Living wall full of greenery

Transform any vertical space into a growing opportunity
Image: CoolKengzz/Shutterstock

Is your garden overflowing with plants, flowers and shrubs, leaving no room to squeeze in exciting new specimens? Perhaps you have limited outside space? The solution is one and the same – go vertical! With a little ingenuity, you can create an interesting, colourful and productive garden where there wasn’t one before.

What is vertical gardening?

Living wall surrounding windows

This eco-friendly “living wall” is vertical gardening on a dramatic scale
Image source: Evannovostro/Shutterstock

Vertical gardening simply means growing plants on a vertical plane, like up a fence or wall. It could be as straightforward as training climbers up a trellis, or as elaborate as engineering eco-friendly “living walls”, like those with integrated irrigation systems seen on eco-friendly homes and office buildings. Whatever your style, space, or budget, a vertical garden is a fun and creative way to make the most of your outdoor space.

What are the benefits of vertical gardening?

Balcony full of handing baskets and a table

Make the most of small spaces with shelves, hanging baskets, and window boxes
Image: Isa Long/Shutterstock

Adding height and interest, a vertical garden is, in a word, beautiful. But vertical gardens don’t just look good – they do good! They improve the air quality, boost biodiversity, and even reduce ambient noise and temperature. Not to mention boosting mental wellbeing.

These are particularly welcome benefits for space-challenged urbanites for whom a vertical garden is the only way to add a bit of green to the city’s grey. Vertical gardens can grow on balconies, patios, or even just a fence, if that’s what you have.

For those with more traditional gardens, growing “up” lets you make the most of your garden real estate, while giving you the chance to highlight particular areas or disguise unsightly ones.

Happily, it also makes gardening much more accessible. Tasks can be tailored to any height and level of intensity, which is ideal for gardeners with mobility issues. It also makes vertical gardening a fun project for the whole family.

What can I use as vertical planters?

Vertical pallets that have been turned into planters

Upcycled pallets make a great frame for a vertical garden
Image: lulu and isabelle/Shutterstock

Garden walls and fences are a blank canvas. Let your creativity loose!

  • Hook window boxes from fences or balconies, or suspend hanging baskets for interest, colour, and depth.
  • Use a climbing frame to encourage evergreen plants like clematis to thrive upwards.
  • If you have a craggy or dry stone wall, plant alpines or succulents directly in the gaps.
  • Try securely mounting flat-backed planters for a permanent feature wall.
  • Affix wire mesh to the wall or use a freestanding trellis for a more adaptable approach. You can then use a variety of removable containers; a great option for gardens with limited sun or if you plan on changing the plants with the season.

Whatever your approach, you’ll need to balance practicalities with aesthetics. Will the plant need regular pruning? Will it produce fruit that needs picking? Can you water it from that height? And some plants can be heavy, especially after watering, so make sure your support structure can take the load.

There are lots of ways to grow vertically – many of which you may already have, knocking around in cupboards or sheds. Upcycling is a great way to help your garden grow up – and save you money, as well as space. Old tin cans, plastic bottles, bookshelves, and pallets can all be used for creative effect. See what you can repurpose from around the house to suit your chosen plants.

What fruit and veg can I grow in a vertical garden?

Strawberries growing vertically

Ripe for the picking – strawberries adapt well to vertical gardens
Image: Luoxi/Shutterstock

Herbs, fruit, vegetables, annuals and perennials can all be grown in vertical gardens. In fact, away from the ground, they’re more likely to avoid pesky pests and diseases, so it’s a win-win.

An edible vertical garden offers a great return on investment. If you’ve got a decent amount of sun, strawberries are well-suited to container planting. Fast and strong growing, the unique “Mount Everest” climber variety is a knockout. It can be trained up a trellis or obelisk climbing frame, or cascade from window boxes and hanging baskets.

Cucamelons and kiwis are also climbers that are lovely to look at and eat, and they’re very happy in containers. Bush varieties of tomatoes like ‘Romello’ will also thrive vertically. Same goes for a huge variety of easy-to-grow salad leaves, as well as hardy, low maintenance herbs like thyme, parsley, and oregano.

What plants and flowers can I grow in a vertical garden?

Fence with greenery growing out of it

Break up a plain fence with some welcome greenery
Image: AMMARIN NANTASEN/shutterstock

Vertical gardens are an ideal way to add colour and structure to your outside space without sacrificing square footage on the ground. Sun-loving plants – best for south-facing vertical gardens with a bit of shelter – include fuchsia, salvia, and nasturtiums. And with their dense rosettes of foliage, evergreen succulents like sempervivum can grow to create a living carpet in wall crevices and troughs. They are also pretty drought resistant, making them a very low maintenance addition to any vertical garden.

For a longer term investment, try a climbing hydrangea like Moonlight. It’ll need training for the first few years of slow growth, but then it will use self-clinging aerial roots to cover entire walls with its creamy-white, lace cap flowers and silvery blue leaves.

Gardens with more shade, meanwhile, will benefit from plants like small ferns, pansies, and wallflowers. For more coverage for less effort, Virginia creeper is the way to go. A fast-growing and easy climber, its beautiful foliage turns flame-coloured in the autumn, making it a striking garden addition at any time of year.

Colourful, creative, and offering a whole suite of positive benefits, vertical gardening is a great option for amateur and seasoned gardeners alike.


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