What is Vertical Gardening?
By Derek Fell
Excerpted from Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out, For More Vegetables and Flowers in Much Less Space, by Derek Fell, with permissions from Rodale (c) 2011. The following excerpt can be found on Pages iv to vii, 1 to 4 and 63.
Vertical gardening is the way to grow! You can make the most of your garden space by growing delicious vegetables and fruits and colorful flowers up on a trellis, on garden netting, in a tower of pots, and over garden structures, while enjoying the benefits of easier maintenance, healthier plants, effortless harvesting, and higher yields.
Growing “Up” From Here
Once you learn how easy it is to change your garden from a horizontal system to a vertical one, you’ll be rewarded with a garden that involves less work and more benefits. Even people with plenty of space for a garden are finding that traditional ways of gardening (with long horizontal rows) can lead to disappointing results–the more space you try to cultivate, the more likely you are to get discouraged by aggressive weed growth, encounter problems such as pests and diseases, find that watering a large area is a never-ending commitment, and get overwhelmed when there’s so much garden to care for on a weekly basis.
After years of research in my own gardens, I’ve developed and honed the art of vertical gardening, and I’m anxious to spread the word. Growing vegetables vertically will change your old way of growing plants in rows and beds. If you’re one of the millions of people who want to experience gardening for the first time, one of the millions of gardeners looking for easier and more rewarding ways to garden, or one of the millions of gardeners who have given up on gardening because of disappointing results, consider the incredible benefits of my vertical gardening experience:
• Growing plants up, not out, in beds with a small footprint
• Less soil preparation and digging from Day 1
• More plant variety in much less space
• Many opportunities to create bottom-up and top-down plantings
• Less weeding in vertical beds, spaces, and pots
• Many space-saving container and stacking options
• Fewer maintenance chores
• Improved air circulation and less risk of plant diseases and pests
• Easier tending and harvesting–all at eye level
• Less bending and less backbreaking work
• Larger yields in a compact space
• Top-performing vertical vegetables, fruits, and flowers–especially vining types
• And much, much more fun!
The biggest mistake gardeners make in planting a garden is starting too big. After they dig the soil in a large garden plot and plant a traditional horizontal garden in long, straight rows or large raised beds, summer days get hot and humid, encouraging a forest of weeds and creating a daily need for plant watering. Gardeners get busy with summer activities, and it’s a challenge to find enough time to tend flowers or vegetables. When the harvesting, cooking, and preserving becomes time-consuming and overwhelming, gardeners give up and just let their gardens sprawl out of control–until a cold snap hits and the disappointing results are “put to bed” for another year. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
Vertical gardening saves time and work, allowing you to spend less time tending and more time enjoying your garden. As you delve into each chapter of this book, you’ll find my best advice and tips for creating planting beds of small spaces or strips of soil; using trellises and supports in new and attractive ways; and choosing the best plants for climbing, cascading, and growing vertically.
What Is a Vertical Garden?
I’d like to welcome you to a garden where vegetables, flowers, and fruit all grow, climb, and twine upward to create a beautiful landscape that saves space, requires less effort, produces high yields, and reduces pest and disease problems. Whether your goal is armloads of flowers, a bountiful vegetable garden, or a productive fruit harvest, I’ll show you how narrow strips of soil, bare walls, and simple trellises and arches can be transformed into grow-up or grow-down gardens with just a few inexpensive supplies or purchased planters. I’ve been testing gardening methods in my own 20-acre garden at Cedaridge Farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, for 20 years, and I want you to discover the same delights and benefits of vertical gardening that I’m enjoying.
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. There are hundreds of varieties of vegetables, fruits, and flowers that are perfect for growing up freestanding and wall-mounted supports and in beds or containers.
Best of all, vertical gardening guarantees a better result from the day your trowel hits your soil–by shrinking the amount of garden space needed and reducing the work needed to prepare new beds. Chores like weeding, watering, fertilizing, and controlling pests and diseases are reduced considerably, while yields are increased, especially with vegetables like beans and tomatoes. A vining pole bean will outyield a bush bean tenfold. Moreover, a vining vegetable is capable of continuous yields–the more you pick, the more the plant forms new flowers and fruit to prolong the harvest. A bush variety, by contrast, will exhaust itself within 2 to 3 weeks.
