Never send a fern to do a spider plant’s job: Talking plants with Axis Mundi Artistry

long leaves of a spider plant

by Dawn Carter

Shareable Neighbourhood caught up with Eric Gibson, co-owner of Axis Mundi Artistry, the living art company we will collaborate with for the living wall project at Roots on Whyte on August 30.

Eric and his partner Sara Gies founded Axis Mundi Artistry in 2012. Sara was a horticulturalist at the University of Alberta and Eric worked at the Muttart Conservatory. They started out by doing photography and making jewellery; they then transitioned to plants. They found their own unique niche by creating living art from their own plant collection and when business grew, they found quality wholesalers in Burnaby to help them meet the demand. “Everyone wants a plant and to be close to nature,” Eric says. Axis Mundi is a concept that means “tree of life” and a connection to the cosmos, personified by a captivating image of the universe on their website.

Shareable Neighbourhood and Axis Mundi Artistry: a connection meant to be

Eric and Chris went to the same high school but didn’t know each other. Jaya, one of our volunteers, visited the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market and saw Eric and Sara’s creations. Inspired by their designs, Jaya suggested we collaborate. This resulted in a visit to see Eric’s living wall work at the Muttart Conservatory. The rest, as they say, is history.

The design process: one year, three possibilities, the final choice

Shareable Neighbourhood and Axis Mundi Artistry went through three iterations of the design over one year; the woolly pocket was too messy, the pouch was too small, and the plastic cell seemed to be the cleanest and lowest-maintenance option for the long term.

The project will have 90 plants, each in an inverted cell, set in a 5 x 3 foot wall with a rustic cedar frame. Eric will build three swaths set on an angle. Each swath will contain one type of plant: spider plants, pothos vines and prayer plants, each adding their own textures and colours. Grouping the plants avoids patchy areas and creates a more artistic effect.

Choosing the right plants: why you don’t send a fern to do a spider plant’s job

Eric and Sara chose tropical plants for the Roots on Whyte living wall. Tropical plants work best in a vertical setting because they tend to cascade and grow low, unlike ferns, which need plenty of moisture or dracenas that stretch upward towards the light. Tropicals also grow fast and are great for cleaning the air. The chosen plants will thrive in the building’s lower-lighted environment.

The Roots on Whyte Wall will only need watering once a week, using a passive watering system that uses gravity to draw the water from the top to the bottom of the wall, taking salts and plant waste with it. A reservoir collects the waste water to be discarded. Commercial living walls are much more complex, requiring built-in irrigation systems that viewers can’t see.

What we get to learn about during Sunday’s workshop

We’ll have a hands-on experience creating a living wall together. Everyone gets to place a plant into the Roots on Whyte living wall. Axis Mundi Artistry will talk us through the process of building a living wall and give us handouts to take home.

Where to go to see Axis Mundi Artistry’s living art

To see some of Eric and Sara’s best work, visit the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market from 9-3 on Saturdays. They also visit other markets and venues; check out their Twitter feed and their Facebook page for locations and times. They’ll also be at the Muttart Conservatory giving ongoing workshops.