There are many small-scale vertical garden kits suitable for balconies and courtyards or any spot you like. Some will work better than others. Before you invest time, money and enthusiasm, pause to consider the following, and also discuss at garden centers or see if you can find people with systems working well.

Your purpose

Are you inspired to disguise an ugly wall, bring greenery into a built environment, grow herbs and food plants, have a balcony garden or maybe you just love a gardening project?

Planting systems

Modular kits are readily available. Some have built-in irrigation and drainage collection systems. You need to be able to attach a hose, and for best results, and an irrigation timer is recommended. These are ideal for situations where drainage is an issue.

Cheaper versions are simply panels of planting pockets with a range of sizes and materials available. You’ll need to water by hand or install your own drip- irrigation. The size of each pocket influences plant choice and fertilizer requirements.

Growing medium

This can be organic or inorganic, the latter being a hydroponic system. Always choose the premium potting mix or enrich it with your own compost. Cheaper mixes tend to underperform.

Location

Is it indoors, outdoors, shady, sunny (both), windy, damp, under eaves, over a hard surface that will heat up? Can you leave a hose hooked up for auto-watering? Where will the water drain to?

Plants

The plants you choose need to be suited to the location. Plant selection is key to success. Plants that naturally grow on vertical surfaces without soil are called epiphytes. They tend to grow on trees or rocks in moist, often warm, protected environments such as rainforests or damp gullies. Many ferns, orchids, bromeliads, and vines are epiphytic.

Plants with shallow root systems are also suitable. Ornamental greenwalls come into their own when the plants grow so well that you can’t see the wall. Choose plants that are fast-growing and have dense, spreading foliage and a variety of forms. The chosen plants need to all like the same growing conditions.

Of course, if your mission is to grow herbs and food plants, you’ll choose edibles (see lists). An edible garden will thrive with larger planting pockets, a nutrient-
rich medium (a quality potting mix with some added compost) and good water supply. You can easily grow
a range of edibles including leafy greens, herbs, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, chillies and more.

Sunny spot edibles (A = annual, P = perennial)
Alpine strawberry (P), arugula (P), basil (A), chillies (P), chives (P) garlic chives (P), gotu kola (P), lemongrass (P), lettuce (A), nasturtium (P), oregano (P), parsley (A), radish (baby) (A), prostrate rosemary (P), strawberry (P), thyme (P), tomatoes (bush) (A), Vietnamese mint (P), warrigal greens (P).

Semi-shade edibles
Chervil (A), gotu kola (P), mint (P), nasturtium (P), parsley (A), peppermint (P), watercress (A).

First published: March 2020