Talk to any garden designer and most will agree that people focus too much attention on the ground and forget about the possibilities of vertical gardening.
“I certainly did when I started,” says Lalieth White, garden designer at Outside Contemporary Garden Design in Vancouver. “All I thought about were plants, weeds and terra firma.”
And that’s a mistake, because vertical spaces provide a whole new gardening dimension and help make the most of every nook and cranny—especially for those working with tiny areas. Gardening upward can also provide shade and privacy, create depth or intrigue, and even save your back by minimizing the need to stoop while you work.
Products designed for vertical gardening include planters with attached trellises, flat-backed pots, shelving units and living-wall products.
For small gardens, as opposed to patios or balconies, Jeffry de Jong, an instructor of horticulture at Olds College in Calgary and Olds, Alberta, likes to position vertical elements away from walls and fences. “If you hug the perimeter, it only accentuates the smallness of the space,” he says.
Instead, he suggests using a segment of trellis to create a freestanding wall somewhere in the garden. And by placing a container or two in front of the trellis, you can draw people to a seating area or a quiet, contemplative space. “Your small yard now has an exclamation point,” says de Jong. “And you can also compartmentalize the area more effectively.”
A trellis wall allows air and light to filter through, but acts as a bit of a windbreak, a bonus in tinier, narrow lots, which can sometimes become wind tunnels.
Another way to maximize height on a patio or balcony is to nest three different-sized pots within one another. First, fill them with soil, being sure to compact the centre of each pot, then place the biggest one on the bottom, the next size up in the middle and the smallest on top (to secure the containers and help prevent tipping, run a length of 2.5-centimetre pipe through the drainage holes in each one). Planted up, they provide a lush illusion of height but occupy little room.
When putting a vertical structure in the garden, de Jong recommends making it no more than a third of the width of the yard. “Anything more and it monopolizes the space and makes the lot feel smaller,” he says. As for height, 1.8 metres tall is about right. And be creative. De Jong sometimes cuts an opening in the middle of a trellis for a peephole, or from which to suspend a piece of stained glass. “The glass also gives you wonderful colour in winter,” he says.