I am fond of plants that grow in unexpected places and find that human architecture is often enhanced by nature.
It's Not a Hanging Basket!
I love the sight of a wall covered in flowers, especially if they are actually growing out of the wall as opposed to being a climber growing against a wall or part of a "living wall" setup such as the woolly pocket system. To me, the best displays of plants that grow on walls look as though they occurred without any human intervention.
As some of the pictures below show, nature often is the best gardener when it comes to colonising a wall with plants. Nature is also the place to look for inspiration when choosing plants to grow on a wall. Plants growing on cliff faces and in rocky crevices will usually be at home growing out of gaps in a domestic wall.
What Affects Plants Growing In Walls?
Plants growing on a wall are effectively living on a cliff face. They have very little growing medium, may be subjected to windier conditions and will get limited water and this will usually dry quickly, unless yours is a water-splashed wall near a waterfall or leaky gutter, for example.
- Wall Material: If the wall is made from limestone or has a lime mortar, then it will be alkaline, so unsuitable for acid-loving plants such as the lady fern, Athyrium filix-femina.
- Wall Attitude: Which way does the wall face? North-facing walls may be more suitable for ferns such as the magnificently named maidenhair spleenwort. A south-facing wall would suit sun-lovers such as thrift.
- Wall Purpose: If a wall is structural, e.g., part of a house, you probably ought to avoid growing plants in it, because if there is space for plants, there is space for damp to get in, and the structure may be deteriorating. On a boundary wall or one held together by mortar with just a few little gaps for planting, smaller plants such as corydalis are best. A dry stone wall gives you the most options for planting; these naturally have a host of gaps between stones, which can make great planting pockets, and their open construction allows for thicker-stemmed plants such as valerian or foxglove.
How to Make Plants Grow In a Wall
Because the planting spaces in a wall tend to be small, it doesn't work to try to push well-established plants into them. Even if you manage to squish a well-grown plant in place, it will be prone to falling out of the wall because it hasn't had a chance to get its roots into all the crevices.
Instead, start with seeds or very small plants which can then send out roots to establish themselves firmly. Either pop a seed into a marble-sized ball of moist compost and press that into a gap in the wall or sow some seeds thinly into a seed tray and, rather than pricking them out to grow on in pots, prick them out with a bit of compost attached and slot them gently into the planting gap in your wall. You might find that a palette knife helps you slide them in.
The other method is to plant well-grown plants on top of the wall or in pots right next to the wall and hope they spread or seed themselves into the wall. This can be a bit hit or miss!
Good Plants for Growing in a Wall
Plants which naturally grow on cliff faces such as sea thrift are likely to tolerate growing in a wall as are succulents such as stonecrop, which don't need much water. Plants with a trailing habit, such as ivy-leaved toadflax, are designed for cascading down rock faces or scree slopes and can thrive in a wall.
Alpine plants, which often dislike wet conditions and are adapted to growing in poor soils, are another option, as are many wildflowers, such as Welsh poppy, which thrive in poorer soils.
Because it's not practical to change the display of plants in your wall from season to season, it is good to choose plants with long flowering seasons, attractive foliage or which are evergreen so that you get a pleasing display for longer.
As a general rule, plants that have a thick taproot are best avoided because these will grow thicker and may start to make the space it's growing in bigger and eventually weaken the wall. Plants with single stems, such as foxgloves, are best avoided in windy positions because these snap off more easily.
If you want inspiration, a walk around your neighbourhood should provide some with a combination of self-sown wild plants and intentionally sown garden plants growing on walls in your vicinity.
9 Wall-Growing Plants
- Bellflower (Campanula)
- Creeping Jenny (Lisimachia nummularia)
- Fairy Foxglove (Erinus alpinus)
- Ivy Leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis)
- Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes)
- Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber)
- Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
- Stonecrop (Sedum acre)
- Yellow Coryadalis (Pseudofumaria lutea)
1. Bell Flower (Campanula)
The smaller campanulas are very suitable for growing in a wall, such as Campanula cochlear (fairy thimbles) or Campanula poscharskyana. Both of these produce runners which help them spread along the wall and establish a good show quite quickly.
