Vertical gardening is an interesting concept in sustainable garden design designed to help you make the most of all available space. Those with relatively small gardens often bemoan the lack of space, forgetting that while horizontal area may be small, the vertical space is often untapped and, in some cases, unlimited. Well, vertical garden ideas can help!
So, whether you are looking to make the most of the space within a polytunnel or other undercover growing area, or are looking at ways to improve outside areas of your garden, this guide offers some vertical garden ideas and tips to help you understand your options, and to inspire you to make the right choices for where you live.
What is A Vertical Garden?
A vertical garden is exactly what it sounds like. It is all about making the most of the vertical dimensions of a space as well as the horizontal area. The idea is to layer, grow and train plants upwards, and create structures to grow on vertical surfaces, as well as in flat beds or in the ground.
Why Adopt a Vertical Garden Approach
This concept is important for those who are dealing with limited space, but it can be useful for anyone who aims to maximise yield from a given area, no matter how large or small.
Our goal as gardeners should always be to maximise yields, whether our aim is to gain tangible yields like food and other resources, or simply to obtain non-tangible things like beauty and enjoyment of a space.
Vertical gardens can be incredibly productive spaces, allowing far more plant growth in a given area, with all the benefits that plant growth can bring.
The more plants we are able to grow in a garden, the more carbon we can sequester, the healthier the ecosystem we can create, and the more biodiversity we can foster in the space. So what is beneficial for us will bring broader benefits too.
However, vertical gardening does bring its challenges. So it is important to think carefully about which strategies should be employed and which type or types of vertical gardening you might embrace.
It is also important to design from the beginning with certain things in mind – to avoid some of the most common pitfalls.
Below, I will introduce some types of vertical gardening to consider, and then things that you should consider in order to avoid some of the most common issues that are encountered when people try to adopt this approach.
Types of Vertical Gardens
When you think about vertical gardening, you may have a particular image in mind. Some may think of a vine on a trellis. Others may think about a wall-mounted structure filled with plants. But vertical gardening allows for a broad range of different approaches.
Here are some types of vertical gardening to consider:
When you think about vertical gardening, you may imagine that you will need to spend a lot of time and effort creating certain structures in your garden. But vertical gardening can also simply involve the planting of the right species in the right places.
Remember, the thing that defines vertical gardening is looking upwards, and considering the potential of the space in three rather than two dimensions.
A layered planting scheme such as a forest garden or fruit tree and guild is also a type of vertical gardening. Since, in such a scheme, plants are layered vertically one below another, this is one way to think upwards, and make the most of the space.
By placing a tree, with shrubs, and a variety of herbaceous plants below, with climbers ascending through the system, you can grow more in a smaller area and make the most of your garden.
Climbers & Vines on Trellis & Other Supports
Another type of vertical gardening involves using man-made supports to grow climbers and vines and other plants, allowing them to grow upwards rather than trailing on the ground. By training plants to grow upwards rather than spreading outwards, we can fit in far more in our gardens.
Well-chosen and well-placed trellises or support structures can also provide other benefits. For example, they might be used to increase privacy for a certain part of your garden, to shield an area somewhat from wind exposure, or create beneficial areas of shade.
Tiered Planters & Beds
We can also make the most of space in a vertical garden by using tiered beds or planters. Rather than growing in a simple raised bed, for example, we might grow within a pyramidal structure that maximises the growing space available without covering a larger footprint.
On a smaller scale, we might stack pots, with a largest pot on the bottom, and progressively smaller pots on top, planting around the edges of each one.
We might also chose containers or beds with holes in the side walls that can also be planted up, further increasing the size of the plantable area.
Shelving Type Vertical Gardening
Another way to make the most of the vertical space is to erect shelves, or shelf-like structures against a wall or fence. Closed in along the fronts and sides, these shelves can make a series of mini window-box type raised beds. Or we can simply place pots on each of the shelves.
In any small-space garden, it is important to make the most of any fence or wall space available. Where we are not growing plants directly up or against them, we can create shelves to maximise our growing area.
Pocket Type Vertical Gardens
Vertical gardens can also be specific structures hung on or erected against a wall or fence. These vertical gardens can be made from a range of materials.
Yet all will have planting pockets within them that can be filled with a suitable growing medium and planted up with smaller flowers, salad crops and other leafy greens.
Barrel & Tower Planting
We can not only plant into the tops of barrels or other containers but also create barrel planters, or towers make from plastic bottles or other reclaimed materials with holes in their sides which provide additional growing space.
Hanging Baskets & Planters
Finally, we can not only grow up vertical surfaces but also create hanging gardens, to make the most of the space far above the ground. Hanging baskets are just the beginning. We can also incorporate a range of other hanging containers into our designs to get our growing off the ground.
The crop bars in a polytunnel can be useful in providing something from which to hang different containers. And you can also string things up between crop bars, or between washing line poles, fences or other structures in your garden from which small pots or containers might be hung.
Vertical Garden Ideas To Avoid Problems
Vertical gardening can be a great idea and with any luck, the above will have inspired you and helped you come up with new and innovative ideas for your own space.
Unfortunately, however, not all vertical garden plans work out. Quite often, this is because of a few fundamental mistakes.
Here are some tips to help you to avoid some of the most common pitfalls:
Positioning a Vertical Garden
Many times, when people come to me asking about why a vertical garden has not thrived, the problem is placement.
One of the most important things to think about when positioning a vertical garden of any kind is light. Too much full sun, or a lack of light, can both cause problems.
Of course, where you should position a vertical garden depends on which plants you wish to grow, and the specific strategy or strategies you are choosing to employ.
But it is always important to think about light, shade, aspect and exposure when designing and planning your scheme.
Choosing Plants for a Vertical Garden
Avoiding issues with a vertical garden also involves careful choice of plant species for the site in question.
You need to think about the needs of various plants in terms of sunlight, wind, water and growing medium or soil, and also about the root form, growth habit and eventual size of the plants in question.
Support & Structures in Vertical Gardening
Other problems can arise if the wrong support structures are chosen. Remember that these need to be strong enough to support the weight of the growing medium and plants. The walls or fences that heavier structures are placed on obviously have to be sturdy too.
Another thing to consider is that any supports for climbing plants etc. must be tall enough to support the plants in question. But not so tall that you cannot harvest or tend your plants effectively.
Watering & Vertical Gardens
Perhaps the most common issue that people encounter when vertical gardening, especially when growing in smaller pots or planting pockets, is how to water the plants. Especially in full sun, a vertical garden can take a lot of watering, and this can be difficult to undertake by hand.
When planning a vertical garden, it is important to think about watering from the beginning, and ideally, to integrate irrigation of some kind into your plans.
This is an important thing to think about as you make your vertical gardening plans.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.