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Types of Plants
Not all plants suitable for vertical gardening need to be self-climbing, meaning those with a twining habit or grasping tendrils. Some, like indeterminate (vining) tomatoes, will need their long stems tied up using string or twist ties. Others, like strawberries, produce runners with a cascading habit, so these plants can be used in tower pots to drape their fruiting stems down, forming a curtain of foliage and fruit. Even low-growing plants like lettuces and peppers can be grown in a space-saving column by using tower pots that stack one on top of the other.
The vegetables most suited for vertical gardening are vining-type vegetables. Even with their natural tendency for vining, most of the vegetables I recommend need assistance to climb, so train their stems to grow upward using string or twist ties. You’ll need to match the weight of the vegetable you’re growing to an appropriate-strength support. Cucumbers, English peas, Malabar spinach, sweet potatoes, and pole beans need only a lightweight support like willow branches, netting, or string in order to climb. Other vegetables, such as edible gourds (including chayote), melons (especially cantaloupe), pumpkins (especially miniatures), squash (including climbing zucchini, vegetable spaghetti, and small winter types), watermelons, and yams (especially Chinese climbing) need stronger supports like tree branches, bamboo, and builder’s wire. When searching seed racks or garden catalogs for your flower section, be sure to check heights. Plant breeders have introduced dwarf varieties of traditionally tall plants like sweet peas and nasturtiums, so be sure to choose tall varieties for your vertical gardening beds.
These are low-growing plants that do not climb, but can be planted at the base of climbers; I call these plants foundation plants. They share space congenially with the roots of climbing plants, and their foliage nestles in comfortably with the vines and stems of these skyward neighbors. Some of my favorites are beets, cabbages, carrots, Swiss chard, eggplants, herbs, lettuces, onions, peppers, and turnips. These work well in raised beds and containers to accent climbers. Also consider a foundation planting of low-growing French marigolds as a natural insect repellent. When growing flowers vertically, other good low-growing foundation plants include wax begonias, multiflora petunias, and ‘Profusion’ cushion-type zinnias.
Container and Tower Pot Plants
Containers, Cascade planters (usually three tiers high), and tower pots (pots that stack one on top of another up a central column) are perfect for vertical small-space growing, especially on an impervious surface like a wooden deck or brick patio. Most containers (especially dish planters) and cascade planters with bowl-shaped receptacles allow room for a central climbing plant like a pole bean or cucumber in the middle, and several more plants positioned around the rim. Parsley and mini lettuce, for example, are ideal for surrounding a central climber. For planting around the rim, also consider edibles that cascade such as strawberries, sweet potatoes, and New Zealand spinach. Of course, these planters can be devoted to flowers or a combination of vegetables and flowers. In particular, it’s good to choose everbearing plants (like day-neutral strawberries) or everblooming annuals like nasturtiums.
There are two tall plants with strong stems that I’ve found can be used to support some of the climbing plants in a vertical garden. I’ve grown early-maturing sweet corn as a support plant in my own garden and have seen okra used as a support plant in Southern gardens. Because these plants are so sturdy, they can support many types of climbers, including pole beans, cucumbers, and single-serving size melons like ‘Tigger’, which will wrap around the stem of the support plant and shoot skyward.
Excerpted from Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out, for More Vegetables and Flowers in Much Less Space by Derek Fell. Published by Rodale.
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