A Japanese wisteria vine twines upward through the canopy of this small-scale replica of Monet’s bridge. The long flower clusters offer an intimate and fragrant resting spot while viewing the water garden at Cedaridge Farm.
With vertical gardening methods, you’ll also discover that many ground-level plants pair beautifully with climbing plants, so you can combine different types of plants to create a lush curtain of flowers, foliage, and bounty. With a mix of do-it-yourself and commercially available string supports, trellises, pergolas, raised beds, Skyscraper Garden trellises, and Topsy-Turvy planters, vertical gardening saves a lot of time and work, lessens backbreaking tasks, makes harvesting easier, and is perfect for any size space, from a patio container and a 1 x 4-foot strip of soil to a landscape trellis and the entire side of a building.
Laying The Groundwork
I first encountered a successful no-dig garden at the Good Gardeners Association in Hertfordshire, England. I visited the home of the group’s founder, the late Dr. W. E. Shewell-Cooper, in 1970, when I went to interview him for an article in Horticulture magazine. On my return to the United States, I also discovered The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book, which was one of the first books that advocated a system of no-dig gardening through in situ (in place) composting. Stout explained how she created planting beds by putting down newspapers to suffocate existing weeds and grass; piling on layers of organic waste, such as spoiled hay and kitchen scraps, as mulch to decompose; and then planting directly into this compost. This system of gardening has appealed to many people during the past 40 years, even though its focus has been gardening horizontally.
Many no-dig plots based on Ruth Stout’s book have been established in public demonstration gardens, including one maintained by the ECHO Foundation (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) near Fort Myers, Florida. The foundation began its first no-dig garden in 1981, which remained in continuous production for years as a vegetable garden in the middle of what had been a lawn. It was never plowed, cultivated, spaded, or hoed. Around the same time, engineer-turned-author Mel Bartholomew introduced his own concept in his book Square Foot Gardening, which promoted raised beds and intensively planted crops that allowed gardeners to grow more in less space. Mel has convinced millions of gardeners around the world to switch to easy no-dig raised beds. And then along came Patricia Lanza with her blockbuster book Lasagna Gardening. After struggling to amend the soil in her gardens, she, too, realized that layering compostable ingredients was the best way to start new garden beds, and she’s been growing flowers, vegetables, and herbs for years in her “lasagna” layers.
For the past couple of decades, I’ve studied, tried, and implemented gardening systems that produce better results in less space with less work. Many no-dig methods were developed specifically for gardening horizontally, but I’ve found that these same no-dig techniques are even better suited to vertical gardening. With vertical gardening, plants require much less space than plants that grow horizontally, so those same layering techniques are even more efficient when used in conjunction with the small-footprint beds I recommend. While most no-dig systems suggest that a 6-inch depth of fertile soil is adequate, I prefer a soil depth of 6 to 12 inches in a raised planting bed, because vining plants generally have more vigorous root systems than dwarf plants or plants grown horizontally. Plants grown in 6 to 12 inches of fertile soil respond magnificently to that extra soil depth by delivering maximum yields.
Cascading Plants For Vertical Gardens
Bacopa (Bacopa ‘Snowflake’)
Begonia (Begonia boliviensis ‘Bonfire’)
Coleus (Solenostemon ‘Solaris’)
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata)
Cup flower (Nierembergia)
Fan flower (Scaevola)
Fuchsia, weeping (Fuchsia hybrids)
Geranium, ivy-leaf (Pelargonium peltatum)
Impatiens, trailing (Impatiens hybrids)
Lantana (Lantana camara)
Lobelia (Lobelia erinus cultivars, Cascade Series)
Nasturtiums, vining (Tropaeolum majus)
Osteospermum, trailing African daisy (Osteospermum ecklonis)
Petunia (Petunia ‘Purple Wave’)
Petunias, mini (Calibrachoa ‘Million Bells’)
Sedum (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’)
Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas)
Tickseed (Bidens ferulifolia, also sold as ferulaefolia)
Verbena, trailing (Verbena x hybrida)
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