They will flower from May to September. A downside of these is that they can look quite tatty when the first flush of flowers starts to die away or if there is a spell of heavy wind and rain.
2. Creeping Jenny (Lisimachia nummularia)
Creeping Jenny doesn't so much creep as run. It has trailing stems and short-stemmed flowers which don't get badly affected by the wind. You can get a yellow-leaved variety "Aurea" which is less vigorous. I prefer the ordinary one as the green leaves and yellow flowers together look nice and fresh growing on a wall.
3. Fairy Foxglove (Erinus alpinus)
The fairy foxglove is also known as summer starwort. It originates from the mountains of Europe and though not native to the UK has escaped from gardens and naturalised. Since it prefers poor soil without much competition from other plants, it hasn't become a problem. There are pink, white and crimson varieties which all love growing in walls.
Although it is only a short-lived perennial it seeds freely and will keep the wall covered without further intervention from you once it has established. It does well in full sun and prefers poor soil—hence its suitability for growing in walls.
It flowers from April to August. Whilst it doesn't have the longest flowering season, it does produce abundant flowers which are a very cheering sight.
More About Foxglove
I was quite surprised to see foxgloves that had seeded themselves in this dry stone wall around a field in Burnley because they are quite heavy plants and could easily be rocked and dislodged by a strong wind. They also like a semi-shaded spot and quite a lot of water. Foxgloves are a good choice if you want to attract bumblebees to your garden.
This particular wall is actually a retaining wall for the field, so rather than being open-backed, it is backed by soil and as a result retains a lot of moisture, making it suitable for the foxgloves. It is also east-facing with a hedge opposite, so rarely gets full-strength sunshine.
If you are going to try growing foxgloves in a wall a west or east-facing aspect is best as is planting them lower down the wall where they will be less affected by the wind. They have quite thick stems and strong roots, so avoid using them in a wall whose purpose is structural.
4. Ivy Leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis)
Native to Southern Europe, Ivy-leaved toadflax has naturalised in the UK and easily colonises walls. It is a perennial which trails gracefully. It has the advantage of a long flowering season from April to November and is very hardy but doesn't become a nuisance.
Visually the leaves are slightly reminiscent of ivy, but it is no relative of that plant. It is part of the figwort family which includes snapdragons (Antirrhinum).
5. Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes)
As a fern, maidenhair spleenwort spreads by means of spores rather than seeds. You may need to establish it by buying an adult plant and leaving the soil undisturbed around it to allow it to produce spores which will grow into tiny plants that you get then transfer into planting gaps in your wall.
It will grow quite happily in limestone walls or where there has been a limestone mortar used. It is native to the UK and can be found growing amongst the limestone of Lancashire and Yorkshire.
6. Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber)
There are red, white and pink varieties of red valerian. It grows wild in France and Germany and flowers from May to September. Red valerian has naturalised in the UK but is nonetheless popular as an easy garden plant for a dry situation.
I think it's a bit heavy looking to work well higher up a wall, but planted below knee height, it can be effective. A plant for a drystone wall, rather than a mortared wall with small gaps.
7. Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
Self-heal is a good choice for growing in a wall if you want a later-flowering plant. It is a naturally low-growing plant whose leaves will flatten themselves against a wall rendering it virtually immune to wind damage. It flowers from June to as late as November. It isn't a particularly showy flower and the violet/blue flowers don't stand out very well against a natural grey stone wall, but it could look more effective against a white painted wall.
8. Stonecrop (Sedum acre)
A number of different sedums, as well as Sedum acre, are known as stonecrop. They are all suitable for growing in walls being a hardy, drought-tolerant succulent. Most have yellow or white flowers. The downside is a fairly short flowering season of June-July. However, the leaves are quite attractive on their own ranging from greys and creams to green with a red tinge.
I thought the stonecrop looked especially lovely flowering out of the mossy wall, which is an effect that can be replicated at home on a wall that is damp or partially shaded.
9. Yellow Coryadalis (Pseudofumaria lutea)
Yellow corydalis looks very attractive growing in a wall and will flower between May and November. It originated in southern Europe, doesn't like getting too damp and as a garden escape has naturalised on walls around villages in the UK. It's not at all thuggish though, so no need to feel hesitant about using it in your wall.
