Over the past few years there has been a lot of buzz about vertical gardens. Patrick Blanc, the French botanist, has created some amazing spaces on a large scale, using a wide variety of plants to transform whole buildings. Of course there is more to his vertical gardens than meets the eye. His crews construct huge freestanding armatures with built in irrigation systems, which is a necessity for the types of plants he uses. A big concern for me concerning his designs is plant hardiness. This is not a problem with his indoor or tropical climate gardens, but how does one sustain these plantings in northern climates without huge plant losses?
We considered how we could turn this concept of using vertical space into something more practical that most gardeners could implement on their own. What type of plantings would not need an irrigation system built in? Chris and I decided we could create sustainable vertical gardens using rot resistant wood for the boxes and plant them with drought tolerant succulents which will survive quite well without lots of water. They hold up well the entire growing season on a sun filled south facing wall, and could be taken down for the winter. The boxes could either be brought indoors if they were planted with tender succulents, or if planted with hardy succulents, laid on the ground, covered with a winter mulch. Here?s a quick how to:
Rot resistant wood such as cedar or mahogany.We used 1 x 4’s for the box and frame, and 1 x 8’s for the backing.
Wire mesh with 1-2″ openings
Well drained succulent potting soil and assorted low growing succulents
Decide what your dimensions will be and build your box. Fill with a well-drained succulent potting soil.
Lay a wire grid over the soil. This will help secure plants in place while they root in.
I always start by first placing the showiest plants. You may need to cut wider openings in the wire mesh to allow for bigger roots.
I then fill in around my focal point plants with other low growing succulents. Be careful not to select plants that tend to grow tall.
Your best choices are plants which are going to stay under 4″, especially ones that stay under 2″.
After the planting is done, you can attach the frame.
Plants will establish good root systems in 6-8 weeks, or even more quickly in warm weather. Some plants may overtake their neighbors, so a little trimming back could be necessary. You may also want to tuck in a cutting here and there to refine your “painting” as it grows out.
Watering can be done by spraying the plants with a hose early in the day (be careful not to water when the sun is strong or you will get water scars on the foliage). Or, remove the box from its mount, lie flat and give a good soak. Succulents are not plants that need a lot of fertilization, but if you think it’s necessary you can use a diluted fish emulsion to give them an occasional boost.