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Vertical gardening adds new dimension to walls

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Gardening is going in different directions – literally.

Vertical gardening, using planters or a cell system that can be hung on walls, continues to be a hot gardening trend these days. Used in both commercial settings and at home, it’s a great way to cleanse toxins out of the air, garden in a small space and simply add texture to a room.

But as hot as it is these days, it dates back centuries, says Meg Gallagher, a buyer with Metro Detroit-based English Gardens.

“Vertical gardening is a really old concept,” says Gallagher. “Its roots our found in the Babylonian concepts, the famous gardens of Babylon. So it’s been around for a really long time. From the 1920s, there was this garden city movement through the British and the Americans that encouraged the use of pergolas and trellises for climbing plants. And that’s evolved into what’s happening today.”

And today, there are vertical gardens of all kinds: vertical fairy gardens, others with shades plants. Even annuals or perennials can be used with the right care, says Gallagher.

As far as containers go, options abound. Gallagher says she’s seen everything from old gutters to wood pallets used for vertical gardening. The key is using the right mix of plants and keeping in mind the light you have.

“You can’t have a succulent with a philodendron because a succulent likes it much drier so mixing plants that have different needs isn’t good,” says Gallagher.

Michigan planter company

Bright Green USA is a Hartland, Michigan-based company that makes a variety of vertical gardening containers sold by a number retailers across the country, including Williams-Sonoma.

Started seven years ago as a company that primarily made commercial living walls and roofs, it expanded into retail because of the demand for vertical planters in private homes, says Bright Green’s Yvette Rizzo, whose husband, James, founded the company with three other partners.

“We couldn’t put them out fast enough,” says Rizzo.

Its most popular vertical planter system is called the GroVert. The GroVert plant kit (it doesn’t include plants) is 8 1/2 by 18 inches and 4 1/2 inches deep. It has 10 cell openings that can take a 4-inch pot.

Rizzo says the GroVert – there also is a GroVert mini – is the easiest one with which to work. It has a manual irrigator and a collector at the bottom for water. Water drips from the top cells to the bottom cells and then collects at the bottom.

“The tray itself is made of a biocomposite polymer and it has a cocoa fiber in it,” says Rizzo. “It’s very sturdy.”

Bright Green’s frame kits start at $79.95 and prices depend on the frame material. Rizzo says the frames are all handmade by local artisans and the Amish in mid-Michigan.

Consider light, water

Though some have complained that plants can die quickly in vertical planters, Rizzo says they’re like any other kind of planters. You have to consider plants and light needs, along where you’ll place them in your home.

If you have a plant that requires more water, use that in the top of the planter because it’ll get water right away.

“You want to use plants that are successful in your home,” Rizzo says.

Rizzo says she has a GroVert in her home that she likes to change up seasonally. If a plant in one cell dies, she changes it out. And every few weeks she takes it off the wall to let it “zap in the sun.”

And while vertical herb gardens may be popular, Rizzo doesn’t recommend them unless you have a spot with great sunlight.

“If you have a sunroom, sure. If you don’t, you have to chase the sun,” says Rizzo.

Gallagher agrees that vertical herb garden require a little more care: “Herbs can be very sensitive. You have to be careful with light and over-watering.”

No matter what type of system you use, Rizzo says, watering – and managing how your plants are watered – is critical. The GroVert uses a drip line that snaps into the tray.

“It’s designed like a puzzle so... they’re forever catching each other’s water,” says Rizzo.

And if you aren’t sure how to get started, both Rizzo and Gallagher recommend going to your local garden center. They can help with plant combinations (see box for good suggestions for low, moderate and high light), containers and drainage.

Gallagher says drainage also is critical with vertical gardening.

“The water is going to go somewhere,” she says.

So as you contemplate your next garden, who says it hasn’t to be on the ground? It could grow up instead.

(313) 223-4686

Vertical gardening plants

Determine where you plan to put your vertical garden first. Below are some good plants based on the type of light in that space, according to Meg Gallagher with English Gardens:

Low light: Spider plants, pothos, philodendron, ferns

Medium light: English ivy, peace lily, elephant ears, Alocasia

High light: Succulent, sedum