Every so often the hustle and bustle of central Bordeaux can get just a little bit overpowering, wouldn’t you say? When that happens there c...

Hanging gardens for all: introducing the green walls of Bordeaux

Every so often the hustle and bustle of central Bordeaux can get just a little bit overpowering, wouldn’t you say? When that happens there can surely be nothing more refreshing than taking in the delights of the city’s biggest green wall. We therefore give you Square Vinet… just a stone’s throw away from the perpetually buzzing Rue Sainte-Catherine and Place Camille-Jullian.

The tiny and quiet plane-tree-lined square, which runs between Rue du Cancéra and Rue Vinet, dates from the 1970s following on from the demolition of a row of run-down buildings. The turning point came in 2005 with the addition of its key selling point, namely the unusual – and really quite pretty – 100-metre-long (or 400-square-metre) green wall, as part of a substantial overhaul that cost €540,000. The work proved controversial at the time, but (if contemporary media coverage is to be believed) that was mainly because the old-school swings were replaced by more modern children’s activities! “Beau mais trop intello” (pretty but high-brow), headlined the local newspaper Sud Ouest!

Square Vinet in all its splendour.

But let’s get back to our green wall… then again, what exactly is a green wall? Well, Wikipedia notes that “A green wall is a vertical built structure intentionally covered by vegetation. Green walls include a vertically applied growth medium such as soil, substitute substrate, or hydroculture felt; as well as an integrated hydration and fertigation delivery system. They are also referred to as living walls or vertical gardens, and widely associated with the delivery of many beneficial ecosystem services.”

The Square Vinet green wall was initiated as part of a city-wide strategy regarding the planting of trees and vegetation led by landscape gardener Michel Desvignes. The actual conception of the wall was, according to the city’s website, “the fruit of the scientific research and artistic talent of the botanist Patrick Blanc (the man who also designed the green wall to be spotted at Paris’s Musée des Arts Premiers Quai Branly), all of which was no doubt enthusiastically rolled out by Bordeaux’s team of gardeners.

Some of the very green greenery to be spotted. 

The wall comprises a wide variety of plants whose “textures and colours are well-adapted to the fun environment of a children’s playground”. And yes, the square is still home to a small number of features (a small slide and unidentified things on springs) designed to keep the neighbourhood’s younger citizens occupied! What more could one ask for?

But even for child-free visitors the small square makes for a refreshing discovery, and the contrast between the Vinet green wall (Elie Vinet, by the way, was an eminent 16th-century Bordelais professor, historian and writer) and the limestone of the surrounding buildings is striking.

Wall to wall contrast.

Meanwhile, it might be noted that the Vinet green wall is not alone in the city, another can be enjoyed in the Mériadeck quarter, along the sides of the council meeting room of the Bordeaux Métropole building. Here, the added bonus is the surrounding fishpond and abstract bronze sculpture produced by François Cante-Pacos (and yes, there are even some lovely goldfish to be spotted!). 

The hanging gardens of Bordeaux Métropole's salle du conseil. Check out the goldfish (bottom right)! 

There have also been less successful green wall ventures in Bordeaux, notably on Cours de la Martinique where a residential building sported short-lived greenery that ran across the balconies of each apartment, once again to the designs of Patrick Blanc. Upkeep and maintenance proved difficult, and the water drainage system was ineffective; during cold spells this resulted in frost-related damage to the balconies and dangerously icy pavements at ground level. In 2012, just five years after being installed, the Cours de la Martinique’s hanging gardens were therefore already making headlines for all the wrong reasons in Sud Ouest. A few years on, the building’s balconies are now ominously smooth and free of plants!   

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Square Vinet and Bordeaux Métropole building and green wall, Bordeaux.
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français. 
> Big thanks to Mathias Cisnal (author of Mériadeck - Parcours en ville) for his useful clarifications regarding the Mériadeck green wall! 

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