Three local experts weigh in with how-to advice and ideas.
Vertical gardening takes on many forms — high-rise retreats, ground-level havens and living walls. For those who are space challenged, you’re not out of the gardening game. Making use of vertical planes makes sense for those who have limited horizontal space, including apartment dwellers, condo owners and homeowners with small yards.
With spring rapidly approaching, it’s an opportune time to transform that nook into a year-round source of enjoyment. Three local experts weigh in with how-to advice and ideas. Hear more at the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival, February 20-24 at the Washington State Convention Center.
Karen Chapman of Le Jardinet, one of over 70 seminar speakers at this year’s festival, has a unique perspective on this growing trend.
“Vertical gardening — the very term makes me smile. Why? Because I’m English — and we were doing this for centuries before it became a buzz word here. Regardless, it is the perfect way to create big impact in a small space — by growing up!”
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The landscape designer and personal container coach recommends “thinking big.”
“Just because the footprint is small doesn’t mean containers should be diminutive. Tall, slender pots filled with appropriately sized shrubs, conifers, perennials and annuals gives the impression of grandeur.”
Chapman suggests adding a flourish of seasonal accents, such as colored twigs or spring bulbs, for instant drama and gratification.
“I like to layer plants when I design, using something small and skinny at the back of a narrow border, with a fluffier shrub or perennial at the base, and perhaps ephemeral spring bulbs used as a short-term carpet.”
This principle works equally well in an in-ground border or a container. For example, an evergreen Sky Pencil Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’) might have black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’) at the base with golden daffodils heralding spring, their spent foliage quickly hidden by the emerging perennials.
“I remind gardeners of all experience levels that small spaces are not an excuse, but an opportunity.”
“Gardening in small spaces is very freeing,” says Grace Hensley, designer and owner of Fashion Plants LLC. “New gardeners don’t have to be paralyzed by decisions. You can just go for it, and not worry about making mistakes with plants or investing in expensive hardscapes.
The best part about small-space gardening is that it’s just right-sized. You’re not a slave to tending it and you can tweak and tidy a few minutes each week, leaving more time for just sitting and dreaming,” she says.
Hensley, who has designed one of the small space gardens in the festival’s “City Living” display, offers these tips for beauty and success with small space, vertical gardens.
Flowers are fleeting, but foliage is forever. Conifers and broad-leaved shrubs provide a long-lasting anchor to any design. Heucheras are great perennials because they come in so many leaf colors and pair with everything. Leave a tiny bit of space to pop in seasonal annuals, like pansies in winter, primroses in spring, New Guinea impatiens for shady spots or diascias and nemesias for summer sun.
Plant more pots. Create your personal jungle with hanging baskets and containers on pedestals. They don’t need to match, but aim for a consistent style like modern, glazed or terracotta.
“Don’t feel bad about getting rid of plants that don’t look their best at the end of the season,” says Hensley. “Thank them for bringing you joy, compost them and buy more.”
Fences and walls are becoming new “landscapes,” says Sue Goetz, an award-winning designer as “The Creative Gardener.” She is increasingly incorporating living walls into her client projects.
“In small urban spaces and narrow planting beds, growing vertical is a great solution to surround a space with a garden when in-ground planting space is at a premium,” says Goetz, who will also speak at the festival.
A boring fence or wall can be transformed with appropriate plants coupled with wall-pocket systems for soil management and drip watering. For a healthy wall, follow-up care includes trimming and tidying as the plants mature.
“These spaces not only add beauty, but can be an extension of your lifestyle,” says Goetz. “For example, a living wall of fragrant herbs not only provides natural aromatherapy, but a great addition to your next meal.”
Take a step outside and create new vision for the special small space where you live. The festival, area designers and merchants are great resources. Vertical gardening is certainly looking up!
The Northwest Flower & Garden Festival runs 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. Feb. 20-23, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 24. Early Bird admission (purchased online through Feb. 19), $19; adult (at the door) $24; adult (online) $22; ages 13 to 17 $7; 12 and younger free.