Vertical Gardening

– Posted in: Garden Design

I’ve always been a big fan of vertical gardening, especially when it comes to covering fences that add no value to the landscape or when space is cramped.

I’ve been in Israel for over a week now. And although I’ve walked in this neighborhood several times before, on this visit my daughter showed me a private walkway that buttresses an elementary school and a small zoo. So, imagine my surprise when I heard the noises of children playing out in a courtyard and glanced over to rest my eyes on a vertical wall that was simple, lush, overwhelmingly beautiful and at the same time offered some real benefits! It gave the children privacy from pedestrians but also covered an eyesore, a chain linked fence.

The wall is made up of only two plants. The first is a South African native vine, Juanulloa aurantiaca. It’s from the Solanum family and is Hardy in Zones 9 and up. Because I live in Zone 6, I had never seen this vine, at least in these proportions. Logee’s Greenhouse has Juanulloa aurantiaca for sale, along with a description. They say that the vine blooms in spring, summer and fall. It is winter in Israel now and trust me, this vine is in full bloom!

The other vine is Thunbergia Grandiflora ‘Blue Skyflower’. I’ve used thunbergia vines similar to this one multiple times in my garden. If they managed to grow a total of 12 feet with one leader and a few tendrils wrapping around for the entire season, I thought I had achieved success. Its delicate blue flowers are perfect and the vine literarlly smothers the wall. I should have such a problem back home!!

Patrick Blanc. I became aware of who he was when flipping through a magazine and seeing a magnificent building in Paris smothered in plants. That was the moment that I saw the true potential of what vertical gardening could be as an art form! He is on the cutting edge of creating couture vertical gardens and is changing the way that gardeners throughout the world are beginning to use plants on the fronts and sides of walls, including interior walls, to create intricate tapestries. Le Mur Vegetal, as he has copyrighted it, is a system of getting plants to grow on walls without any soil. Patrick says that these living walls can be grown indoors or outdoors according to climatic conditions and that the plants act as a purification system. And much, much more! I am in awe everytime I look at photos of his work. Sure, we can’t re-create what Patrick does. But can he act as an inspiration for us gardeners on all fours planting our vines hoping that they’ll take off into a glorious bloom this coming spring? You bettcha!

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.

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Fran Sorin
16 Comments… add one

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VP January 5, 2009, 5:37 am

I think this is set to be one of the big trends of 2009 as it featured in a lot of the gardening shows here in the UK last year.

If people have had a go at a sedum roof, they’ll probably be thinking of what to do for their next ‘living wall’ project.

Also there’s a product due to be launched here soon (vertigro I think), which will make it much simpler to achieve and look after.

Hey VP-
Am glad to hear that vertical gardens are being used in gardening shows in the UK. That usually means that the trend will be coming our way. keep us posted on the product you mentioned that will make designing with them easier. also, have you actually tried planting a sedum roof yourself?? fran

Helen @ Gardening With Confidence January 5, 2009, 9:04 am

I love to design with vines and don’t think they are used often enough. I think there are just too many misconceptions about their use and truths about their misuse.
BTW, I remember fondly a trip to Israel I made in 1984 – wow seems like yesterday.

Good for you in using vines fearlessly. If you feel like sending us any photos of some vines that you’ve used in your garden, we’re always up for linking to your blog. yes, 1984 does seem like yesterday. and since then, israel has changed dramatically. i think you would be surprised at what you would see here today. fran

Nancy Bond January 5, 2009, 9:50 am

I’m always interested in anything that grows vertically, being confined to balcony gardening. Those vines are beautiful.

i know that balcony gardening can be extremely challenging. all the more reason, as you said, to look for creative ways to grow plants upwards. thanks for chiming in. fran

Diana January 5, 2009, 10:02 am

Franniesorin – that’s a beautiful wall — I love the picture of the Thunbergia – it’s beautiful in the close-up. Enjoy your trip.

i wish i could take credit for that wall but am appreciating it every day when i take the dogs out for a walk. fran

Victoria January 5, 2009, 10:31 am

Patrick Blanc’s designs are wonderful, aren’t they? It’s as if he’s woven a Persian carpet out of different foliage colours and shapes. However, the hydroponics system he uses is very high-tech and beyond the budgets of most gardeners. (And I’m not convinced his use of energy and water is what you might call frugal.) There are lots of different ideas starting to come onto the market, but the simplest of all is to train a climber up the side of the house. Apparently, this can make an astonishing difference either to reducing heat loss, or alternatively, keeping the house cool.

thanks for writing in. and yes, it is like patrick has woven a persian carpet. he is a master. interesting thoughts on his hydroponic system vis a vis use of water and energy. there are at least a few ‘miniature’ ideas that copy patrick’s in some organic gardening mail order places in the u.s. i haven’t yet thoroughly checked them out. fran

Eleanor at OutOfDoors January 5, 2009, 2:51 pm

Right on, Victoria! Real sustainability is often about simplification. And I think the use of indoor plants for air purification will become ever more popular. Ivy, grape ivy, and creeping ficus are just a few of the shade lovers that can be trained to cover walls inside without an elaborate vertical planting system.

thanks for reminding us that using green plants indoors can be great for purifying the air and for our health. plus, i’ve seen ivy vines growing up walls before surrounding indoor fireplaces and it was spectacular! Fran

Jean January 5, 2009, 11:45 pm

I accidently saw one of his walls in Paris as the taxi I was in sped down the road. I almost lept out of the cab, it was so stupendous!

