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Wall crawlers


Vertical gardening makes use of small spaces to create living walls.

Allison May April 20th, 2011

While vertical gardening may be as old as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, it’s the hot new thing in garden design.

Also known as green walls, living walls or even the evocative “sky farm,” it can be as simple as trellising a vine or as complex as creating a mini-rain forest on the walls of your home. Whatever the name, the added dimension can have a big impact on your garden.

You might go vertical because nothing more could possibly be crammed into the flower beds. Or perhaps you live in an apartment and have no flower beds at all. Green wall systems mimic natural habitats where plants grow in pockets on rocks or trees, surviving sometimes hundreds of feet above the soil. Frames of multihued succulents, verdant walls of thyme or spiky outbursts of staghorn ferns have all popped up in gardening magazines.

“It’s a trend that hasn’t really caught on here as much as in more temperate climates,” said Tami Adams of Calvert’s Plant Interiors.

In places like Florida, green walls can stay outside year-round, but Calvert’s green wall is in its greenhouse, where it is a hanging grid with plants tucked directly into a foam base. Drip irrigation at the top of the wall hydrates the plants, and the excess water is caught in a tray at the bottom, and recirculated to the top. Ferns and arrowhead philodendrons spill, hiding the frame, and creating a lush waterfall of greenery.

Another possible system to install uses pots suspended on a wire frame.

“That allows for a much more diverse plant selection, and the design can be changed periodically,” said Victor Goetz, Calvert’s general manager.

These indoor rain forests aren’t cheap, but many options exist. One new product is the Woolly Pocket, constructed of a breathable material made from recycled plastic bottles.

Victor Goetz, stands beside the “green wall” at Calvert’s Plant Interiors.

“From growing edibles in the kitchen, or having a ‘living painting’ over the living-room couch, anyone can garden, and do so without a lot of bending,” said Miguel Nelson, co-owner of Woolly Pockets. “Our goal is to inspire the world to have more fun with plants.”

Almost anything that can hold soil can be used to make a wall garden. Those ugly canvas shoe organizers that never really deliver on the promise of a neat closet? Fill those pockets with a good quality soilless mix. If you throw a lot of cocktail parties, try planting your pockets with orange mint, rose-scented geraniums, purple ruffles basil, lemon verbena and other unusual varieties to muddle in your Mojitos. Creeping varieties of thyme or rosemary would have a nice cascading effect.

If you are more of a chef than mixologist, you might want some salad ingredients hanging right outside (or in!) the kitchen. Tuck mixed baby-lettuce plants into the pockets and maybe a strawberry plant or two to nibble on as you pass.

The big advantages of the vertical garden are that the onerous task of weeding is eliminated, and there is no clay or poor soil to dig up and amend. You’re also safe from the vicissitudes of soil-borne diseases, but there is a catch.

“I think plant selection is particularly important in Oklahoma because of the wind and the heat and the desiccation effects of this combination,” said Kim Paddyacker, a local master gardener.

If you do your watering manually, keeping your wall garden sufficiently hydrated might start to feel like a second job by blazing July, so think twice before placing it outside on a south-facing wall. With the garden closer to eye level, the delicate curls of ferns, striking spirals of echeverias and slow swelling of strawberries can all be appreciated in detail.

From wall-mounted living salad bowls to succulent pieces of art, the sky is the limit in a vertical garden.

 
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