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GARDENING: Sky’s the limit

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Vertical gardening increases available space and takes colour to new heights

Vertical gardening opens up a world of exciting possibilities, especially in small gardens where space is limited. Taking advantage of vertical space adds ground space, defines boundaries, entrances and paths and creates privacy. It is also useful for screening different parts of the garden and hiding utilities. 

How do you use vertical space in the garden? Here are a few tips…

Romantic Gardens

Chinese jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) provides a specular show and alluring fragrance in the last weeks of winter, into spring. Picture: Lukas Otto

Step into a walled garden and you travel back in time to mystery and romance. In The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett writes: “She was inside a wonderful garden, and she could come through the door under the ivy anytime and she felt she had found a world all her own.”

In Victorian times, there were walled flower gardens and the more common walled kitchen garden where fruit trees were espaliered, their branches trained to grow flat against a wall, for protection from cold and where the warmth of the brick walls helped ripened fruit.

While the average suburban garden does not have space for a traditional walled garden, as well as house and outbuilding walls, there are boundary walls for vertical gardening. Town houses that have height, but limited width, can be softened and clothed by climbers. The space solution to narrow passageways alongside a property is to grow vertically.

Living Walls

The first record of a vertical man-made garden was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World. Hedges are living walls – on boundaries they are useful windbreaks, internally they divide the garden into rooms. Hedges can be evergreen or mixed for seasonal interest.

Low-growing hedges define paths and beds. “Fedge” is a fun name given to a boundary composed of a fence and a hedge and is a pleasing alternative to a solid wall. The fence keeps out intruders and the plants filter noise and dust, while screening the home from the road and passers-by.

Botanist Patrick Blanc is famous for his amazing living tapestries on exterior and interior walls of buildings. He uses supporting structures so roots do not cause damage to the original walls. There can be pitfalls for the amateur when installing living wall projects, such as damage to walls and setting up a watering and feeding system, and is best left to professionals, who will also advise on correct plant selection.

In home gardens, fabric pockets and rain gutters with drainage holes can be attached to walls, filled with composted soil and planted with salad greens that don’t require a lot of root space.

Vertical Supports

‘The Ridge School’, a panarosa rose, is a vigorous grower, suitable for planting against a trellis or training up a pillar. Picture: Lukas Otto

Trellis is one of the most popular supports for growing plants vertically. Archways and arbours increase growing space, as do pillars on patios. Decorative obelisks are useful supports for climbing roses. A coat of paint will transform a practical vertical feature into an attractive focal point.

A gazebo with built-in seating and lattice-panels or retractable curtains on the sides, clothed with fragrant climbers and surrounded with evergreen shrubs for privacy, makes a charming decorative feature. Tower pots add height on patios and balconies.

Strawberry pots, with multiple openings where the fruit hangs down, are also ideal for growing herbs.

Climbers

Plant a pergola with fragrant flowers for a relaxing seating area. Picture: Kay Montgomery

Climbing plants, as well as adding visual appeal, provide colour in high places. Choose a climber to suit the place and the climate, with a support sufficiently strong to handle the weight and strong winds.

Some climbers, such as clematis, use their leaves to twist around supports; runner beans, honeysuckle and wisteria have twining stems. Sweet peas have tendrils that help them in their upward journey; climbing roses need to be tied to their support.

Ivy and Virginia creeper have rootlets or pads that adhere to surfaces.Be aware that these pads can penetrate masonry surfaces and damage walls. 

Vertical Veg

Clematis use their leaves to twist around the provided supports. Picture: Warren Schmidt

Vegetable gardens need not be limited to ground space. Runner beans, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash take up little space when grown vertically on sturdy frames, such as trellis or wigwams.

Growing vegetables and fruit vertically makes harvesting easier and there is less likelihood of fungal disease because there is more air circulation and the plants are less likely to suffer from snail damage or fruit rot.

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