferns, and tender vines or creeping ground covers. The black things sticking out at the top are misters that are part of the plumbed drip watering system, which waters the wall for 4 minutes every 6 hours. With living walls it's important not to let them dry out, since the felt medium acts as a soil substitute but doesn't hold water in the same way that a deep planter full of soil does. If you'd like to learn how the wall was constructed, read on.

Below is what the area looked like before; a plain, painted sheet of plywood attached to the back of our neighbor's fence. To this we attached the wooden support frame that Mark built.

Meanwhile, I assembled the materials:

Left to right: industrial grade 1/4" thick recycled felt, rust-proof staples, landscaping fabric. Click each photo for source.

The next step was to attach sheets of corrugated plastic to the frame so as to create a waterproof barrier. Once the frame was completely covered, I caulked the seams to prevent water from seeping through.

While I was researching, ordering, and assembling all my materials, I had about 40 or 50 cuttings going. This prevented me from having to buy all ~100 of the plants I needed to fill out the wall. I created mini-greenhouses for them out of milk crates wrapped with plastic wrap, which prevents the cuttings from drying out while the new roots are forming. Each cutting was grown in a coconut husk pot, which is biodegradable and which I could put directly into the wall. Of the cuttings I started, maybe a third of them survived; cuttings are tricky. I ended up starting a couple more rounds and had success with several plants with each round. I probably saved $200 - 300 by not buying all the plants from the nursery.
Next I stapled a layer of the landscaping fabric to the wall to help with moisture retention. The next step was to measure and cut the first layer of felt, and staple it to the wall. I quickly learned that a rotary cutter is pretty much the only way to cut that stuff. I also learned to wear long sleeves and gloves while working with it, because it's outrageously itchy.
Once the landscape fabric and first layer of felt were in place, I started building the drip watering system, which is nestled between the two layers of felt that ultimately make up the wall. Across the top is a length of 1/4" soaker hose (I spliced in the misters later, because I felt that many of the shade plants would benefit from having water on their leaves), connected to 1/4" tubing, which ultimately I ended up tucking behind the whole assembly. The watering system is controlled by a timer and uses a fertilizer injector (below right; click for source) to keep the plants fed. Under the bottom edge of the living wall is a narrow metal channel that directs the excess water over into another planter so that the water doesn't just run down the wall. Since the concrete wall that it rests on slopes anyway, the channel just sort of sits there and gravity does the rest. I know for indoor walls, capturing and recycling the water is a much bigger deal.

The final layer of the wall is a second piece of felt with slits cut in it of various sizes. These create the pockets for the plants to be slipped into. I just sort of eyeballed it and put in larger and smaller slits for the plants that I had. Ultimately it doesn't really matter how large the pocket is for each plant, because the roots spread laterally through the wall as the plant grows, so it isn't as if the plants are constrained to the size of the pockets they're planted in.

 I also added a second layer of landscaping fabric in between the layers of felt, which, if I had it to do over again, I would not repeat. The plants go behind the top layer of felt and the landscape fabric, and in front of the bottom layer of felt. However, the fabric has no stretch to it and had to be cut much larger than the slits in the felt in order to accommodate the plants. It was a huge pain in the ass, and I definitely would not recommend using it for anything but behind both layers of felt as a moisture barrier, if at all.

Finally, the plants started going in. I quickly realized that the staples do not work at all once you've got a couple of 1/4" layers of felt up. I ended up using coated concrete screws, which worked a lot better. Each plant is removed from the pot (if it isn't biodegradable), and the excess dirt is shaken loose. It helps to carefully break the roots in half and flatten them out so that they slip into the slits more easily. As each plant was put in place, I put a couple of screws around the bottom and sides to create a little pocket.
Ta-da! Here's what it looks like today, about 3 months after the plants went in. As you can see, they're filling in nicely and I'm betting by this time next year, the felt will be completely invisible as the plants grow together. The wall adds so much warmth and visual interest, and what used to be sort of a dumpy area is now the highlight of the property. We call this little seating area, "The Grotto."
For more information on building and maintaining living walls, or to just look at some really kick-ass installations, please see these sites:

DIY Greenwalls (the source of most of my information)
Sunset magazine article
Tumbleweed Traveler -- Uprooted Garden
Living Walls and Vertical Gardens
Environmental Graffiti 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Going Strong

These pants often look very dark in outfits, but here I used the scarf to brighten things up and bring out the purple color of the pants. Wearing this big scarf shawl-style works well with this top, because it has a collar that sticks out and makes it tough to put lighter weight garments over it. In fact, I discussed this issue waaaay back in 2008, where I declared that wearing the top over a lightweight jacket makes me look like a hunchback.

There are several interesting things about that old post: (1) I'm wearing one of those colorful, wide belts which used to be a regular feature in my outfits but which I no longer ever wear, (2) I talk about having a date, which means that both the post and the top predate my husband, and (3) I forgot just how dark indigo those Joe's Jeans (which I'm actually wearing right now) used to be. It was also photographed in my old apartment, and my hairstyle is  quite different. The times have certainly changed, and the old jeans may be faded, but this little top is still going strong.

Scarf: Asos
Top: H&M
Pants: Rag & Bone
Boots: Ecco
Bag: Boktier

I used my fleur-de-lis scarf ring to secure the ends of the scarf. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Minnesota Interlude

I've just returned from a brief trip to Minneapolis for work, where I managed to sneak in a few days of visiting with the one and only Sal. As you might imagine, the visiting also included plenty of shopping, so you'll be seeing the booty I brought back from our adventures in the coming weeks. In the meantime here's a shot of us (courtesy of Husband Mike) in downtown Hudson, Wisconsin, where we spent a lovely afternoon.

