Vertical Gardening Ideas….Tube Planters

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Plants

I was transformed into a lover and student of vertical gardening after seeing Patrick Blanc’s vertical wall designs years ago in a magazine. I’ve written about vertical gardening on GGW over the past few years. Since then, the field has continued to grow at a quick pace. The horticultural industry is focusing more and more on green roofs and vertical gardening, realizing that these two forms of gardening are not only environmentally beneficial but can help expand peoples’ horizons of how to create a garden when dealing with an unconventional space.

In he 1980s, Pat McWhinney noticed that many rock and waterfall type projects were lacking plant life around the rock formations. Consequently, he created a unique plant system called Tube Planters.  I first became aware of Tube Planters, thanks to Debra Lee Baldwin’s book, Succulent Container Gardens. Tube Planter can be used for a variety of purposes in several different settings such as rockscapes, living walls, free standing plant columns, living arches, hillsides and horizontal plantings. For the purposes of this article, I’m focusing on vertical gardening.

Tube Planter #10

Tube planters are made of an industrial cloth: Patrick has them sown up by a seamstress into circular tubes and lengths of varying dimensions. A machine then packs the tubes with a special horticultural mix. The results can be dazzling (as shown in the photos below). They’re exquisitie when used as vertical walls but as a ‘newbie’ at roof top gardening, I can easily imagine how rows of them could work beautifully as transportable garden beds. And boy, would they ever be easier to maintain than dozens of containers!

009[1].JPG-Tube Planter #12

Five tube planters secured to a latticed screen, ready to be planted. Patrick describes this type of design as an air mattress configuration.

Tube Planter-#8

An example of a single tube (on the production table) planted with a lush variety of succulents

DSCN0244[1].JPG-Tube Planter #1

Succulent framed walls in a variety of sizes

Tube Planter-#4

Close up of an intricate tapestry of color and shapes

Tube Planter-#5

Fewer varieties of plant material can still make for an outstanding living wall

Tube Planter-#6

Vertical and horizontal succulent tube planters on latticed wall

Tube Planter-#7

One year growth of ferns growing in a 4″ tube planter. Although succulents are the current rage because of ease of care, beauty and drought resistance, most plants will thrive in the tube planter environment.

039[1].JPG-Tube Planter #11

Agapanthus in 4 inch tube planter in full bloom. They were initially planted with 2″ liners two years ago. This is a great example of creating a horizontal garden look. In urban areas, it will help to provide greenery and beautify the appearance of buildings without any heavy pots, clutter or wasted water. How cool is that?

014[1].JPG-ficus in plastic troughs

Green Gem Ficus plants/trees grown in a tube planter 15 years. As you can see, the roots are trying to escape the container trough. Had they been grown in the ground, they would probably be 20′ high by now.

Here is some additional information that Patrick offered about tube planters.

The trough seen in the photo above is the linear equivalent to a saucer under a potted plant. Troughs are intended to support the tubes and to contain any excess water seepage, especially important when used on balconies, decks, etc. The trough itself is simply a catch basin and conversely, functions as a method of watering the planted tubes, as the water is wicked up into the soil in the tubes.

Tube planters are particularly well suited for roof top gardens. Water-proofing between tubes and roof is essential. Again, tubes in plastic troughs will accomplish this. Tubes placed next to each other will give a full ‘garden-bed’ feel, whether grasses, wildflowers, or natives to the area.

062[1].JPG-Tube Planter @9

Fescues planted in horizontal tube. Imagine rows of them, along with other grasses to create a meadow like setting.

Filling a plastic trough with only a few inches of loose soil would not be the optimum way to grow plants. Tube planters do not require being seated in the troughs; it is simply more efficient. In my experience, the smaller segments can just as easily be dunked in a bucket of water. Yes, the troughs are mainly suited for horizontal applications.

Irrigation systems for vertical plantings are basic off-the-shelf landscape drip emitters, positioned at the top of the row of tube planters. As the water saturates the top tube, the water will seep into the lower tubes until the “soil blanket” is saturated. Again, here is another way the troughs come into play to gather excess water.

