It’s not an instant transformation, and it won’t win any design awards, but a single Virginia creeper can transform a street as much as any high-tec green wall. This plant (below) started off in a courtyard on rue Vieille de Temple, covered the internal wall and then made its way over the gateway, forming a hanging curtain of greenery. Running out of challenges at number 76 it set off along the street. (Click on any picture for a larger image).
The people at number 74 pruned the creeper to stay clear of their windows but left the main stem free to continue on its way. It’s decorating the entrance to number 72 now.
Unlike constructed murs végétalisés, that are best suited to screening ugly, blank surfaces, self-clinging creepers can insulate and enhance the walls of beautiful, old buildings without detracting from their historic features. This creeper on the facade of an art nouveau house in Square de Montsouris is neatly trimmed into blocks around the windows, well clear of the decorative frieze under the eaves.
Virginia creepers (and the other Parthenocissus species) cling to the surface of a wall with suckers and don’t harm the masonry, although pulling an established creeper off the wall can cause damage. It’s best to prune a creeper as it grows, so it doesn’t take over where it’s not wanted, but if one does get out of hand the answer is to cut it off and wait for it to die back. The plant will fall off the the wall once dead and dry.
The vertical planting surface of a constructed green wall demands 20 to 40 plants per square meter to give good coverage. Maintaining a balanced display over a number of years means careful maintenance, replacement of failed plants and pruning of the more vigorous. I guess that kind of green wall is at its best a few years after planting and declining by the time it reaches the age of ten. If you’re waiting for a single creeper to cover a wall, it may be ten years before you see much impact. After that it just goes on getting better, but it doesn’t pay to forget the annual pruning. Once well established, a Virginia creeper might just swallow your house.