 I actually have fond memories of Hudson from my time living in the Twin Cities. It rescued many 
a Sunday barbeque, because I never did get used to the fact that you can't buy liquor in Minnesota 
on Sundays, and I frequently forgot to stock up ahead of time.

As you can see, two of my oft-worn items, the pants and the shoes, went with me on the trip. Much of what I brought with me was pretty casual, so I sharpened up my outfits with this cute hip-length trench. My outfit: Trench, Diesel (thrifted); Pants, Joe's Jeans; Shoes, Cole Haan. There's also a gorgeous open-weave sweater underneath which I bought on the trip and which will certainly be making an appearance before too long.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Birthday Activities

I recently celebrated my 43rd birthday by, among other things, buying myself these ankle boots. The details are a bit difficult to see in these photos; one of these days I'll take a close-up of just the boots by themselves (or you can follow the link below and see them on the Zappos site). They have a removable harness-type assembly around them that gives them a unique look, but they also have just the right amount of Chelsea-boot vibe that I was looking for. For their inaugural wearing I paired them with my mod dress, which is the very garment that got me thinking about Chelsea boots in the first place.

Other birthday activities included a nice brunch at Absinthe, a foot and back massage, and a bottle of wine. I think it's important to indulge a little on your birthday.

Dress: Promod
Cardigan: Max Studio
Boots: See by Chloe  (Incidentally, the reviewer on Zappos is correct in saying the size equivalents are off; I fortunately predicted this would be the case and ordered my correct euro size, 40, without paying attention to the fact that Zappos told me it equaled a US size 10. It doesn't; it's a standard size 9 just like every other pair of euro 40's I've ever tried on. Both Zappos and Endless seem to have issues with size equivalents.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Closet Strategy

I feel like lately I've narrowed down the items in my wardrobe that I actually wear to what amounts to a capsule wardrobe. I've been tempted to go through and ruthlessly purge my closet's contents, but I suspect this is probably just a phase and if I'm too hasty in my zeal for closet efficiency (I am a Virgo, after all), I'll only end up on a massive shopping spree at some point in the near future. So here are these green pants again, and this tunic that you've recently seen, and again with the shoes. But hey, if you're looking for ways to style the same pieces over and over, you've come to the right place.

Part of the problem is that I really haven't done much serious shopping since I started my new(ish) job, so I don't have the constant influx of new items that cause me to feel experimental about my clothes. Part of it is that commuting by public transportation or on foot is a whole different ballgame than jumping in the car, walking to the office from the parking lot, and spending most of the day at my desk. And part of it is that I'm really enjoying the simplicity of paring down to a more manageable wardrobe and sticking to my favorites that I know are winners. I've also gained a lot of knowledge over the last several years about what the real winners are, and how to dress creatively while still flattering my figure and achieving the kind of vibe I'm going for. Am I evolving, or am I just getting lazy?

What's your closet strategy? Do you prefer a vast array of choices, or a more carefully curated and smaller collection?

Tunic: Asos
Cardigan: Anthropologie
Pants: Joe's Jeans
Shoes: Cole Haan

Monday, September 10, 2012

A New Look

I've recently gone a little shorter with my hair, because I discovered that this is really its ideal length. Any longer and it starts to do its own thing by the end of the day, which generally involves falling in my face and driving me crazy. I start to get these insane thoughts, such as wearing a headband. As long as I've lived I don't think I've ever worn a headband, even in the 80's. But annoying hair will do things like that to a person.

I threw this outfit on the other week and thought, "I've worn this exact thing before." I rifled through the closet, unearthed this little-worn vest, and voila! A new look is born.

Vest: All Saints
Boots: All Black
Bag: Boktier
Jewelry: Manu Lizarralde, Metal Pointu

Friday, September 7, 2012

Independent Woman

I'm so excited to share the pictures of this gorgeous dress, made especially for me by the talented designer Stacy Lomman. The dress was part of her Spring 2012 Biohazard collection, and I fell in love with the creative design and the futuristic vibe. I really wanted to wear it with bare legs and tall sandals, but until we get into our real summer, that is to say fall, I had to be content with wearing it over tights and boots. As you might imagine, I got loads of compliments on the dress, from both men and women alike.

The dress looks like it's two separate pieces, but in fact the strapless part is sewn in and unzips along with the outer panel. This makes it really easy to put on, and prevents the strapless part from slipping. I also love the extra long zipper pull in the back, which means I can zip and unzip it without assistance. A dress for the independent woman!

Dress: Stacy Lomman New York
Boots: All Black
Tights: Wolford

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


I accidentally bought these pants on the way home from work the other week. OK, it wasn't exactly an accident, but it felt that way. I popped into the Joe's Jeans shop near Union Square because I saw something that caught my eye as a possible birthday present for my friend Laura, and came face to face with a wall of skinny jeans in just about every color you can think of. Olive jeans had been on my shopping list for some time, and well, the rest is history. These fit beautifully and are incredibly comfortable. The real miracle is that I didn't come home with more than one color.

Top: Anthropologie
Vest: Cotelac
Jeans: Joe's
Boots: Timberland

Monday, September 3, 2012


This was an outfit I wore for a recent Girls' Night Out. Laura had free passes to the Gaultier exhibit at the De Young museum, so we went to check it out one last time before the exhibit closed. This outfit was comfy enough to wear all night and walk around in, warm enough for the chilly summer evening, and just stylish enough to look respectable at a fashion exhibit.

Jacket: thrifted
Tunic: Asos
Pants: Club Monaco
Boots: Brako
Bag: Boktier
Necklace: Metal Pointu