Grow Up! How to Design Vertical Gardens for Tiny Spaces
If you’re one of the many people in the northern hemisphere who are counting down the days ’til springtime, chances are you may have also been daydreaming about gardening as well. March isn’t just one of the coldest months of the year—it’s also the month in which seed catalogs are sent out to green-thumbed folks everywhere, so plans can be made and plots can be mapped out in preparation for the luscious growing season ahead. If you happen to be lacking in yard space, there’s no need to feel left out! There are some brilliant ways to take full advantage of small spaces, and the key is to plant vertically.
As with any type of garden-planning, the very first thing you have to do is observe your space, so plan to spend a full day documenting your garden-to-be with a combination of photography and note-taking. Aim to wake a little before dawn so you can determine the first spot that gets early morning sunshine, and then take pictures every 30 minutes until the sun sets. This will allow you to determine the areas that get the most sunlight for the longest period of time and which remain shaded, so you can ensure that the light-gobbling plants get plenty of sunshine, and the shade lovers don’t get sunburned.
When it comes to assembling a vertical garden, you don’t have to go out and spend a crazy amount of money on the latest, coolest gadgets and gardening systems. Some of the most incredible green spaces are those that have been put together from found/up-cycled materials, and a trip around the neighborhood on recycling day may yield just the equipment that you need.
Pallets & Pockets
These are ideal for growing various types of greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.), herbs, and edible flowers. The key with these is to take advantage of sunny spots like the side of a building, the area alongside a fence, or the brightest part of your balcony/patio and maximize space and yield by cramming that entire space full of plants. Pallets are ideal for this, as they can be divided into separate compartments for different plant species, and they’re sturdy enough to protect your plants in case there are any summer storms or high winds. They’re also ridiculously cheap: you can probably even score some for free.
Have you ever seen one of those divided fabric shoe holders that can be hung in a closet or on the back of a door? Each of those little pockets can be stuffed with compost-rich soil and used to grow food plants. Imagine an entire fence decked out like that?
Gutters, Bottles & Cans
Gutters tend to get the short end of the stick as far as gardening is concerned, since the only time people seem to associate them with greenery is when they have to replace their rooftop gutters because trees are growing in them. You can actually grow a lot of food in gutters, whether you latch several of them to the side of a building, or hang sections of them one above the other on chains or durable rope. Just drill some holes into the bottom of each section for adequate drainage, add compost-rich potting soil, and tuck your plants into them. You do have to ensure that the plants you choose don’t require a lot of root space, so aim for assorted lettuces and mixed herbs rather than root vegetables.
You can also take full advantage of window ledges and balcony railings, and hang all manner of planters from them. In addition to hanging pop-bottle planters, you grow herbs in used water bottles, or punch drainage holes in aluminum cans and sling those around as well. As long as you leave enough space above and below your hanging containers so the other plants get adequate light, you can create an entire mosaic of food plants rising as high as you can reach.
Lattices, Webs & Trellises
If the best spot you have for growing food happens to be a sunny outdoor wall, you’re actually in luck: many plants love to climb, including pole beans, peas, tomatoes, nasturtiums, squashes, cucumbers, hops, and even melons. You can use just about anything to help coax your plants skyward, from sections of fence lattice to lengths of plastic mesh. I once used a broken futon frame for my beans, and that worked absolute wonders. Ultimately, you just need some sort of frame so the little tendril thingers that your plants use to climb with have something to cling to on their way up.
These structures don’t just have to be propped up against a wall either: if you have a small patch of yard space, you can lash bamboo poles together for your veg to climb, create trellises from string and wooden frames, or even make a climbing bean/pea tipi from old broom handles. Be creative, use whatever you have on hand, and you’ll be amazed at just how much you can grow.
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