A Maltese man has opened up about how his dream of planting a vertical garden on his home was quashed by bureaucracy within the Planning Authority and, later on, by a blanket ban on snail pesticide.
Russell Sammut said he fell in love with the concept of green walls nine years ago when he visited the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris, and that he “jumped for joy” when he learned that the Planning Authority had launched a scheme to incentivise such gardens in Malta earlier this year.
“I immediately sketched some designs and visualised what I wanted it to look like, taking inspiration from a coral reef,” he said. “I contacted a garden centre whose architect turned my sketches into an impressive 914 plant vertical garden to add to my ever growing 380+ plant collection at home. I was so excited!”
The scheme offered people a reimbursement of up to €10,000 if they green their building facades.
However, Sammut soon found out that there were several terms and conditions attached to the scheme.
First of all, he said his original proposal to plant a wall of succulents and hardy plants was rejected due to the lack of biodiversity. This was despite his terrace being completely exposed to harsh sun and strong winds, meaning several types of plants wouldn’t be able to adapt and survive.
“Different plants require different amounts of water so how can I put a drought plant and a water-thirsty plant next to each other and watered by the same source and expect them to survive? Either one will rot or the other will dry out and die,” he noted.
“Besides, some recommended plants consume a lot of water which is not sustainable in an arid country like Malta. Plus being a single-person household I already have very high water consumption mainly because of the plants I already have.”
He also warned that if the plants were to die or if he were to remove the wall, he would risk being in breach of the Planning Authority contract, meaning he would have to refund all the money with an 8% interest rate.
“Please note that banks only charge around 2% interest for a five-year term fixed deposit and should things go badly the PA wants to charge you 8% (maximum by law) interest after using your walls, water, time and money. I feel this is excessive and makes me wonder if the PA seriously wants to encourage people to take the scheme,” Sammut said.
“Many might argue ‘minfuq! take it or leave it’… and that’s what I did, these conditions (mainly) put me off the grant scheme. I looked into financing the project myself to make away with these restrictions and I was planning to save money and install the vertical garden by spring 2022, yet out of the blue came the last blow…”
This last blow was last week’s announcement by Animal Rights Minister Anton Refalo that snail and slug pesticides containing the chemical Metaldehyde had been banned from the market, except to “authorised people”, because some people were mixing the poison with pet food to kill animals.
The ban followed pressure by animal activists and lobby groups, including Animal Welfare Commissioner Alison Bezzina.
However, for Sammut, this ban meant he could no control a slug/snail infestation on his green walls.
“Should there be another infestation (yes I had one and a red aphid infestation too), I will be putting at risk all the investment, plus I will have to keep replacing the plants for at least five years or have to pay back all the grant money plus an 8% interest as I will be in breach of contract,” he said.
“At least to my abilities, there is no way I can manage and protect such a huge structure using natural methods whose results from my own experience are lacklustre.”
“I am publicly writing this after passing all this feedback and other to authorities and in order to inform others to think twice before spending €1,000 for design and application fees, like I did which will not be refunded, should there be another extension to the scheme which closed last month after being extended and not being fully subscribed.”
“At the end of the day I’m disappointed I have forgone my dream and lost €1,000 in the process, my street lost more potential greenery (that it desperately needs) and the community who would have enjoyed the vertical garden the most (as its most visible from the outside not from inside the house), will continue to enjoy looking at whitewashed concrete walls.”
Only 140 people ended up applying for the Planning Authority’s Green Your Building Grant scheme, but the PA insisted this figure was a success because the concept of green infrastructure is new to Malta and the scheme was launched at a time when COVID-19 cases were at an all-time high.
It said it may consider relaunching this same scheme in the future, with wider criteria such as green roofs.