Small Garden Design Idea: Maximise Vertical Spaces
Why should you utilise this clever design idea in your garden? Because, no matter what size your garden is, I firmly believe you can improve the productivity, beauty and functionality by maximising vertical space.
What is Vertical Gardening?
Simply put, vertical gardening creatively utilises a structure to maximise the growing space and exploit the potential of both the vertical and horizontal planes. Think outside the square: 3D gardens with colour, shape and texture not just flat designs! Traditional in-ground garden beds have very limited potential whereas growing ‘up’ or ‘down’ and ‘stacking’ techniques provide you with loads more options.
“Vertical gardening is an innovative, effortless, and highly productive growing system that uses bottom-up and top-down supports for a wide variety of plants in both small and large garden spaces.”
Solutions to Common Problems
Vertical gardening also provides solutions to a wide variety of challenges for many gardeners including:
- reducing the impact of urban living problems like air pollution, noise and lack of privacy;
- allowing you more choice in what you can grow in a small space;
- minimising pest and disease problems; and
- makes gardening more accessible for those with health or mobility challenges.
Examples of Vertical Garden Structures
Vertical garden structures fall into three broad categories: Ones that plants can grow up; ones they can cascade down or are stackable, allowing you to layer plants. This post features ‘bottom-up’ planting options for you. Check out more vertical garden space solutions in Part 2.
Growing Up! (Bottom-up Planting)
Most climbers and vines can be trained to grow up supporting structures or will attach themselves naturally with curly or sticky tendrils. There are a wide variety of structures suitable for growing gardens vertically upwards including:
- Trellises – usually lattice or wire frames or similar structures made from timber, metal or plastic. These are generally supported on a fence, wall or building but can also be added to a raised bed or planter box. You can find out how to make your own wall trellis using wire and eye hooks here.
- A-frames – are two trellises joined together overhead in the shape of an ‘A’ and sometimes hinged to form great support. Generally made from timber and wire, A-frames are great for growing climbing vegetables in compact spaces. The design is only limited by your imagination as you can see by these ideas:
- Lean-tos - are a one-sided trellis, positioned at a low angle to the ground and held up by poles going in the opposite direction. You can also grow shade-loving plants under it, taking advantage of the shade produced by the plants on the lean-to.
- Arches and arbors – these are multi-functional structures that provide a focus and attractive design feature in the garden as well as vertical growing space. Positioned correctly to draw you through and beyond, they can also create a sense of mystery and interest to the garden design.
“Arbors and trellises are much more than handy structures for training vines or easy solutions for a blank wall or fence. Besides offering small-space gardeners another place to garden, they can add significant curb appeal to your home. They act as room dividers and focal points … and … help define intimate spaces. Elegant or ornate, traditional or contemporary, arbors and trellises are one of the easiest ways to add a third dimension to your garden.”
Susan Morrison, Author ‘Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces‘
Photo: Johanna Parker Design
- Walls and wall pots – walls are the perfect framework to support trellises of different kinds and attractive garden art. Wall pots are semi circle shaped with one flat side for fixing against a wall although due to their compact size, will not hold large plants and are best suited to succulents.
- Fences – an often forgotten and unused feature of the garden, boundary fences provide valuable ‘wall space’ to hang trellises, planters, wall pots, baskets, garden art and brackets with shelves. Unattractive fences can also be hidden with a wall of green or splash of colour.
- Posts and columns – balcony, verandah and deck posts can be softened with a climbing plant that gently winds around, creating an attractive feature.
- Tree trunks & plant supports – tall trees like mature palms with straight plain trunks provide another opportunity for climbing plants to grow vertically. Sweet corn stalks and okra both have strong stems and can also be used as supports for growing edibles like pole beans, cucumbers and other climbers.
- Tepees or pyramids – made with three or more long narrow poles (e.g. bamboo, wood, plastic or metal) that come to a point and are often supported with lashing (string, baling twine or wire) near the top to form a pyramid. The poles of the tepee are splayed apart until it is self-supporting. It can be strengthened with regularly spaced horizontal poles or twine for further support; then positioned in a pot, the soil or a raised bed. Learn how to make your own tripod at Jane’s Delicious Garden.
- Poles and stakes – these are the simplest form of vertical gardens and are just inserted in the ground or pot and used with a soft garden tie.
- Pergolas and gazebos – overhead structures supported by timber or metal upright posts. They can be multi-functional, not only providing shade and beauty but also vertical space for climbers either in the ground or in planter boxes. Hanging baskets can also be hung from horizontal rafters.
- Buildings – external walls and rooves are being used more frequently as growing areas to optimise urban space, insulate buildings against heat and provide shared community rooftop gardens.
- Towers – strawberries and other herbs and edibles are grown in a simple vertical pipe system filled with soil and planted in holes up the sides or terracotta pots with ‘pockets’ for planting.
- Obelisks – pyramidal frameworks customised for use in the garden, generally with three or four legs and reaching a point at the top. Many are stunning garden features in themselves providing vertical dimension and a focus for the eye. They are well suited to growing attractive flowering climbers.
- Herb spirals – this clever design system is most commonly used in Permaculture gardens and imitates a spiral much like the shape of a snail shell. The design maximises the edge and a wide range of herbs can be grown in micro climates ranging from hot and sunny at the top to wet and shady at the bottom.
- Plant Cages – there are many ways you can use these – some are filled with soil at the base and then planted with potatoes and covered with more compost or straw mulch as they grow; others are like the ones below, sitting on top of the soil or pots to contain the plants as they grow, providing them with an internal climbing frame. Wire cages are a compact, frugal design idea for micro gardens.
- Espalier – a trelliswork made from horizontal wire usually flat against a wall or between vertical support stakes. The branches of the fruit tree are trained to extend horizontally and tied to wires or hooks in a variety of shapes (the most popular, a fan).
- Espaliered trees have a more formal, symmetrical shape and despite the minimal space required, bear more fruit, earlier and for a longer time (vertical branches grow leaves; horizontal branches grow fruit). This clever technique should be used for a bountiful harvest in all micro gardens!
Vertical Gardening Videos
Watch this really practical video on ‘Growing Vertically in Small Spaces – Examples of Vertical Gardening Trellis Methods‘ as John from Growing Your Greens visits a local community garden and shares with you some excellent examples of vertical gardening in the real world.
Space Saving Ideas for Vegetables - see how easy it is to use a bamboo structure to grow beans.
Click below to learn more about vertical gardening
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Want to save space with more vertical garden options?
Find out more vertical garden solutions to grow plants down and using stackable planters in Add Space with Creative Vertical Gardens: Part 2. For more ideas and tips, read 12 Reasons Why You Should Garden Vertically and 15 Helpful Design Tips for Vertical Gardens. You can find more Clever Design Ideas in the Container Gardening category.
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