Traditional techniques for vertical gardening usually involve supporting plants that thrive off the ground peas and beans on poles, and tomatoes in cages.
New on the scene are living walls: Plants hang in pockets or niches on a fence or other vertical surface and provide a lush, green backdrop in advance of a harvest. Try some of these uplifting ideas for a more productive garden and visually appealing setting.
TEPEES, TUTEURS, OBELISKS: Tall pyramidal shapes provide excellent support for edible flowers, such as vining nasturtium, or climbing vegetables that do not yield heavy fruit, such as small cucumbers, peas, and pole beans. These towers can be made simply or elegantly out of branches, wood poles, PVC pipe, or electrical conduit.
TRELLISES: Flowers, cucumbers, peas, and pole beans will scurry up a trellis. These tall, flat, usually rectangular frames, with a checkered or crisscross pattern connecting them, can stand alone or be anchored to a wall or fence. Simple structures can be made from lengths of wood, PVC pipe, or conduit with wire or string running between to create the crisscross pattern.
A-FRAMES: Peas and squashes will cling to A-frames, which can be simply built by leaning two pieces of trellis against each other to create a peak. An A-frame also enables you to grow crops such as spinach or lettuce in the shade below.
ARBORS, PERGOLAS: Trellises in the form of an entry arch or a canopy make great hosts for all sorts of vining vegetables and flowers. Hanging containers can be attached to the top portions as well. Arbors and pergolas can support several plant varieties at a time, including squashes if support is added under the fruit.
FENCES, WALLS: Herbs, strawberries, and small vegetables such as greens grow well in soil or hydroponically (in sand, gravel, or liquid, with added nutrients) inside flexible or rigid planting pockets attached to a wall or fence. Many different types of planting pockets are sold. Create your own by using an over-the-door shoe organizer (see opposite page, top), sections of 6-inch-diameter PVC pipe set vertically, or a wall-mounted wooden planter box with angled slots for the plants.
Espalier is a technique used for growing fruit trees flat against a wall or fence or by themselves to create a green wall. Apple, peach, and pear trees are most commonly used for this technique.
CONTAINERS: Put containers on the rungs of an open stepladder and grow climbers up the sides. Stacking containers, either purchased or homemade, is another great way to grow up.
STAKES: Recycle material from the yard for staking. Run lightweight vining plants such as peas and pole beans up pruned tree or shrub branches stuck into the ground, called pea sticking, or commander leftover cornstalks for the job. Many people favor natural stakes because they blend into the look of the garden so well.
RECYCLABLES: Use your imagination and have some fun. Set an old screen door in the garden and grow some vines up it. Spray paint a dead tree and grow squash up its branches.
BENEFITS OF VERTICAL GARDENING
* Increased harvest from a smaller space
* Less chance of soilborne diseases
* Less watering and feeding required
* Little or no weeding needed
* Cleaner produce
* More air circulation, so less mildew
* Plants are easier to reach and care for
* Easier harvesting
* Can cover an eyesore and/or provide privacy
* Less accessible to pets and some garden pests
UPWARD VARIETIES TO TRY
Bean (pole): ‘Blue Lake’, ‘Kentucky Blue’, scarlet runner bean
Cucumber: ‘Diva’, ‘Fanfare’, ‘Saladin’
Eggplant: ‘Fairy Tale’, ‘Hansel’
Gourd: ‘Mini Red Turban’, ‘Pear Bicolor’
Melon: ‘Little Sweetie’, ‘Serenade’
Nasturtium: ‘Moonlight’, ‘Spitfire’
Peas: ‘Green Arrow’, ‘Maestro’, ‘Sugar Daddy’
Pepper: ‘Giant Marconi’, ‘Gypsy’
Pumpkin: ‘Baby Boo’, ‘Batwing Mix’, ‘Wee-B-Little’
Squash: ‘Sunburst’, ‘Sunshine’
Tomato: ‘Celebrity’, ‘Early Girl’
Tomato (cherry): ‘Sugary’, ‘Tumbling Tom’
DIY UPSIDE DOWN
One of the most popular ideas in gardening is letting a plant grow out from the bottom of a suspended container.
A wide assortment of plants can benefit from upside-down gardening. Tomatoes are the plants most commonly grown upside down, but bush and pole beans, cucumbers, eggplants, and peppers also do well when grown in this way. Herbs that grow well upside down are lemon balm, marjoram, mint, parsley, and thyme. Annuals, such as alyssum, calendulas, geraniums, impatiens, short marigolds, and vinca, can also thrive this way.
All kinds of fancy new “upside-down” containers grace the pages of the latest gardening catalogs, but you can use an old hanging container or large plastic bucket.
* Drill a 2-inch-diameter hole in the bottom of your container. From the outside of the container, insert the roots of a young plant.
* Cut a slit in a piece of newspaper, landscape fabric, or coffee filter and from the inside of the container carefully fit the paper around the roots; this keeps the plant in place and the soil from running out.
* Slowly fill the container with a soil/compost mix, tamping down gently as you go and filling to within an inch of the rim.
To retain moisture, consider putting low-growing plants such as lettuce, petunias, or thyme in the top of the container, but be sure that the sun requirements of these plants are the same as those for the upside-down grower. Instead of plants, you could add mulch or a lid to the top. Remove the lid when it rains.
Hang your container and water it well. Water requirements will vary depending on the heat and air circulation.
Shirley Remes is an award-winning journalist who gardens in sandy shade next to a river in northern Illinois. She writes about gardening and coaches beginning and veteran gardeners alike.