Vertical Growing for Small Garden Spaces


Every yard can have a garden, even the smallest balcony, deck, entryway or patio. One way to have as many plants as you can fit in your space is to grow UP. If you want ornamentals or food or both, it can be done with a little planning and imagination.

The basic vertical support is the trellis. It can be a simple wooden fan-shaped frame or an elaborate cast iron design with flowers, birds and planets on it. I made one by cutting 12” long pieces of willow branches and nailing them horizontally about a foot apart to the porch support! Trellises range from small enough to put in a container to tall enough to reach higher than your first floor. When you place one against a wall, be sure there is enough space behind it for the plant to get good air circulation and grow properly.

The role of the trellis and arbor

A trellis can create a privacy scree when it’s not against a wall. If it is attached to a container for planting, it is portable enough to be placed where you need height and privacy most.

An arbor is basically two trellises connected with a top. Plants grow up each side and meet on top creating shade and the sense of an outdoor room.

Trellises and arbors hold ornamentals or vegetable plants. Tomatoes, cucumbers, summer and winter squash, green beans can be grown in trellises. Ornamentals include trumpet vine, English ivy, clematis, morning glory, honeysuckle, Virginia Creeper and wisteria. When plants are growing UP, there is more room for living on the floor.

Vertical fruit trees and pallet gardens

Fruit trees can be espaliered onto a wall. They are trained to grow along a series of vertical and horizontal supports. They produce as much food as a regular fruit tree, and they are delightful to look at, too! My mother had an espaliered pear tree under our kitchen window.

Pallets can be sealed on the back and bottom with plastic, filled with soil and planted. Small annual herbs and shallow rooted vegetables such as lettuce fit perfectly in the open spaces. You could also plant it with small succulents. Place the pallet on a wall or use as fencing, or plant it on both sides to use as a divider. A series of them could create a separate outdoor room! A pallet garden provides much greenery and food in a very shallow space.

Vertical gardens on fences

If you already have a fence, use it as a vertical support. Cover it with 4”x4” mesh or chicken wire for vines to wind around. You could fasten supports to hold small pots that are decorative and colorful for an artsy effect. Recycled gutters along a fence or wall effectively hold small plants, too.

vine tomatoes on a fence

Get creative and green by upcycling shelves and ladders as growing supports. I have a Rocky Mountain Clematis wound around an old ladder. As it reached the eaves of the house, I tacked some old wire fencing between the rafters. The vine now drapes down over my bedroom window for shade. It’s also wonderful to look at from inside, since we don’t have a lot of trees here!

Hanging pots are a good way to make more space on the ground without missing out on greenery. Three-tiered onion baskets can be lined with sphagnum moss and filled with potting soil to grow annual flowers, herbs and greens. You could make a tiered planter with any sort of pot, some fasteners and some chain. You’d be able to customize it for the height of your space and for various plants you’d like to use.

Don’t forget about trees as vertical gardens, too. A small space would need a small tree or maybe a tall narrow species. Trees can frame a view or define an outdoor room. They create shade, privacy and a sense of coziness.

You can grow UP in many ways. Your imagination is the only thing stopping you from doubling or tripling the plant life in your outdoor living area. Vertical gardening is the way to go in a small yard!

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