Take Your Green Thumb to New Heights with Vertical Gardens
The urge to cultivate is an innate human quality, and it always has been. No matter where we put down roots—from coast to desert, rural to urban—people always find a way to enhance their environment with living plants. For many, vertical gardening is a way to bring a little green energy into small spaces. The best part: Vertical gardening can often be both aesthetically pleasing, and functional!
Many credit the vertical gardening approach we recognize today to a man named Stanley Hart White, who patented his “Botanical Bricks” in 1938. As a landscape architect, he designed modular, vertical gardening blocks that could be quickly stacked, rearranged, and moved for displays and events. They were great for gardening indoors and outdoors, especially in small spaces.
However, we have been growing upward for centuries, and it’s likely that White took his inspiration from the landscape architects of the ancient world. Some of the earliest known vertical gardens come from about 3,000 B.C., when the vineyards of ancient Greece were planted to produce both a plentiful yield of grapes, but also shade for gathering places. The vines grew from boxes and were trained to climb trellises and arches. This produced shelter from the rain and sun, as well as a visually stunning landscape. Many of these gardens can still be seen today.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, were constructed, allegedly, by King Nebuchadnezzar for his wife between 605 – 562 B.C. Though archaeologists and historians dispute the details, writers of the time described the gardens as huge, terraced rooftops, upheld by columns which were iconic in the architecture of the period. The rooftops were heavily planted with everything from flowers and small shrubs to full-sized trees. The vining plants were designed to climb down the columns and walls, giving the illusion that the garden was hanging from mid-air. This was also one of the earliest known gardens to be planted purely for aesthetic pleasure, and not for food production. Unfortunately, this garden has been lost to time, but many artists, both modern and ancient, have created representations of what the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon may have looked like.
Fast forward several thousand years and vertical gardening is very popular, not just in tight urban environments, but just about everywhere. There are “planted walls” clinging to the exteriors of city skyscrapers with fancy hydroponic systems and scientifically blended soil. Home DIYers build indoor wall-hanging gardens to display their succulent collections, or outside to grow tomatoes and veggies without sacrificing the yard space. The beauty of vertical gardening is that it can be done by almost anyone, and on almost any budget. All you need is some sort of frame or structure, and a few pockets to stuff soil or growth medium.
Of course, for the gardener willing to front a little cash, there are tons of options for both indoor and outdoor vertical gardening systems. Some even include hydroponic irrigation systems and grow lights for an easy, hands-off approach.
But for the crafty, low-budget gardener, pallets can often be found for free, and are easily converted into vertical growing surfaces that can be affixed to walls, or simply leaned against them, inside or outside. With enough pallets, you can quickly create large, eye-catching vertical structures for your plants. Shelves can also be adapted to growing plants vertically up strings, dowels, or mesh. Vining plants can be grown from boxes on top of trellises or pergolas and add intrigue and a touch of romance to windows, patios, or porches. Strawberries are an excellent candidate for hanging baskets and elevated grow boxes because they look great, and produce fruit!
Pothos – These plants are affordable, available at every garden supply center, and require little maintenance. They are great climbers, thrive in low lighting, and grow relatively quickly! They are also proven to purify air.
Ferns – Ferns like moisture, but many varieties do not require much light at all. They also do not have deep root systems, or require many nutrients, so they make excellent candidates for living walls. There are several varieties of ferns that, when planted together, can create visual intrigue while all requiring the same growth conditions.
Heartleaf Philodendron – Another popular houseplant, the Philodendron is a low-maintenance fast-grower with long, dangling vines and heart-shaped leaves.
Dragon Plant – If you’re looking to add a plant with a little more structure, the Dragon Plant is a popular choice for indoor gardens. Like the others on this list, they are known to purify air. The sturdy, dark green leaves stand in contrast to the more gangly vining plants, and they are conveniently low maintenance.
For inspiration, a quick online search for “living walls,” “vertical gardening,” or “planted walls” will yield more than a few ideas that you could try in your home or outdoor space.