Vertical Vegetables

Frederick Law Olmstead’s office has a 19th century “vertical garden.” Vines!

I was somewhat dismayed to see a local newspaper article touting a company that sells a $1,000 vertical vegetable garden system to schools. The company has a plan to sell this system nationwide. The problem is that I have serious doubts about the long term viability of vertical garden walls for a number of reasons: irrigation, maintenance and start up costs just to name a few. And I’m not alone. The New York Times did some critical reporting on the subject of vertical garden systems in a recent article, “Gardens That Grow on Walls.”

For certain plants vertical growing might work. I haven’t tried it, but this DIY vertical succulent garden in Sunset Magazine certainly is striking. But vegetables? Their roots need space and you’d need to do a lot of watering to keep a vertical vegetable wall happy.

All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!But growing vertically does not have to mean attaching roots to a wall. I can think of two simple vertical vegetable garden strategies where that $1,000 would go a lot further. How about simply favoring fruits and vegetables that either grow vertically naturally, say pole beans, grapes, peas or kiwi or that can be convinced with a bit of pruning to go vertical, such as tomatoes, melons and winter squash? Mel Bartholomew has some nice vertical gardening tips in his classic book Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!. Build some raised beds next to a wall or saw cut out the concrete, plant in the ground and you’re in business.With some slings for the fruit, you can even grow watermelons vertically.

EARTHBOX GARDEN KIT GREENAlternately, buy or make some self irrigating planters (SIPs) and put them next to a wall. See the Green Roof Growers for what can be grown vertically with SIPs made from scavenged five gallon buckets. Or you can buy a commercially made SIP kit from the Earthbox company for around $50. The nice thing about SIPs is that they are fairly idiot proof and easy to maintain. A SIP is as close to “plant and forget about it” as you can get with vegetables. In short, perfect for schools where maintenance is always an issue.

As one of the vertical wall landscape designers admitted in that New York Times article, “in nature, you don’t have vertical dirt.” Why fight nature?

Leave a comment


  1. I agree. There are just so many other ways to grow that are lower maintenance and use less water. Why complicate things? I fear that schools will install these, realize they are too much work, toss them and decide that school gardens aren’t worth the effort.

  2. I can very much appreciate your point made from the Square Foot Gardening book. As the growing season here in New England is at its peak, I’ve run into the same problem I always do: over-crowded garden because I tried to squeeze in more than I should have.

    Consider the Square Foot Gardening book on the list to read for next year.

    Thanks for the post!


  3. I agree! Those felt wall hanging things for growing strawberries drive me insane. Totally against how strawberries naturally thrive! One day I dream of having a fence overgrown with passionflower, hops, grapes, beans..

  4. Agreed! I grow vertically using SFG methods and it is wonderful and cheap! I live in Los Angeles where space is expensive. I grow indeterminate tomatoes, cukes, squash, melons and beans vertically on the north side of beds (so as to not cast shadows on the other portion of the same beds). The melons and veggies never touch the ground and so are fresh and beautiful! I built the vertical beds with concrete mesh (that you lay under concrete) for strength and because the “walls” also form a fence to keep my rambunctious dogs out of the veggie beds. I have found Mel’s methods to be extremely space-saving and . . . even better: the roots get water not the leaves. Less powdery mildew as well.

  5. I had visions of earthworms building themselves into pyramids to get into the freaking vertical planters, when I first skimmed this post.

  6. i have grown many plants in these systems and they work great and cost next to nothing at all to run from start to finish all you need is a timer a pump some tubing and the sun.a major + is they can be up away from pain in the ass dogs like mine who eat my plants if they can reach them even on tables.

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