I grew that same Thunbergia a couple of years ago. It had lots of leaders although not that many flowers until late in the year (not enough sun I think). I didn’t expect it to come back from the winter but it did. Only this time it was exactly as you described – one 12 foot leader and not much else!

you lucky girl seeing patrick’s work in person….if even for a moment. believe me, the next time i’m in paris, i will hunt down the locations where he has them designed and planted up. his work is a botanical feast. i’m not surprised that you had a similar experience with thunbergia. and yes, they do like full sun, although they are listed as doing fine in partial shade. fran

Jon January 6, 2009, 4:04 am

What an interesting post! More people should use vines like this to cover ugly fences and provide privacy and beauty at the same time.

Hope you and yours have a very Happy New Year and great gardening in 2009!

Jon at Mississippi Garden blog

Thanks. am glad you enjoyed. and how right you are! i think in cities (rather than in suburbs) that are horticulturally inclined that you may actually see more creative uses of vines on unsightly structures. Just a hunch!! a healthy and happy 2009 to you and yours as well. fran

Cameron(Defining Your Home Garden) January 6, 2009, 4:07 pm

I have a good start on going vertical, and have plans to add more elements this year.

Lady Banksia goes over my gable garden gate and I’m training another at the front garden gate. I have a Carolina jasmine on another corner of the cottage fence. There are currently 3 clematis on the fence and more planned.

There is a covered arbor/gate in the fragrance garden with Confederate Jasmine and Akebia.

There is an obelisk in the waterfall garden with another flowering vine for hummingbirds.

I planted 3 azalea standards against a wall in the cottage garden. I’m working on a plan to use wire in a pattern on the wall behind those and trying to decide on a vine to train that won’t crawl up under our cedar shakes.


PS Was in Israel in 1983 — I love Jerusalem.

WOW….what a plethora of beautiful vines you’re using. Between their beauty and fragrance, it must be intoxicating. Am assuming that the wall where you want to train a vine is in partial shade. I have Hydrangea petiolaris covering the front of my entire home. And although I love it, I would NEVER recommend it to anyone who wants to be have some control over the vine’s growth. If you feel like sending a link to some photos of your ‘vined’ areas, we would love to see them. Fran

Renate January 7, 2009, 8:53 pm

My back garden is surrounded by fences, and I’ve been dreaming of greening them for a while. I hope I’m finally moving toward a solution with the “Salvia” modular Trellis from Ikea. This very lightweight aluminum trellis can be mounted easily and is cheap. I’m going to grow some light-weight vines (Aristolochia californica and Clematis lasanthia) on them. You can see a current photo here I hope it will be green and beautiful–both vines are deciduous–in just a few months.

Good information about the Ikea Trellis….I was just at Ikea last week, ran past the garden/outdoor area (it was so jammed) but didn’t stop to browse. It looks like a great accessory. Thanks for the photo. It looks like you’ve made some good choices. I love Aristolochia californica. Good luck with your new vertical garden arean. Fran

Walter July 25, 2009, 6:04 pm

Maybe there is a Juanulloa aurantiaca in there, but the orange flowers look more like a species of Pyrostegia (maybe? hard to tell from the picture).
Juanuloa is a nice plant, somewhat demanding culturally–until they get what they need. Unfortunately, also susceptible to the mosaic viruses which plague the Solanaceae family.
I love mine and when it’s happy, everyone else also.
Its kept in a hanging coconut fibre pot with a sharply draining epiphyte mix which includes coir and medium grade tree-fern-fibre, etc. Partial to full sun in summer, 90 degree days and low humidity about 12 percent in summer.
In winter I move it to a friend’s place near the coast where it remains outside, has high humidity and and no lower than 40 degree temps. It does not look that great during the winter and spring.
Seems to prefer low humidity, moist soil, strong sun filtered thru the canopy of the tree on which it is hung.

Check out the Solanum genus of vines. Large, orange-yellow bat-pollinated flowers.
Now that’s a vine and Solanaceae too.

Thanks for your input…perhaps you’re right about what I thought was the Juanolla aurantica…will check out when I have more time. All I know is that whatever orange vine that is, it’s rampant. Good information on how to keep Juanuloa happy. Much appreciated! Fran

Gavin December 6, 2009, 10:45 pm

That garden looks amazing. Using vines to build a vertical garden has got to be one of the simplest ways to go about it, but using the right type of vines can make it stunning. Having a couple different types of flowering vines make it look great.

You’re right on. It is true that even if you use a few beautfiul flowering vines to cover a wall, it doesn the trick of not carpeting a wall with color and textures. Fran

Vertical gardens January 15, 2016, 1:14 am

Great..!! love thayt blog. Plant surfaces, as a result of transpiration, do not rise more than 4-5 °C above the ambient and are sometimes even cooler.
Keep It Up.!!

Fran Sorin January 16, 2016, 4:59 am

Thanks for your thoughts!

designerplants March 8, 2016, 5:09 am

Hi Admin,

I have been just watching your blog, It’s really Impressive. Just loved the information and content of this blog. If you are living in the city or a municipal place where there is narrow land available, then you should think about vertical gardening. You can easily prepare plants to grow vertically by using supports and frames. This will make it easy for the plant to grow vertically, as it is a expected process for them.

Keep writing the stuff like this.

Designer Plants

Fran Sorin March 9, 2016, 3:29 am

Thanks designer plants. Much appreciated. Fran

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