Because tube planters are not an inexpensive method for creating large vertical projects, Patrick suggests that the average do-it-yourselfer would probably benefit more from buying one of the many pre-fab plastic tray growing systems.  But if like me you think that you’ve just got to have a tube planter, you can start off with small lengths; and as your budget allows, you can add additional planted tubes to enlarge the display.

023[1].JPG-tube Planter #15

Another option is to create small to medium sized framed picture tube planters as shown in this photo.

Patrick was kind enough to send me a tube planter so that I could experiment with different specimens and see how it fared on my rooftop garden in an extremely hot and arid climate.

tube planter-sample #1-resized

Initially when planting it up, I wondered how all of these mini succulents were going to thrive in a cylindrical soil stuffed tube; but no problem whatsoever.

Tube planter-sample #3-close up-resized

I soak it with a sprinkler each morning and keep it in a semi-shady spot.  Because I have a rooftop container garden, I think that once the cooler weather settles in, I will treat my tube planter as part of a vignette of containers. I also can envision a small piece of an intricately planted tube planter being used as a centerpiece on a dining table or buffet. Wouldn’t that make for a great conversation piece?

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at

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Fran Sorin
21 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Julie November 1, 2010, 8:03 am

Stunning! I absolutely love the tube planters–what an amazing showcase of beautiful plants and vertical gardening! So happy to find your site, and look forward to reading more.

Dear Julie,

I couldn’t agree more that the tube planters are stunning. Imagine if you have a barren wall or face that you want to turn into a vertical wall…how magnificent would that be if decked with tube planters. Please do come back and visit GGW soon! Fran

Kerry November 1, 2010, 10:04 am

Fabulous post! I can’t wait until someone smart starts to market these! I often use hanging plant bags, but these are much more versatile.

Hi Kerry,

Am glad you enjoyed. You can actually go onto Patrick’s website (there is a link to his website in the article) and contact him to see if he’ll sell to you direct. Even if you start with small tube, I think it’s worth it! Fran

Anne Schreck November 1, 2010, 3:41 pm

I absolutely love the succulents. The rest are great also but I am partial. Thanks for sharing this cool idea.

The succulents do offer a rich tapestry that draws the eye in.

Steve Boulden November 2, 2010, 12:10 pm

That’s really interesting. I love the framed plantings and see a lot of cool uses for the Fescue and ornamental grasses. I was just reading about vertical planting methods being used to grow algae for bio-diesel fuels. It’s an amazing number of how much production comes from planting each acre this way. Anyway, thanks for the inspiring and creative ideas. Neat stuff.


If you can find the article that you mentioned above and can send the link, that would be great. Thanks! Fran

The Rainforest Gardener November 2, 2010, 12:30 pm

I first read about them in Debra Lee Baldwin’s book myself, and am currently trying to devise a system specifically for epiphytes like bromeliads! This would be lighter since they don’t require soil and epiphytes would be happy with a light bark or sphagnum medium. Because of their lightness, I could hang them from the ceiling and wall with more ease!


Sounds like a good idea. Send us some photos once everything is planted up! Fran

Grains of Hope November 2, 2010, 1:54 pm

I would love to have a ‘wall’ of herbs. How do these work for herbs?

I will defer to Patrick and ask him to respond to your question. Fran

Grains of Hope-
Here is Patrick’s response:
“Yes-herbs are a cinch to grow in Tube Planters. Keep in mind, they should be planted with smallest plants available with the least amount of existing root growth.
As you are already familiar with cutting with a razor knife, the largest hole-cut should be no more than 1-1/2″ diameter. Grow on the horizontal until established and then transfer to vertical position.”

Robin Brown November 2, 2010, 5:04 pm

These are so beautiful…… I will be giving Patrick McWinney a call for sure!