Lisa on May 24, 2020:
Will plants that grow in/on walls grow on my cellar wall under the grill? Its a moist area with little sun. We're having a window fitted in the cellar & I thought it would look nicer if we put a fern in a pot & maybe some wall climbing plants on the wall that is set into the garden. Been looking for pics of others that have tried this but cant see any?
Anne on February 11, 2020:
Some good ideas I have a small broken wall and want to try and hide it with plants,thanks
Asmita Kalita on September 15, 2019:
Thank you for this amazing article !
Nieva Airra Sulit from Philippines on June 08, 2019:
Great and helpful article esp. for those who love creeping plants , some of those non creeping and creeping plants mentioned above can be used also in landscaping combined with hardscape.
baqbaqum on August 13, 2016:
what an idea
Sumona Ireen from New York, US on September 17, 2014:
Good hub. I really don't know about all those.............thanks for sharing
lancslassy on February 04, 2014:
Just found this site and it's exactly what I've been looking for. Thank you so very much. What time of year can I start planting the seeds into the wall? I live in north west England.
marion langley from The Study on July 02, 2013:
Thank-you for going through specific species and wall combinations! The detailed descriptions and vibrant pictures were helpful in aiding my visualization...so many beautiful possibilities!
LensMan999 from Trans-Neptunian region on June 19, 2013:
Good ideas on growing plants on walls. I loved your hub a lot. Now I will definitely try growing some of those plants that you included in the hub. Very interesting indeed!
Better Yourself from North Carolina on June 16, 2013:
Nice hub, enjoyed reading and great pics! Learned a few new plants I'm going to have to add to my yard/garden.
JJCE100 on June 11, 2013:
I want to start growing some plants in my wall from seedlings, can I do this now (June) ? or is there a better time of year to start ? It's quite an exposed site right on the coast.
Marcy J. Miller from Arizona on April 21, 2013:
This was such an enjoyable hub! Here, our arid central Arizona conditions make it unsuitable for such pretty plantings ... but you've given me some ideas. I've found our aloe vera will grow like an epiphytic plant -- and I might be able to entice some to take hold from between the volcanic rocks that we've used to make low drywall in various places around the ranch. I consider us lucky to just have some lichens on some of those rocks! If I have no success with the aloe, I'll just have to visit your hub from time to time to enjoy the photos again.
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on March 24, 2013:
Hello Fulloflovesites - I'm glad you enjoyed it. You'll be surprised to hear that the birch trees are still three growing in the wall of the factory. I wonder about whether the roots will start appearing on the inside of the factory!
FullOfLoveSites from United States on March 18, 2013:
Interesting and lovely! You are quite lucky to spot many of those plants growing out in walls. The birch tree sapling -- I think that's the one which surprised me aside from the foxglove. I guess they've been replanted on the ground, as it should be. Thanks for the post!
Voted up and beautiful, interesting.
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on February 17, 2013:
Gail, thank you for the link and vote of confidence!
Riviera Rose - I bet you get a lot of lovely plants that I'm not familiar with in walls in the south of France. I hope you have success if you do decide to plant some seedlings in your walls.
Riviera Rose from South of France on February 15, 2013:
This was such an interesting hub - where I live there are plenty of old stone walls and I love seeing plants which have (I imagine) self-seeded there. Have often wondered if it's possible to plant any - I've certainly got weeds growing in gaps in walls, so now I think I might follow your advice and sow some seeds. Voted up and interesting.
Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on February 07, 2013:
I love this! Great hub! Voted up and useful (and linked).
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on July 28, 2012:
This is fascinating! These are all so pretty - and some are just plain growing on their own. I guess others were planted there for the effect? They're beautiful plants, and they make their environment look charming and old-fashioned. Voted up and up!
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on July 21, 2012:
Hello eugbug, I bet your aubretia looks lovely - so far it seems to find my garden a bit too damp. I think the foxgloves would only do well in a shaded or damp wall, because they're thirstier than the average wall grower. Thank you for visiting!
Eugene Brennan from Ireland on July 21, 2012:
This is very interesting Nettlemere. I usually collect the seeds from foxgloves and sprinkle them in the spring , however I didn't realize they grow well in walls. Valerian grows everywhere in my garden and although I don't have any walls to grow it in, aubretia has spread into cracks in the pavement and into old tree stumps.
