Every new year seems to bring a new fad for the gardener (remember upside-down tomatoes?), and the outstanding one for 2014 is vertical gardening.
This appeals to me because I have no other way to increase my growing space. Santa kindly brought me an Amish-made kit for doing just this, with a finely crafted cedar wood frame with the netting and other necessities. It is designed to be hung on an outside wall and to hold a variety of succulents such as aloe, hens and chicks and sedum.
I just can't wait for spring to get going on this, as well as some other projects.
I have seen some vertical gardening kits made for inside use, but I think they would be messy to maintain and rather time-consuming. They might work well for house plants such as a peace lily or spider plant, but I have enough stuff in the house already to keep me busy.
Succulents are ideal for an outdoor wall container facing south or west. They are fairly drought-tolerant and come in all shades of green with red, white and silver accents. I use a lot of sedum in fairy gardens and am always on the lookout for new varieties. This will be another reason to keep looking.
In addition to succulents, some appropriate plants might be grassy specimens such as mondo grass, liriope or small spreading perennials such as ajuga, Scotch or Irish moss (sagina subulata) or miniature hostas or daylilies.
Some herbs would do well in a vertical planting on a sunny wall with prostrate rosemary, low-growing thyme, chives or the colorful Asian tri-color parsley. These herbs originated in warm Mediterranean climates and do not mind occasional dry spells with warm sun.
Sometimes my mind is way ahead of my abilities when thinking of new projects that involve tools and construction techniques. I can visualize a completed project, but the necessary steps to get there are usually beyond my ability. But, after all, that is why we have grandsons.
This is an example. I would think an old pallet, the more worn the better, would make an excellent large vertical garden. It would be heavy, filled with potting soil, and so would be best leaning against a wall or fence rather than hanging. The bottom would need to be covered with chicken wire stapled all around (I could manage that) and something like landscape fabric on what was originally the top and now becomes the back.
Snipping the mesh in the front to insert the plants should be possible, with a layer of sheet moss under the netting to keep the plants in place. I might just try this if I can find a pallet in the spring.
Come to think of it, I have one in the basement that keeps the Christmas tree out of the regular floods down there.
Any vertical planter would need a couple of weeks flat on the ground before being stood in its final spot in order for the roots to take a good hold, and then watering would be critical, especially in a hot summer.
A natural place for growing in the third dimension is the vegetable garden. Pole beans and cucumbers grow this way, and some varieties of peas, small melons and summer and winter squashes will climb happily with a little encouragement.
It is easy to make a tepee with no tools required from a few bamboo stakes tied together at the top and stuck into the ground. If climbing plants grow too enthusiastically, just nip off the growing tips to encourage branching.
A few inches of mulch is needed under any climber to keep the ground well hydrated for the special needs of plants, with tall stems where the moisture needs time to climb.
Looking outside now at the frozen ground with a light covering of snow looks rather bleak, but new ideas keep popping up, and soon it will be time to actually go out there and get started.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.