You won’t be disappointed….he’s a terrific guy…and extremely talented. Fran

Darla November 3, 2010, 8:03 am

Amazing creativity here. So timely for me as I want to plant the roof of my potting shed…

Yes-herbs are a cinch to grow in Tube Planters. Keep in mind, they should be planted with smallest plants available with the least amount of existing root growth.
As you are already familiar with cutting with a razor knife, the largest hole-cut should be no more than 1-1/2″ diameter. Grow on the horizontal until established and then transfer to vertical position.

Steve Boulden November 3, 2010, 8:39 am

Hi Fran.

I believe the article I was reading was in a doctors office magazine and I couldn’t find the same article online. There is quite a bit of information on it online. While the article I read showed growing in tubes, a lot of the stuff online shows growing algae in vertical bags.

Anyway, here are a few links.

Pretty good videos –

Hi Steve,
Thanks so much for the links to info. on algae in vertical bags. Will take the time to read through them when I have a chunk of time. Fran

Town Mouse November 3, 2010, 11:24 pm

I must admit I’ve harbored some prejudice against vertical gardening, but seeing your photos makes me come around. I’m starting to look at some of the ideas and I’m saying: Mmmm, maybe I have just the spot for this…

Town Mouse,

After seeing Tube Planters, it’s easy to begin to imagine a way that it can be incorporated in to your garden and add an extraordinary, unique element. Let us know if you buy one! Fran

franniesorin November 4, 2010, 4:41 am

Thanks so much for those links. I will check them out when I have a bit more time. The more information that we compile on any type of vertical planting, the better. Fran

Rebecca Sweet November 4, 2010, 10:00 am

Susan Morrison and I have just finished writing a book about different methods of vertical gardening (called Garden Up! released Feb. 2011) and am thrilled to find these tubes. Creativity is endless when it comes to gardeners, isn’t it? Susan and I must definitely get our hands on some of these tubes to try for ourselves, and perhaps demonstrate in our presentations – thank you so much for bringing this to light and for your beautiful and inspiring photographs!

Hi Rebecca,

Am glad you enjoyed the article. Patrick’s contact info. is on his website. All photos from the article are his….
Will look forward to reading your book! Good luck with it. Fran

Cristina da Silva November 4, 2010, 12:10 pm

Oh, I like the tube planters! So many uses.

I want to know more….

How do you water them? Do the tube planters get very heavy when they are watered?

How long does the industrial cloth last?


Patrick’s response:

“If planters are arranged vertically, drippers are placed on top of each planter. I f stacked horizontally, drippers are set up on top row and water percolates through soil to adjoining tubes until fully saturated.

Yes, tubes fully saturated will gain substantial “water weight”, and of course lose weight when tubes dry out. Just as a potted plant would.

Re: Industrial cloth, it is technically called geo-textile fabric that is used largely in civil engineering and landscape projects. It’s very tough stuff!!!”

Debra Lee Baldwin November 4, 2010, 12:57 pm

I was so impressed with Pat McWhinney’s tube planters, I dedicated several pages to them in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. Pat originally had the idea of planting a fabric tube (think of filling a sock with soil) to make a fake stone waterfall blend with a garden. A small rubber tree planted in the tube sent its roots through it to the surrounding soil, then he peeled the fabric away, so it looked like the tree had rooted between the “rocks” of the waterfall! The tubes also work well as swags and between stair risers. I’ll post a photo of Pat in his garden on my book’s Facebook page.

Thanks Debra…..the tubes as swags and stair risers photographed in your book are outstanding!

Rino November 4, 2010, 9:06 pm

What variety of Ferns are those? I would like to find some and make a wall planter for me as well! They would do great in my low-light patio, and I also would like to know if there is a variety that is hardy enough to live outdoor all year-round!


Alexabdra November 5, 2010, 1:54 am

I’m so impressed! I’ll send the link to all my friends. I want them to see these pictures and your ideas.


Make sure to check out Patrick’s website as well, listed on the post. Fran

Brittany @ Green Global Travel May 12, 2015, 8:50 pm

The succulent displays are so beautiful! What a clever idea for a unique gardening experience. Thank you for sharing!

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