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on July 18, 2012:
rbm - thank you for commenting - I was surprised too when I saw foxgloves growing in walls when I moved to Lancashire. I hope you have lots of success if you have a go at planting up a wall.
rbm on July 18, 2012:
I love this hub, it gives me a lot of great ideas now, very inspiring! I had no idea that even Foxglove can grow in walls, pretty amazing. Thumbs up and voted useful! :)
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on July 18, 2012:
Delighted to have been able to help Smokey3 and I'm very interested to hear that you have grown wild strawberries in a wall as that isn't something I have seen done. Thank you.
Smokey3 on July 18, 2012:
I am not a very good gardener buy have moved a lot of fruit trees and bushes into an area I call 'my Coppice' and have planted wild strawberries in the lime mortar stone wall. Invasive and need control by removal but enjoyed by birds. I was looking for other plants and this site has given me some wonderful ideas for my other very bare stone walls that need beautifying.Pictures very needed and appreciated. Thankyou very much.
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on July 17, 2012:
Interesting to know that dry stone walls are part of the heritage in parts of the US Aviannovice. They are used mainly in the North of england and hardly ever in the south.
Letitia, thank you so much for the link and for commenting. Hope you spot lots more interesting plants growing in walls.
LetitiaFT from Paris via California on July 13, 2012:
I simply love the look of campanula and maidenhair spleenwort in particular growing in dry stone walls. I don't remember seeing the others, but I'll keep an eye out for them now. Great useful article. I've just worked a link to it into one of my decorating hubs. Thanks.
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on July 12, 2012:
The only dry stone walls that I have ever seen are dividing walls between property lines that we used to have in Downeast Maine. The stonework in this country uses mortar.
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on July 11, 2012:
Aviannovice - this is really common in my area partly because we have a lot of dry stone walls which have lots of planting crevices. Are dry stone walls something you get in America?
Toomuchmint thank you for voting. I think your birdbath or sculpture idea is really good - if you have a go you should definitely make a hub about it.
toomuchmint on July 11, 2012:
The flowers you've shown are so pretty. I think it would be really interesting to build a birdbath or sculpture out of stone and plant flowers in the crevices. This is definitely something I'm looking into.
Great hub! Voted up and interesting.
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on July 11, 2012:
Such beautiful plants and flowers. I always worried that walls would receive bad effects(like destruction), if anything were growing there. Is this quite common in your area? Would love to see more photos.
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on July 10, 2012:
Hi Joyce, One plant which might work in Nevada walls is the Hottentot fig Carpobrotus edulis - it's native to South Africa and I've seen it growing over rocks by the shore in Jersey UK so it's tough enough to survive wind and sun. flowers are pink or yellow.
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on July 10, 2012:
Thank you for reading and voting Dirt Farmer - I think the hard labour of wall building could just be worth it!
Jill Spencer from United States on July 09, 2012:
Really gorgeous. May just have to build a wall in order to try it! Voted up and awesome.
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on July 09, 2012:
Thank you writer20 - you must have about the opposite conditions I would think to here in Lancashire. It will be interesting to find out what will grow on walls in Nevada - do report back!
Cloudy Cool, thank you for reading I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Pages by Patty - I think you're probably safest with Ivy on a house wall, but if you have any boundary walls you might have a go with some of the other plants. Thank you for reading and your comments.
Pages-By-Patty from Midwest on July 08, 2012:
I, too, enjoyed the photos and your vast knowledge of plants and flowers. Never thought about flowers growing out of walls. I have a brick home with ivy growing on it and that's the extent of my green thumb! I love the white flowers and the lavender colored one at the top.
Very cool topic!
TheCraftyPens from London, UK on July 08, 2012:
Wow Wow Wow!!! Love the photos, and always wondered how plants grew into walls...very nice writeup!
Joyce Haragsim from Southern Nevada on July 08, 2012:
Great hub and I love your wonderful photo's. I'll ask at one our nurseries for wall growing plants because of the heat and wind here. Thanks a lot for putting your hard work on here, Joyce.