Vertical Gardens

By Kristen Castillo

February 14, 2020 5 min read

The concept of a vertical garden -- a garden that grows up a trellis or wall, as opposed to a horizontal garden that grows on the ground -- is nothing new. But modern-day gardeners are embracing the style for its beauty, space-saving ability and environmental benefits like water efficiency and improved air quality. It's particularly popular for gardeners in urban areas and those living in homes with small yards.

Don't be overwhelmed by the idea of starting your own vertical garden.

"You do not have to go all out. Anything is better than nothing," says award-winning designer and environmentalist Pablo Solomon. "Any greenery you can add to your space, whether in the concrete covered cities, the suburbs or the country, is a step in the right direction."

For example, he suggests attaching a few flowerpots to an outdoor wall or garden fence. You can also plant vines to grow up a wall or fence.

*Easy Gardening

Emma Sothern and her husband run GardenZoo. They love helping new gardeners find joy in the outdoors. The couple used to live in the city, where their gardening was somewhat limited. Nowadays, they have a countryside home, and they're fascinated by vertical gardens.

"It's super easy to make a vertical garden, much easier than you might think," says Sothern. "Once you have your materials, you can construct the frame and hang your wall in just a few hours. Vertical gardens are pretty low-maintenance, as they water themselves, if you've set things up properly."

For best outcomes, make sure your vertical garden gets enough light and shade. Not all plants will survive long term since their root systems may not take hold. Sothern says some plants may only last six months or a year.

*Getting Started

Sothern has a four-step approach to designing your vertical garden. First, choose your wall. "Pick one that's unattractive or not bringing you much joy," she says, noting the plants you choose will depend on how much light that wall gets.

Next build your garden's frame, using a three-layer "sandwich" structure with a frame, plastic sheeting and fabric. She says PVC pipe, elbows and four-way joints work better than metal or wood frames.

Your plants will live in the fabric. Sothern recommends carpet padding or jute cloth or anything that holds water without rotting. The fabric must be wider than the frame on the long sides. You'll need the extra material when pinning it to the plastic.

The third step is setting up an irrigation system to keep plants hydrated. You can buy an irrigation system or make one out of poly tubing with fittings that lock. Sothern says it's "a tube of water at the top with intermittent holes for water to drip through."

The last step is choosing and inserting plants into your vertical garden. Choose plants that are native to your region. Using a knife or a razor blade, make a horizontal cut in the fabric. Clear the soil around the plant's bulb and place it into the cut. Then, use a staple gun, nails or pins to secure the fabric to the plastic backing in a semicircle around the root. "It's like a little pocket for the bulb," says Sothern.

*Best Practices

Up and down. Solomon reminds gardeners that vertical gardens can be down, as well as up.

For example, tomatoes and other plants can be planted upside down in pot or on a trellis, maximizing water efficiency.

Get creative with plant placement. Sothern suggests placing plants that grow a couple of feet out of the wall up high, so they can provide shade for the ones below. Pay attention to those plants on the bottom, too, making sure they don't get too much water. Plan ahead for runoff by planting a flower bed or herb garden below your vertical garden.

Avoid rot. If your wall is wood, such as a trellis or fence, be careful about rot. Solomon suggests keeping drips away from the wall or putting a protective layer between the wall and the plants.

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