BY SARA ANNE DONNELLY
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MICHAEL D. WILSON
In Cheryl Tyler and Steve Whitworth’s 1939 Cape on Brunswick’s Maquoit Bay, the plants outnumber the people by more than 100 to one. A master gardener and plant designer who owns Terra Flora in Brunswick, Tyler keeps this army of tropicals, succulents, and mosses to satisfy what she describes as our existential “need for nature.” The centerpiece is a seven-foot-tall living room “living wall” composed of an artful snarl of birkin philodendrons, crocodile ferns, neon pothos, and variegated spider plants, arranged in a walnut frame built by Bath carpenter Bob Grant. She saw her first greenery wall at a nursery in San Francisco, where the installations are more prevalent. “I had a small Edwardian apartment with a lot of vertical space, and seeing that plant wall was one of those mind switches,” says Tyler, who was a seventh-grade teacher at the time. “I realized you can use your walls for plants and it can have an artistry to it, with the different leaf patterns and textures.”
When Tyler and Whitworth moved to Brunswick in 2016, she set about building her first living wall in the living room. There were bumps along the way. The aglaonema she placed in the middle obscured the plants above it, so she had to move it up. Mealybugs in one plant infected the others, killing most of her original lot. Some varieties dried out before she realized they needed extra watering in winter, on account of the heat from the room’s woodstove.
ABOVE 1) A seven-foot-tall “living wall” of philodendrons, ferns, pothos, and spider plants dominates plant designer Cheryl Tyler’s Brunswick living room. 2) A “moss-scape” decorated with marbles and Italian glass she created with artist Cork Marcheschi enlivens her bedroom.
But she eventually found her groove, and, in 2018, launched her company, dedicated to creating leafy installations for homes and businesses. (See her latest work in the tasting room at Freeport’s Maine Beer Company.) The plants are arranged in pots that clip onto vertical rails inside a frame; an automated irrigation system and lighting above and below provide nourishment. If maintained, a living wall can survive indefinitely with the occasional plant swap, says Tyler, who prunes and adjusts watering and lighting regimens seasonally for clients who want a white-glove approach.
In the thick of the pandemic, Tyler built a living “Zoom wall” bursting with aglaonemas, anthuriums, jade pothos, and peace lilies in her home office. In her bedroom hangs a luminous “moss scape” by Tyler and San Francisco artist Cork Marcheschi comprising preserved sheet and reindeer moss studded with marbles and bits of Italian glass. A believer in the philosophy of biophilia — which holds that humans have an innate tendency to connect with nature — Tyler says guests are drawn to these vertical gardens, which in the eerie glow of their track lights look like fanciful portals to a wild, natural world. “Everyone wants to go up to the plants and look at them and touch them,” she says. “The most common question is, ‘Is this real?’