Local green thumbs are cultivating the art of vertical gardening
By Elizabeth Scussel
C & G Staff Writer
There’s a trend creeping up in the gardening world. The concept is simple: A vertical garden is a one that grows, well, vertically, rather than in the traditional manner in garden beds or pots.
“In my mind, I suspect the Babylonians had this thing down pat,” said Troy resident Eric Grant. “Greek historian Herodotus describes these enigmatic constructions in good detail, dating vertical gardening back to at least the fifth century B.C. It doesn’t seem to re-emerge until the 1930s. Since that time, vertical gardening has been primarily relegated to lofty corporate settings and botanical gardens, until recently.”
Grant is the hard goods and tropicals manager at Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy. With 22 years of experience in the field, Grant’s love for vegetation began at a tender age.
“My childhood home had fairly extensive gardens,” Grant said. “Each spring, my sister and I were allowed to select only one plant to grow. This gave me a great appreciation for the specific nuances of each plant and sparked my passion in plants. At the age of 8, I became caretaker of the gardens.”
There are different types of vertical gardens, also referred to as “living walls,” Grant said. They can be as simple as a few hanging baskets or a vine to as complicated as a wall installation that is made up of a frame, backing and a special layer in which the plants are embedded.
“Today, there are several companies — most have cropped up in the last five years — offering individual units and modular systems which now make this practical and affordable for virtually any home gardener,” Grant said. “(Local companies) are constantly coming up with new ideas to broaden the scope further, making vertical gardening more affordable and practical than ever before. With this advent, the interest and popularity has really begun to soar.”
Bright Green is one of those companies. Bright Green is a vertical gardening supply store and design center based in Hartland. The company does its manufacturing in Marcellus and packaging in Bay City.
James Rizzo, president of Bright Green, said vertical gardening is something that is certainly very hot right now.
“It finally gives people an opportunity to add color or texture to wall surfaces. The possibilities are endless,” Rizzo said.
Grant said vertical gardening is something even a novice gardener can undertake.
“Vertical gardening is not difficult. In fact, it’s easy and can be a whole lot of fun as long as you keep a few basic concepts in mind,” he said.
He suggests selecting shorter, slower growing plants that don’t mind having their roots confined, and plants with similar needs, in terms of light and water.
“Also remember that this is going to be vertical, and you don’t want to use a plant that is going to grow to be 3 or 4 feet,” Grant said. “I suggest using plants that grow less than 8 to 10 inches or that can be trimmed or pruned to maintain that size range.”
He also said it is important to be prepared to meet the watering needs of the plants.
“Some systems are readily designed to be hooked up to an irrigation system if outdoors, or have handy snap-on, self-contained small water tanks and catch trays that make indoor watering both tidy and simple,” he said. “In terms of plants, the most commonly used plants are small tropicals, ferns and succulents. Flowering annuals are also a great, affordable choice. However, almost anything is possible. With annuals, you can plant up a nice piece of living art for under $40. On the other side of the spectrum, you could use plants that cost $20 to $30 apiece, adding up a lot quicker. Either way, there is room in most any budget to do this.”
The trial and error of vertical gardening is one of life’s most proficient teachers, Grant said.
“If you’re not sure or want some input or assistance, seek out someone like myself that has a good amount of experience with vertical gardening,” he said. “I invite people to learn from my successes and failures.”
Experts say vertical gardening is more efficient than traditional methods because growing upward requires very little space.
“The benefits of vertical gardening are vast,” Grant said. “They introduce a whole new dimension to the palette of gardening and allow us to put plants where we’ve never had them before. Any vertical surface is fair game — indoors or out, walls, fences, columns or even free-standing structures of most any kind. This form of gardening also allows those with limited planting space to have a garden. If you don’t have room to garden in the ground, you can do it on a wall. Plants also provide oxygen, and help to cool and filter the air of contaminants.”
“Vertical gardening increases air quality, curb appeal, and reduces heat and cold transfer on the wall,” he said.
“Since gardening is man’s adaptation of nature, and art emulates it, vertical gardening is a natural progression,” said Grant. “It provides a new avenue for creative inspiration and expression, and let’s face it — this whole thing is just really cool.”
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