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.

Add Space with Creative Vertical Gardens Part 1

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. However, 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.”

Derek Fell, author Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out, for More Vegetables and Flowers in Much Less Space

Vertical gardens take advantage of narrow garden beds and upright structures like this fence. Image via: www.gardeninggonewild.com

Emily’s garden here has many vertical solutions in a tiny space. Above a narrow garden bed, pots hang on the fence, a pipe has become a strawberry tower on the left, herbs fill repurposed drawers on the right and the pockets of a blue shoe organizer house an edible salad garden in the centre.


Vertical Gardens: 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.


This stunning arbor of roses draws you into the garden room and beyond. Photo by Lisa Romerein

Clever use of an arbor in this garden room with seats below cascading roses, not only makes it a fragrant place to relax but draws the eye into the small space and creates a sense of mystery beyond.

Examples of Vertical Garden Structures

There are many different types of structures and trellises you can use.

A great example of vertical gardening structures that save space

Vertical structures are used efficiently in this garden: hanging baskets at varying heights, a wall-mounted trellis, pots stacked on a bench, stake in a pot and a clay pot with strawberries in vertical pockets.


Vertical garden structures fall into three broad categories:

  1. Ones that plants can grow up;
  2. Ones they can cascade down; or
  3. Those that are stackable, allowing you to layer plants.

This post features ‘bottom-up’ vertical garden planting options for you. Check out more vertical garden space solutions in Part 2.


A trellis is one of the most simple and versatile structures that a micro gardener can utilise to make more growing space. Flickr Photo: Soybeantown

This rustic handmade trellis lends character in a cottage garden with layers of colourful climbing flowers.


Growing Up! (Bottom-up Planting)

Most climbers and vines can be trained to grow up supporting structures. These plants attach themselves naturally with curly or sticky tendrils. There are a wide variety of structures suitable for growing gardens vertically upwards. Here are some examples:


Usually lattice or wire frames or similar structures. Often made from timber, metal or plastic. These are generally supported on a fence, wall or building. They can also be added to a raised bed or planter box.


White lattice feature trellis with a colourful flowering vine makes use of the vertical space against a house wall.

A simple white timber trellis installed against a wall becomes a focal point for a colourful climber. Boring exterior wall spaces can be divided up and made more visually appealing by including a vertical garden structure.

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Are two trellises joined together overhead in the shape of an ‘A’. They are 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. Check out these ideas:


A-frame legume ladder - a creative use of vertical space in a tiny plot. Flickr Photo: Oceandesetoiles

Here an A-frame is in the form of a mini ladder made from two timber frames with slats tied together with rope at the top. They are used to grow climbing legumes.


Vegetables growing vertically take up less room and make harvesting a breeze.

A-Frames can also be used over a garden pathway to create an arbor and take advantage of air space that would otherwise be wasted. This idea is also an attractive garden feature.



Are a one-sided trellis, positioned at a low angle to the ground. They are held up by poles going in the opposite direction. You can also grow shade-loving plants in the shady microclimate underneath. This allows you to take advantage of the shade produced by the plants growing on the lean-to.


Arches are multi-functional structures - they can be beautiful features within themselves but also a valuable additional space to plant.

A wrought iron arch lends loads of character to this house and frames the window with a soft creeping vine. Both a decorative design feature and great use of vertical space.


Arches and arbors

These are multi-functional structures that provide a focus and attractive design feature in the garden. They also increase your 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.

This heavily flowering climber enhances the arbor over the entrance gate.

This cute entrance gate has loads of eye appeal with a cascading arbor of flowers. An invitation to walk up the garden path!


“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, AuthorGarden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces

Arbors are doorways to outdoor garden rooms and are a simple but under utilised vertical design feature.

Want to enhance the ‘curb appeal’ and add value to your home? Try adding an inviting arbor or arch at the entrance. They add loads of character and are almost irresistible to the eye.

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. Due to their compact size, they won’t hold large plants and are best suited to succulents.


A collection of watering cans are affixed to this green wall as a decorative feature.

