Saturday, 8 October 2011

Elephant No. 6: Green Wall Mural

I've always wanted to try topiary, but my lone cedar tree is a bit too spindly this year to produce a good elephant. Instead, I turned my attention to the ivy growing on the side of our house. Normally I wouldn't think of removing leaves willy-nilly, but the seasons are changing, and the leaves are about to turn red and fall off anyway. It seemed as good a time as any to play with the idea of a green wall mural.

Green walls—also called "living walls" or "vegetated walls"—are a relatively new trend in eco-conscious architecture. The green walls being showcased these days are usually elaborate and highly decorative, and are even being produced for indoor environments. Mosses, trained vines such as passionflower and virginia creeper, groundcovers, ferns, grasses and more all find their way into what are essentially vertical landscapes.

Growing greenery on a wall is really nothing new. Stately homes abound in ivy-covered walls, and when I was a kid, there was boston ivy all over the walls of my parents' house. In fact, one of the first things I did, when faced with the ugly stucco of our urban house, was plant boston ivy myself. It's taken about a decade to get like this—and there are times when I wish it weren't quite so vigorous—but right now it looks to me like a very nice canvas.

Not having thought ahead enough to plant mosses and other things on the side of the house, my green wall elephant consists solely of trimming away what didn't look like an elephant to me. Using the hydro meter as the elephant's eye, and ignoring the window towards the back, I concentrated on revealing an elephant by removing leaves. I started with the topline of the head and went on from there.

The one thing I hadn't counted on is that the leaves are big. This means that, when you cut one away, you are left with a big hole. By the same token, any leaf left in place takes up a lot of space. I suppose I could have trimmed individual leaves into shapes, but that seemed a bit cruel somehow. Better to remove a leaf entirely than mutilate it. I didn't want, either, to completely remove all the leaves around the elephant, although in retrospect that might have made the elephant stand out more.

Given that most of the leaves were as big as my face, the effect I was able to achieve is rather abstract. Not only are the leaves big, but they also hang down, meaning that I had to contend with green stems cluttering up the negative space. If I cut off a stem, I would also cut off the leaf hanging from it, and the elephant would start disappearing. Something with tiny leaves and short stems would have been easier. Moss or some kind of close-growing groundcover would have been even better.

Once I could picture the general shape in the ivy, it was easy to cut away everything that wasn't the elephant. It took me about 50 minutes, including clambering up and down a ladder, removing the ladder, replacing the ladder and clambering up and down again, switching out a knife for scissors, fine-tuning the design, and sweeping up the detritus.

It's not exactly Michelangelo freeing David from a block of marble, but it'll do.

Elephant Fact of the Day
Elephants are herbivores, feeding primarily on the leaves, bark and fruit of trees and shrubs. They will generally reach up with their trunks to grab leaves and fruit, but if these are too far out of reach, an elephant will shake the tree until the leaves and fruit fall, or will even knock down the tree altogether.

Because of this, elephants can have a profound impact on ecosystems. By pulling down trees, breaking branches, and yanking out roots, they often reduce the forest cover. This creates clearings, and can even convert forest to savanna, and savanna to grasslands. This can benefit grazing animals that eat grasses, such as antelope, cattle and sheep. It is detrimental, however, to browsing animals, which eat the shoots, leaves, fruit and branches of trees: animals such as giraffes, monkeys—and, ironically, elephants.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society 


  1. I need to look out my window more often

  2. Haha! No telling what might be going on out there. Next time, Las Vegas and the circus might be coming to town!