I recently revisited two gardens we’d installed, to complete the initial design concepts by adding vertical garden elements. Fun stuff! Adding some vertical gardens to your own space is a great way to “round out” a garden. You can draw the eye up from ground to wall very easily and quickly, and in the typically space-lacking urban garden, it gives you another place to add some life to your surroundings. It also spares you from looking out your window at a neighbor’s wall, which is a common aim among city dwellers. In both of these cases, though, that wasn’t really the reasoning behind the added vertical elements…
Sometimes additions like this are separated out in phases because of budget. It can help spread out the cost of installation to tackle areas in order of importance or appeal. Given that gardens, when it comes down to it, are a “luxury” item (unless you’re growing your own food), a vertical garden is even more so. With these two, though, the delayed installation was a combination of plant availability and installer availability. I’ve been exceptionally busy!
The first one went into a garden we planted back in early August, and I just realized I never even posted about. Eek! This garden designed by Patrick Lannan of Flora Grubb Gardens was a small (12×12 or so?) garden on an alley in SoMa, off the back of a very large apartment building on Folsom. All the units in the building share a common entrance on the Folsom side, with the exception of the ground-floor units on the alley side, which have direct street access through a front garden. The metal fence allowed for easy view directly into the apartment’s big sliding glass doors. The client had screened the fence with roll-out bamboo fencing. In the initial installation, we started with a cleanup (removing two wine barrels of bamboo, and weeding out the grasses that had choked their way in). We added almost a cubic yard of soil. Patrick’s design called for four tall orange pots along the fence, side by side, each planted with Azara microphylla, and a base of purple coral bells. Quite a punch! One other enormous pot went right beside the patio, planted with Michelia champaca ‘Alba’. The Michelia is a phenomenally fragrant tree. So sweet! It’s a Himalayan type of small magnolia, and the flowers perfume the air for easily a twenty foot radius. To me, it smells like the tea you get in Chinese restaurants. Genmai Cha? We planted Aeonium decorum ‘Sunburst’ in clusters around the pots, and put in a groundcover of walkable fern-like Leptinella potentilla (“Brass Buttons”).
The vertical garden I came back to plant was for the gate itself. It’s the same construction as the fence, with metal slats. Exactly as I had done with a custom vertical panel to screen another SoMa garden, I made a wooden frame with custom-tailored pockets, and planted it with Senecio ‘Fish Hooks’. Perfect camouflage for the gate! It’s a relatively easy DIY project, and not terribly expensive, but takes a few hours to sew the pockets and cut and build and paint the frame. If you make your own, you can plant whatever you like in it!
The other vertical garden that day was to finish off another Patrick Lannan job we had tackled just a month ago in a lightwell. That job had already taken two visits because of rain, and has Woolly Pockets in the lightwell to create a vertical screen from the neighboring house. This new vertical garden component was purely aesthetic, though. Out on the back patio of the same house, the homeowner likes to spend lots of time sitting in the sun. The patio has some nice furniture, but otherwise is just a tall white wall to look at. He wanted a vertical garden on the wall to act as a piece of living artwork.
For this wall, I used succulent vertical panels from Flora Grubb, like I had done for a job about two years ago. I got these in from the store’s succulent grower, already planted and ready to hang. I made a wooden frame, and painted it charcoal grey to match the client’s aesthetic. The tiling on the wall cracks easily, so there was some prep work to do: I drilled holes, then inserted anchors and sealed them with a silicone sealant to keep rain from seeping in. I also ran a bead of sealant along the top of the wood frame once it was hanging, to further keep water from getting down behind it. I put washers over the screws, too, between the frame and the wall, to keep a little air gap behind the panel and reduce mildewing. Then, up went the frame, and the panels into it. Nice and easy! In another corner of the patio, I potted up a gunmetal grey pot with some succulents and parrot’s beak. This added another planted element, and made the patio feel more like a room. I think he could use one more pot in the diagonally opposite corner, with a taller plant (ponytail palm?), to fill out the space.
All in all, it was a productive and fulfilling day of garden hanging!