Unattractive walls or those that reflect too much heat, can be turned into living green walls to cool a space or disguise the surface. Planting ivy or a creeper and adding a little garden art makes this vertical space a feature in itself!



An often forgotten and unused feature of the garden, boundary fences provide valuable ‘wall space’. You can hang trellises, planters, wall pots, baskets, garden art and even brackets with shelves. Unattractive fences can also be hidden with a living green wall or splash of colour.


Emily's closet shoe organiser lettuce garden.

A close-up view of the shoe organiser lettuce garden above that was hung in Emily’s garden on the fence. This concept makes great use of a garden boundary utilising precious vertical space.


Posts and columns

Balcony, verandah and deck posts can be softened with a climbing plant that gently winds around, creating an attractive feature.


Wisteria and other colourful climbing vines can be grown 'up' a vertical structure that is already part of the house. Photo: Jason Smith

Lavender coloured wisteria is a stunning climber to soften or highlight vertical posts, columns and railings along a verandah.


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. They can also be used as supports for growing edibles like pole beans, cucumbers and other climbers.


A vertical tripod made from gum but other wood could also be used.

Tepees and tripods can be made for little cost if you reuse strong branches like gum. Tripod’s like this one in Jane’s Delicious Garden are perfect to grow vegies. It’s strong, durable and a practical solution to limited space.


Tepees or pyramids

Tepees or tripods are made with three or more long narrow poles (e.g. bamboo, wood, plastic or metal). These 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 position in a pot, the soil or a raised bed. Learn how to make your own tripod at Jane’s Delicious Garden.


sTepees make excellent vertical use of tiny spaces and work well in even the most compact of gardens or balconies.

Whilst it is quick and easy to make your own bamboo tepee, there are many low-cost structures made from plastic that are suitable for small containers like pots. These are durable; easy to collapse and store when not required; and can be reused many times.

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Poles and stakes

These are the simplest form of vertical gardens. They 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.


Pergola covered with moon flower vine. Growing up and over, it adds ambience, shade and perfume which enhance the outdoor eating area. Photo: Bev Wagar

Frame a space like this outdoor room with a pergola covered in stunning moon flowers. Named for their habit of opening early evening and flowering at night, they also have a delicate perfume. A great choice for an entertaining area.



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.


A living green wall and roof garden help cool the home and bring the outdoors in without feeling the garden is dominating the space.

This tiny urban courtyard is a great example of layering. A living green roof and vertical wall garden are complemented by raised planter boxes with tepees. These design clever ideas maximise space without feeling overcrowded.



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.


Strawberry tower in Emily's garden.

Close up of a vertical plastic pipe tower garden filled with cascading strawberries. Holes are cut in the sides of the pipe and seedlings planted into them. The tower is watered from the top down.



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

  • Herb spirals are a clever design system, most commonly used in Permaculture gardens. This vertical garden design 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 microclimates, ranging from hot and sunny at the top to wet and shady at the bottom.


Herb spirals are an effective use of space to maximise the number and kind of herbs you can grow.

Herb spirals are both an attractive garden feature and designed to maximise planting space while minimising water use. Thirsty plants are located at the base to soak up moisture that percolates down from the drier zone at the top.


Plant Cages

There are many ways you can use plant cages. Some are filled with soil at the base and then planted with potatoes. Then 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.


Plant cages can be bought or made - they can be short or tall to suit the plant, plain wire or surrounded with shade cloth to better contain the soil. Photo: Allison Fomich

These plant cages are on top of pots with fine mesh to keep animals and birds at bay. They keep the plants neat, tidy and contained as they grow in a compact space too.



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).


This espalier apple has been trained to grow against a wall in fan shape

Many urban gardeners don’t realise they could be growing abundant fruit in their micro backyards using the espalier technique. Here an apple tree is trained up in a fan shape which is both a feature and a productive edible garden.


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!


Espalier olive tree with eye ring and wire system. Branches are trained along the wire to produce a heavier crop of fruit.

This garden makes clever use of wall space growing an espalier olive tree for delicious fruit in season and under planted as a feature and for weed control. Planting horizontally also makes the wall space seem longer in a compact garden.


Vertical Gardening Video

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.


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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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2010. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.

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