Conversation about vertical crops, landscaping and irrigation
with Azalea Fedora Liscano .
AFL: To take a break from this difficult governability process in which we are currently immersed, I’ve decided to bring you a breath of fresh air. And why a breath of fresh air? Because, we Venezuelans, need to learn to rise our heads, look for oxygen, think of the one up high and come down with the ability and tolerance to endure the hard times we live in. Today, I have with me a friend, Ricardo Gil Mendoza. He is a landscapist, specialist in irrigation. He’s doing wonders not only with the distribution of irrigation systems in crops and gardens, but with green walls, creating fresher environments, by incorporating the sound of water and the freshness of plants to our every day routine, and bringing the photosynthesis process and its benefits closer to us. Welcome Ricardo. Would you care to explain to our audience in the eastern side of the country all these aspects that I have, with a poetic touch, presented?
RGM: Good morning to you all. Thank you for the invitation. It is exactly that, a breath of fresh air. It is precisely the green what provides the oxygen we breathe; the plants in their natural process nourish us with the oxygen we need to live, literally, and in the night they share it with us. They are capable of producing what they need and what we need. Precisely what we are trying to do today, besides the many years of experience working with irrigation systems, evidenced in the many works we have made across the country: namely, here in Margarita Island, the Guatamare Stadium, in Falcon State, the Francisco de Miranda monument in Vela de Coro, in Puerto Ordaz the Orinoquia Mall, not to mention our works for private customers, in houses, gardens, sport facilities, accounting 30 years of experience in the field of irrigation. For some years now, we have been working on green walls. The first ones were in the art center Los Galpones, in Los Chorros, in Caracas. Now, we have an exhibition there, where we are presenting frames made with plants. If you are going to Caracas, you are welcome to visit. It started for 15 days and we have been around for two and half months, and we have been asked to continue with the exhibition for a while longer. These are vertical arrangements to be hung up in the walls inside your house, so you can have a piece of art, like a painting, but made out of plants.
AFL: Can you explain the origin of these gardening systems in walls or frames?
RGM: Sure. With the cities becoming such inhospitable places, that have lost so much of its greenness, a movement has emerged over the last 10 years to cover walls with plants, achieving in this way a sense of wellness in social areas, embellish buildings’ facades, lower the inner temperatures of buildings with this kind of walls, and provide ornament, helping to humanize us more and bring us closer to nature. Organic Arte appears with the purpose of exhibiting plants in art galleries and make them visible to the spectator. In our vast experience and having dealt with a lot of public, we realized that human beings are nowadays so involved in their urban lives that they have forgotten about nature. With this in mind we came up with the idea of placing plants in front of people’s eyes so contact is inevitable, and in this way try to make them sensitive again towards these natural means and seek that contact, so they remember that in spite of the stress that comes from the news and daily urban life, there’s nature where to seek refuge, and rescue that “lost paradise”, as Professor Erminy called it recently, in a lecture, well, he called it differently, eh…
AFL: A dissertation.
RGM: Right, a dissertation, in which he said that when you have part of the vegetation, or when you bring flowers home, ultimately, you’re seeking to rescue the “lost paradise”, which means getting in touch with nature, where we are part of a whole and don’t feel lonely and disconnected, like in the big cities, where we are surrounded by infinite amount of people, but in the end we are alone.
AFL: Ricardo, you talk about providing the ornamental factor to the eye, how do you work? Which plants do you use? Let’s put it this way, how do you provide sustainability to the structure, to hold it affixed in a wall or in a frame?
RGM: When working with walls, in small displays – the frames-, or in walls, maybe the whole facade of a building, one of the most important things is to separate the vegetation from the walls, using a structure, in order to avoid leakage problems in the walls. This is something important to consider. In my experience, you should always think about irrigation and drainage.
AFL: This means the wall would have a waterproof coating and then a metallic structure?
RGM: That’s right. Normally, we make a structure that allows us to separate…
RGM: Yes, isolating, and then we make another wall using PCV rigid plastic that we affix to the structure. You can use other materials, besides PVC, but is the one we are using right now. For example, you can use metallic structures, also by applying water repellants, you can make it in concrete. During the casting process of the wall, you attach the structure directly into the wall, as if it were a water tank, preventing any leakage problems. Then, you cover the wall with a geo-fabric that adheres to the plastic structure and you cut pieces of the geo-fabric to make pockets for the plants.
AFL: In the pocket you put some kind of soil, or maybe a chemical product…
RGM: No, no, on the contrary. We are Organic Arte we work exclusively with organic materials, such as compost, worm cast, rice hulls, our main ingredients for these types of low-volume soils, which allow us to provide high nutrition for the plant. When you compare our vertical gardens to those you normally see around, you can see radiance plants can have when they’re nourished with organic systems.
AFL: Now, would you care to explain to our audience how do you build the irrigation system? I mean, you first seal the walls, then the metallic structure and then the product, which is called how?
RGM: It’s plastic, PVC, it’s like an acrylic laminate, that’s something people can visualize.
AFL: Where do you install the irrigation system?
RGM: Between the PVC laminate and the geo-fabric.
AFL: Does it need an engine?
RGM: No, at the moment, we are not working with recirculation. We calculate the volume of soil. The volume of soil you have in an area constitutes the field capacity, which is the amount of water a soil can hold. It is that amount of water what we provide to the plant. Most of the times, people think the amount of water you pour into a plant depends on the plant itself and it is not the case. The amount of water you can apply depends on the type of soil, which is the field capacity, the amount of water soils can hold in proportion to the deepness of the plant’s root. Here, the plant does intervene. If I want to bring water down to 20cm, because that is the root length I have to apply a certain amount of water. Now, if I have a fruit tree with a two meter long root and I want water to reach those two meters, I will have to pour an extra volume of water.
