Secret Garden: Living wall at iPic theater designed to grow on you

The wall on the east side of the theater consists of panels with a variety of plants for color and texture. It gets attention from pedestrians and motorists alike. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley

While many artists use their talents to brush paint on canvas, Debbie Kotalic creates wall-art fashioned from living plants. You’ll find one of her most recent creations on the east side of the new iPic theater complex in downtown Delray Beach.

In fact, this living wall, later added to the developer’s initial plans, was instrumental in getting the city to approve the oversized building.

“We liked the green wall because it helps soften the expanse of blank walls that the project proposed. And it turns out to be not only an aesthetically pleasing part of the design but also a feature that is iconic,” says Tim Stillings, development services director for Delray Beach.

Besides using her skills at this location, Kotalic has worked on green walls in England, Germany, Dubai, Kuwait and Australia.

“Some companies like simple walls because they add green space without taking up real estate. But our city wanted a living piece of art,” says Kotalic, director of artistic horticultural design for GSky, which makes the wall planting system and has an office in Delray Beach.

If you visit the wall located on busy Fifth Avenue, you’ll find a 22-by-80-foot mural consisting of more than 20,000 living plants in nine varieties.

The plants got their start in a northern Florida nursery, with a dozen plants set evenly in almost 2,000 1-foot-square panels. The plants in each panel took root in a synthetic growing medium called rock wool, which holds moisture. The various plants were set into the panels corresponding to where the panels would go in the final design.   

After 16 weeks of growing, the plant panels were delivered and arranged on the side of the iPic building to reflect the pattern Kotalic designed on paper. The installation took about three weeks. Irrigation is built into the wall.

In designing the wall, Kotalic realized that while some people would approach her art from the sidewalk or view it from across the street, most would be driving by it.

After standing in front of the blank wall, she was inspired. “I wanted it to take your eye and make interesting things flow and weave in and out all the way from one side of the wall to the other,” she explains.

To give her artwork that sense of movement, she used a curvilinear design crafted in a variety of colors, including burgundy, yellow, red and shades of green.

To attain those colors, she selected plant varieties such as golden alternanthera, Ficus elastica burgundy, and red and yellow corkscrew croton, which is the first croton she has used in her work. 

For depth and texture, she opted for minima jasmine that will be trimmed to keep it short, wort fern that grows a bit longer than some of the other plantings, and asparagus sprengeri with foliage that looks almost fluffy.

“When the plants finish growing out, some will appear taller, like they are going over others; some will look like they are going under others and the colors will weave in and out. There’s a lot going on here,” she says.

Since late February when the installation was completed, GSky’s work hasn’t ended. Ongoing maintenance will occur about twice a month, such as periodic cuts with hand-held pruning shears. “You don’t want it to get too leggy, lanky or woody,” Kotalic says.

The wall is fully lit at night. In fact, the developer liked the wall so much that lighting fixtures were added to the plan while the plants were being installed, as were a few palm trees along the sidewalk.

The lighting forced Kotalic to remove the top row of panels from her design, and she worries the palms may create shade interfering with the wall’s growth.

But after 15 years on the job, Kotalic has learned to take obstacles in stride.

“We usually get some surprises along the way and we’ve learned to deal with them,” she says.

And that’s good news for residents and visitors to this growing seaside village who will enjoy her living artwork for years to come.

Viewing tip

“As the wall grows and evolves, one of my favorite ways to look at it is from the side. From there you can see all the depth, dimension and texture created by the plants that make up the wall. You’ll see a lot of things you may not have expected.”

— Debbie Kotalic, director of artistic  horticultural design for GSky

If You Go

What: GSky Green Wall at the iPic Theater

Where: 50 SE Fifth Ave., Delray Beach

Hours: Available for viewing day and evening

Admission: Free viewing from street

Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley can be reached at

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