July 22, 2016
From: The Denver Post
By: Colleen Smith
Live music isn’t the only animate attraction at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre in Greenwood Village. The concert venue, owned and operated by the Museum of Outdoor Arts (MOA), also boasts North America’s largest living walls. Picture vast, lush gardens with a total of 25,000 plants tipped on their sides, an aerial Eden.
The living walls are 30 feet tall at their highest and 100 feet long, with a total of 10,000 square feet planted as living architecture in the colossal amphitheater that holds 17,000 people. MOA titled the massive work “Panoramic Living Mural.”
The living walls add a palette of leafy greens to Fiddler’s Green, and the designs also include boldly colored flowers. The botanical collage pops with swaths of hot pink petunias, cascading vinca minor with purple blooms, and clouds of fragrant white alyssum — all suggesting shapes of sound waves on the amphitheater walls.
“I wanted to cover the sound walls with vines when we first built Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre in 1984, but nobody was doing living walls back then,” said Cynthia Madden Leitner, president and CEO of MOA.
The artful walls were part of the rebuild of Fiddler’s Green in 2014, when MOA partnered with the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG). “It was a joint venture, but the living wall was all Cynthia’s dream. She’s an artist and had fallen in love with living walls she’d seen. It was the biggest thing she wanted in the rebuild: to have this country’s first living wall in an amphitheater,” said Chuck Morris, CEO of AEG Live Rocky Mountains.
“I didn’t even know what a living wall was, but it looked so cool that I got into it,” said Morris. “We were happy to contribute. It’s taken a couple of years to come out well, but it’s brilliant.”
The original plant palette selected by a California firm largely failed due to a number of factors. Hailstones took a toll, as did Denver’s dicey winters with wildly swimming temperatures and intense, low-angled sun. Many of the original plants intended to over-winter died. In the spring of 2015, the walls were reseeded, but only a fraction of the plants sprouted and flourished.
“The living walls were damaged and weren’t doing well,” said John Birkey, a Norris Design landscape architect
who specified new plantings. “Living walls are tough in Colorado. It’s difficult even when we have rains because we don’t have humidity.”
The Fiddler’s Green living wall is Birkey’s first. “We’ve done some green roofs, but I discourage clients from doing living walls in Colorado. We don’t get a lot of requests for them, but sometimes young [Los Angelenos] new to the area bring up living walls in meetings.”
Birkey reviewed the original planting design that relied heavily upon perennials, but he veered toward annuals that will be replanted each spring.
“Many perennials won’t make it through the winter in a wall. We get really dry winters, and cold temperatures can nip things. It’s a tough environment for plants,” said Birkey.
In May, under the direction of Leitner’s son Sky Madden, MOA’s project director, a crew of high school and college students undertook the labor-intensive task of preparing and re-planting the living walls with mostly annuals.
“We had to start from scratch. We pulled every plant out of every cell,” Madden said. “Eleven people worked two weeks on prep, getting irrigation and soil up to par. We worked three weeks on planting.”
The nearly naked walls quickly burst to life with the instant impact of thousands of annuals.
Birkey said, “You almost can’t overwater annuals especially in our hot sun. Annuals like being soaked, but perennials don’t like wet feet. They like to dry out between watering.”
The living wall’s construction includes computerized drip lines to irrigate and fertilize. Powder-coated steel baskets known as gabions hold plants and growing medium in place. The lightweight soil mix includes vermiculite and coir to help retain moisture.
Birkey said, “Annuals will flower all summer, but most perennials flower two to three weeks and then they’re done, so you just have green foliage or dead flower heads for rest of season.”
In addition to considering color and texture, Birkey kept sun exposure at the forefront of his designs. For walls in shadows, he specified wax begonias and coleus. Walls in full sun bloom riotously with zinnias and California poppies. Birkey added different perennials: penstemons and sages, elfin thyme, creeping St. John’s wort and ice plants. For the project, local grower Welby Gardens propagated the enormous amount of plant plugs.
Birkey stuck to the original concept of using plant material to create a sound wave pattern on the living walls.
“Plants have a life of their own, so I’m surprised how crisp and colorful the designs turned out,” Birkey said. “It’s an ongoing test, and we’re excited. Next year, maybe we’ll try something different. Maybe some musical notes.”
Sky Madden said the living walls are growing in popularity, wowing concertgoers and performers while becoming an outstanding part of the identity of Fiddler’s Green.
“We brought something unique to the amphitheatre,” he said. “We’ve created something cool that is above the odds.”