AFL: So, it depends on the type of plant to be used in these vertical gardens?
RGM: Well, on the soil, generally speaking. In vertical gardens we try to add the amount of water the wall is capable to hold, so drainage is low and there’s not an excess of water. Draining water is a problem, unless the soil is very sandy, like the beach sand, or like here in Mar…
AFL: Or like here in Margarita, clayey.
RGM: Drainage is a problem in clayey soils; they’re problematic and generate a lot of eh…
RGM: Here thee soil is clay loam, not just clayey, it is not as compact as in other places. The important thing is to add the amount of water the wall will need and avoid soil washing. If you’re working with low volumes of soil, which is the case of vertical gardens where you have to use the small amounts of soil, it is important to avoid soil washing and in consequence, soil loss due to water excess.
AFL: So, how does the system work then?
RGM: We use irrigation system by exudation, mainly in the walls. This system is very interesting, because the pipes we use are made out of nylon, identical to the fabric used in cars’ safety belts, but in a tubular shape. The fabric is nylon and pours water everywhere. When you work with small amounts of water, in the course of time, the pipes tend to clog because the salts contained in the water start to form carbonates that clog the mazes, for example, in dripping irrigation systems, and the cleaning treatment is complicated. It can be done, but it’s complicated. These nylon pipes are interesting, because when you start working with them you change their pressure, and when the pressure rises, the pipes stretch and clean themselves, in a process where calcification…
AFL: It crystallizes.
RGM: Yes, but since calcium is solid, when the pipes stretch it breaks and it is washed away. The pressure change occurs by itself, because as the pipes begin to clog and release less water, the pressure increases, causing the pipe to stretch and clean itself. They will last forever.
AFL: And how frequent you have to water the plants? I’m guessing every-two days, depending on the type of plant
RGM: I started working on irrigation systems due to my experience in agriculture. This is why I recommend automatic irrigation systems. Plants need a lot of care and today’s irrigation systems allow you to do this automatically, so you don’t have to water the plants with the hose all the time. Why I say this? Because it becomes an enslaving task. Plants need to be watered frequently and these vertical gardens don’t hold to much water, so they need at least four to five days of watering per week. If you fail to do this, you will see the consequences. If you don’t water a plant for three or four days, it will suffer hydrological stress and its recovery could take from 15 days to three weeks.
AFL: What types of plants do you suggest using for vertical gardens?
RGM: Well, this comes with experience. First, you have to know the environmental conditions; if there is sunlight, shadow, ventilation, and which are the hours when there is sunlight, because normally these walls are built externally, but they also can be placed inside buildings, so it is important the plants receive sunlight at least a couple of hours a day, and avoid the light of noon, because it is too strong for plants. Of course, there are plants that can endure 10-12 hours of sunlight, so you can use them, but if it is only in the hours of noon, which are the ones that are tolerant to noon sunlight, then they will miss the other hours of sunlight. This is the reason we don’t use this type of plants so frequently. However, plants, as living beings like us, try to adapt to the conditions surrounding them. Nevertheless, you have to place plants in places where environment conditions are the most similar to their natural conditions, in order to assure their survival. If we try to place shade plants in the sun, that is not going to work well, they may adapt and survive one way or the other, but their growth and beauty is going to be poor, because it is not their natural condition. It takes a lot of observation of natural means. It is when you stand in front of the place where the piece is going to be when you choose the plant, thinking of the place and the plants that could live there naturally.
AFL: In Nueva Esparta State, with the high incidence of solar light, it may be required to use a durable type of plant, such as croton, bromeliad, what other kinds of plant could you use?
RGM: There is an infinite array of plants; there are more sun plants that shade plants. Plants need sun to make photosynthesis, it’s their natural process. There’s a beautiful feature of the gardens in Margarita, they’re all covered with flowers and that’s thanks to the high solar incidence, that intense sunlight that plants like.
AFL: You have innovated the orchard, hanging the familiy orchards from a wall, by using a wood palette, like the ones that come in electrical appliances containers, and you use this material to adapt it for growing basil, rosemary. Tell us a little bit about this.
RGM: Yes, these orchards had great acceptance. In the exhibition of Organic Arte in December, we made like four of these palettes with rosemary, mint, peppermint, parsley, basil, coriander, etc, and people really like them. We even made one with radishes for the closing of the exhibition, but the closing has been postponed for different reasons: people have like the exhibition, the venue is available. So, these orchards had great acceptance and they’re easy to make, anybody can make them. In fact, we had a presentation two Sundays ago where we made a frame like this in front of all the attendees so they could see the technique to make this frame. In my webpage www.ricardogilmendoza.com you will soon see a video with the whole process to make the frame. I came to Margarita and didn’t have the chance to upload the video, but it will be on the page soon. The technique of the frame is the same we use for large gardens, but made for smaller gardens.
AFL: So, the frame is a scale model sort of speak, keeping in mind the empathy with the plant, to understand the life projection an element like a plant requires. Ricardo, I understand you live in Caracas and come to Margarita to oversee your works that are being developed here. Could you please give us a contact number, besides the web page you just mentioned www.ricardogilmendoza.com?
RGM: Sure, mi cell phone number is 0058-4142498527. And allow me to steal another minute of your time. Plants may die; sometimes you plant them and they die and you have that lack of connection with death, but you can plant another one. I always tell people the most important thing is the relationship you’re going to create with your plant, and please keep at least one plant in your homes, because it will nourish your soul.
AFL: That’s right. Thank you very much Ricardo. It was worthy to take a break from politics and everyday life to freshen up and think about the value of having living beings surrounding our daily lives. Have a good day, I’ll see you tomorrow.