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Going up
The sky's the limit with vertical gardening


April 2010

Tomatoes can thrive in a vertical garden, as can other veggies and plants, for a space-saving alternative to traditional methods of gardening.

Vertical gardening is getting a lot of buzz as the "next big thing," but Lisa Neske, horticultural consultant at Bayside Garden Center, says the technique is really as old as the hills. "People have done it forever, but itís getting trendy now because of limited space," Neske says.

There may be nothing new in the principle of gardening up, not out, as in a traditional flower, vegetable or foliage bed. Today, though, there are new applications to the process and gardeners are becoming more creative in their choices of a base as well as the plants they are using to produce lush, living flowerfalls.

Condo owners and apartment dwellers are picking up on the trend to dress up balconies and small outdoor spaces. The vertical garden can also be used to create outdoor "rooms," to block undesirable views and make the area more private, Neske says.

Some ambitious gardeners are building systems for vertical gardening that consist of a series of boxes, with the bottom of each box slanted at 30 degrees so the plants do not fall out. The boxes can be rigged with a drip irrigation system, such as a hose or tubes riddled with small holes, so the plants can be easily watered and fed with liquid fertilizer. The boxes are then filled with potting soil and planted.

The result is a "living quilt" of plants that stands upright against a wall or fence.

There are less complicated do-it-yourself methods as well. Use a wood frame or plastic pipe to build a grid and stretch chicken wire or rabbit fencing across the frame. Make "pockets" of chicken wire to hold the plants and line the wire with peat moss, like a hanging basket.

Manufactured systems for vertical gardening are also available.

An even simpler method would be to soften a concrete block retaining wall by planting flowers in the holes in the blocks. "It looks like theyíre spilling out all over the wall," Neske says. "You can use annuals, like Wave petunias. Million Bells are good if you want something that cascades."

Be sure to choose a hardy annual, she adds, because plants are particularly susceptible to heat and cold in vertical gardens. Perennials work well, too, Neske says. Plantings of several types of sedum ó such as hen and chicks, dragonís blood and star ó will result in a show-stopping variety of textures from the top to the bottom of the base.

A vertical garden can also be planted with vegetables. Neske envisions a salad garden, which could feature varieties of lettuce, herbs and edible flowers, such as nasturtium and calendula.

There are few rules to vertical gardening, she says, other than keeping the plants well-watered. Thatís why itís important not to stand the garden next to siding or wood ó frequent waterings could result in rotting.

Vertical gardening offers experienced and novice gardeners the chance to play with colors and textures. "Just have fun!" says Neske.


This story ran in the April 2010 issue of: