Monday, July 25, 2011

Vertical Gardening 3: Ways to Improve the Design

Vertical Gardening part 3: Ways to Improve the Design

By Denis M. Sweeney
25 July, 2011

Some time has passed since I built the Vertical Garden outlined in my last posting. The plants have really established themselves and filled in the empty spaces. I'm quite pleased with the project overall. The plants have really taken to it, and I haven't lost many, if any at all. Time will tell if I am correct in my plant choices and guesses of choices of plants with relatively small root systems. If there is one thing that could be a problem later down the road it is large root systems.

This Could Be Even Better

As I was working on the project and having lived with the garden for a while, I have some ideas for things I would do differently and ideas for variations on the design.

Improvement: Backing

The back could just be a piece of 1/8" luan or similar plywood. I used 1/4" plastic grid hardware cloth with a layer of cardboard as a backing material. In retrospect, this is a bit of a gamble. If the cardboard rots away before the plants' root systems have fully established themselves, I could experience a soil exodus out the back of the structure. I don't think that will happen, but if I had used luan with some holes drilled in it for drainage, there would be no question.

Improvement: Structural Idea

The whole structure would be easy enough to do without a crate as a base. A 2x4 base would work equally well, and allow more control over the width and height of the garden. I envision a 12 or 14 foot wide, by 8 feet tall, wall of garden, but it could work with any length/height combination. Without the shipping pallet as a base, the project would be similar to building a framed wall for a house. One advantage of doing a larger wall would be a greater visual impact, but also would vastly improve the sound insulating qualities of the wall.

Improvement: Support

The original design has the garden structure leaning against a fence, but some kind of kickstand would be nice to allow it to be free-standing, and to prevent the weight of the garden structure from causing the fence to sag or become otherwise unstable.

Improvement: Irrigation

Building a drip hose into the structure would be a great enhancement to this project. Before the dirt is added, wind a drip hose through it, keeping in mind, that water naturally flows downward.

Improvement: Building Design

In the construction process, it would have been nice to assemble the front grid structure as one piece, and then staple the plastic fabric cloth to the back of it, and lastly, attach the whole grid structure to the under-structure. I made the mistake of adding the grid before adding the plastic cloth, and it was tedious and less effective than the improvement outlined above.



Even without irrigation, the use of fast-draining soil and succulent plants has ensured that the plants that make up this Vertical Garden do well. I even left them in the hands of a tween-ager, and they survived no-problem.

Hardware Cloth

The plastic hardware cloth I used, even though I would apply it differently next time, was a great material to work with. It keeps the soil contained and, with small incisions into it, can accomodate various-sized plants and root systems easily.


I can't say enough good things about the site Freecycle ( This free site was, and continues to be a great resource for plants, clippings and pots. You can post "Wanted: Clippings of your plants" posts that go out to the whole local distribution list. I find it very helpful. Check it out in your area!

Divide and Conquer

Buying an 8" pot or 12" pot of same or mixed succulents can be a great investment. What I like to do is buy several of the succulents and then carefully split them up to populate the newly-created grid of soil from the Vertical Garden. I didn't loose any plants doing this, and it is a way to ensure that you'll have more to share later. Buying a flat of 8 different 6" pots of succulents can go a long way if you're splitting them up. There are plenty to plant and even some left over to offer up to share on your local Freecycle site. Give it a try. My experience doing this was that I got some of my best plants this way, and made some good friends along the way. I highly recommend it.

Plant and Prosper

I did grow up on a farm and did have a garden at a young age, but I'm no expert when it comes to gardening. But what I lack in skill, I make up for in enthusiasm and willingness to try new things. Sure, I have inadvertently killed my share of houseplants in my day, and I hate when that happens. Given that dark history, I am inclined to crow about the living and growing qualities of this project. My patio is really small, and this vertical garden is the center focalpoint of the space. I can assure you that it is alive and continues to grow.


Watering is key to this project. -Plants here in California get lots of sun, but need help getting enough water. Personally, I water my garden daily, and look forward to the day when I figure out timers and how to automate the process, but for now I enjoy the tranquility of watering the plants and seeing the growth and changes. Your climate may differ, and you may need to encase the Vertical Garden, or perhaps you're interested in building yours in an indoor environment.

Feedback Loop

I'd love to hear where you are, and what you're up to and what you find works, and/or doesn't work. Please let me know about your experiences in the comments.

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