How The Little Nell's Living Wall Was Built

Arabella Beavers of Busy Beavers Gardening takes us behind the poolside design.

By Amanda Rae August 2, 2016 Published in the Midsummer/Fall 2016 issue of Aspen Sojourner

The living wall at The Little Nell renders a mountainscape in full bloom. 

Image: Ryan Dearth

If “Earth laughs in flowers,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote, then The Little Nell’s poolside patio this summer is a chorus of giggles, snickers, and guffaws. For the second year, landscape designer Arabella Beavers of Busy Beavers Gardening has staged a dazzling living wall of flowers and foliage that also acts as a clever cover to a concrete façade on the property’s far side. The 24-by-6-foot vertical flowerscape depicts sunrise and sunset over our four local ski mountains.


Having learned about living walls during a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show in her native England, Beavers convinced The Little Nell’s general manager, Simon Chen, to introduce the concept here. Denver-based floral wholesaler Botany Lane conceived of the apparatus: six 16-inch-high boxes constructed of welded steel cattle grid, each one attached to a 4-by-6-foot panel of recycled plyboard.


Once the design was green-lit, Beavers visited Botany Lane to choose plants: periwinkle lobelia for the sky; white petunias for snowcaps on the peaks; and dark-green ivy for the mountains themselves, with light-green trailing sweet potato vine to represent the surrounding hills. We used slightly less petunias this year,” Beavers says. “In late season, they get to be a bit leggy.” A bottom band of red wave petunias mimics mountain wildflowers. Most of these plants were chosen for their ability to attract bees, butterflies, and insects.


In February the panels were washed, repaired, and lined with moss, as a hanging basket would be. They were then topped with peat and compost, and in March, seedlings were planted. Propped on pallets, the panels were elevated gradually, enabling the plants’ roots to develop and strengthen. Two weeks before delivery, Botany Lane sprayed them with organic pesticide; “annuals at altitude are very susceptible to aphids,” Beavers explains. By the time the panels arrived in Aspen, the flowers were fully mature and able to withstand vertical placement.


The night before installation, the panels were watered—doubling their weight to about 800 pounds each—and loaded into a semi.


Arriving at The Little Nell midmorning, the panels were transported from truck to courtyard by a crew of eight workers. With Beavers coaching, they heaved the panels, one by one, into place alongside the concrete wall. Assisted by another helper on the wall’s opposite side, hands outstretched through an opening at the top, the team lifted and slid each panel into a track system. After much grunting, installation was complete in 90 minutes.


Designed with gravity in mind—to prevent oversaturating the lowermost plants and limit wastewater—the wall’s irrigation soaker hooks into the resort’s sprinkler system. Via timer, the wall is watered twice daily for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, Beavers will return almost daily to fluff the flowers with her favorite high-tech tool—a stick.

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