Popularity of vertical gardens on the up

GARDENING is on the up. Vertical planting is on the rise as urban gardeners with small outdoor spaces make the most of their walls to plant everything from lavish flower displays to home-grown vegetables.

The trend, which involves using specially-designed planters that can be hung from walls and trellises, is growing in popularity in city gardens as well as a number of community gardening projects because of its eco-friendly credentials and space-saving techniques.

The rise is being fuelled by the big increase in food bills over the past two years with home-owners cutting costs by planting a range of edible crops, including strawberries, peppers, and other fruits and vegetables.

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Ready-planted wall panels are available for sale and can be simply mounted and irrigated. Green walls can even be installed indoors and fed from a reservoir which trickles water down the grid of plants.

An edible wall consists of a metal panel – measuring two feet square by about four inches deep – that has openings filled with soil and planted with vegetables. Supporters claim they are less expensive than the average greenhouse and they can also save energy by providing insulation on outer walls.

Leigh Hunt, principal advisor at the Royal Horticultural Society, which tomorrow launches its first National Gardening Week, said: “One of the main appeals is that vertical gardening is aesthetic. People like the look of it and it produces really interesting foliage textures on the wall. Why have bricks when you can look at interesting planting?”

He added: “Vertical gardening gives you lots of different options which is very exciting. It provides ways of growing things in high spaces so it’s ideal for urban gardeners with small courtyards or city gardens and means you can grow things like herbs, tomatoes, salads, radishes and heavier crops like squash.”

Community groups are also adopting vertical gardening. Greener Kirkcaldy, in Fife, has just been awarded funding by the government’s Climate Change Fund to create a vertical garden which it hopes will serve as a model for amateur gardeners in the area.

“We want to encourage people to grow more at home,” said board member Jackie Vural. “Food is quite expensive to buy so we’re encouraging people to grow their own. We have a site in an old walled garden and we’ll be growing lots of soft fruits as well as fruit trees against the walls, and encouraging people to make the most of the space they’ve got at home by growing crops on walls too.”

At last year’s Chelsea Flower Show, retail chain B&Q displayed the show’s tallest ever garden, in which all crops were edible and grown through vertical grow boxes. An entire industry has also sprung up providing vertical gardening boxes and grow bags which allow plants to grow above head height. However, growing on the vertical rather than the horizontal can have its complications.

Lesley Watson, Beechgrove Garden presenter, and co-owner of Hopetoun Garden Centre, in Edinburgh, said: “It’s a magnificent thing but it has to be carefully managed. It’s not always straightforward as the plants often need to have some sort of irrigation system. But it makes for a brilliant space saver because it gives us greener walls, it’s great for the environment and it’s such a good use of that space.”

She added that it was a trend that was likely to grow in popularity. “People want to feel as if they have a bit of control again, they’re so much in the hands of the supermarkets so having their own little bit of this earth, no matter how small it is, and being able to produce food for your family or freshly cut flowers for the house is something people find enormously rewarding. With that, people don’t necessarily want big gardens because they don’t have the time to manage them, whereas with something like this, they feel far more in control.”

The trend even extends to indoor planting. One firm, Crieff-based Flowerbox, sells designer plants in vertical containers that can be easily maintained for years at a time.

“If you consider modern lifestyles, we’re busy doing many things and looking after plants is another hassle,” said owner Donald Morrison. “It’s something else to forget. The design of these means that they are easy to care for and they declutter the house. Years ago people had windowsills full of plants but in modern apartment living we don’t have windowsills – the idea of these plants is you can have them on your wall as a piece of art or a centre piece.”