Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Spaced out

June 19, 2016


Building a tower & Strawberry bottle
Building a tower & Strawberry bottle

Having developed a taste for growing all manner of plants, edible and otherwise, urban gardeners are increasingly vocalising their frustration at being completely ‘spaced out’. With every possible planting spot and pot being so chock-a-block that not as much as a single additional seed can be squeezed in no matter how hard they try, they say, the only solution is the unaffordable option of finding a house with a huge garden attached.

Wrong! Being horizontally spaced out — a state rapidly achieved if all you happen to have is an apartment balcony — is, quite simply, a state of mind and a state of mind which can be altered by taking vertical action.

Vertical gardening — depending on the method used and the highs achieved — can increase planting / growing areas by as much as eight times, creating incredibly lush, optical illusions of the greenest kind, in the process.

Vertical gardens are an alternative for gardeners who don’t have a lot of horizontal space

Take, for instance, a single plant pot with an 18-inch diameter: there is enough space for a few plants, not many, but enough to make an attractive, visual impact. If, however, after filling it with soil / compost, you stand a 16-inch diameter pot on top, then a 14-inch followed by a 12-inch and a 10-inch topped by eight-inch, six-inch and finally a four-inch pot, you have an eight-tiered planting area that takes up exactly the same amount of ground space as would a single 18-inch diameter pot.

It is recommended that either a metal or sturdy wooden pole, be used to hold the tower together: simply fix the pole, as firmly as possible, into the drainage hole in the base of the 18-inch base pot before filling up with soil / compost, slide the 16-inch pot down the pole until it sits in the soil of the 18-inch pot below and continue likewise until all pots are in place.

True to say that, aside from the crowning pot, planting areas are restricted to a two-inch wide band all around the perimeter of each pot in the tower but, there is lots of out-of-sight soil / compost space for the roots of the selected plants to feast on and spread out in. This results in, as long as soil / compost and watering conditions are good — along with a minimum of six hours sunlight per day for the vast majority of plant species — excellent plant growth and bountiful crops of flowers, herbs, fruits or vegetables of your choice.

Petunia tower
Petunia tower

Constructing such towers also maximises water usage as any excess water from the top pot, naturally trickles down into the pot below and so on. ‘Growing towers’ can be of as many levels as you feel can safely be balanced as you do not want the whole edifice to come crashing down.

Using heavy clay pots creates a stability that is lacking when lightweight, plastic pots are used, plus, clay pots stay cooler and are water retentive while plastic pots heat up, baking plant roots in the process and require an unacceptable amount of precious water to maintain.

‘Green towers’ provide excellent growing areas for many plants and the following are a few suggestions: flowers — trailing petunias, pansies, lobelia, alyssum; fruits — strawberries; vegetables — lettuce, trailing tomatoes, endive, leaf beet / Swiss chard and trailing cucumbers; herbs — Nasturtiums, thyme, basil, sage and mint.

If ground floor space is already overflowing with plants, look to maximising any free wall space: attaching climbing frames / trellises to walls allows for the cultivation of a diverse range of climbing plants as long, that is, as room can be made to accommodate their roots at ground level. Grape vines, passion fruit, kiwi fruit, peas, climbing beans, cucumbers, climbing squash, lauki and many other edibles will, as long as they are nourished to their satisfaction, grow, thrive and produce heavily in such conditions as will, it goes without saying, a wide variety of flowering climbers too.

Then there is the ‘Hang them’ option as well: hanging baskets can be fairly expensive but it is easy to improvise — although do ensure that they are securely hung, as we don’t want accidents of any kind. Colanders — the plastic or metal ones used for washing fresh produce in — make excellent hanging ‘baskets’ as do actual woven shopping baskets, the latter should preferably be lined with two or three sheets of newspaper to prevent soil / compost from washing out.

Then there is another hanging option which is totally free of cost: all you need is a five-litre water bottle, a very sharp knife (handle with care), strong wire, soil / compost and whatever suitable plants / seedlings you select, and please note: strawberry plants are ideal. Carefully cut a series of holes … one-inch in height and depth is fine … into the bottle at regular intervals without making them so close that the strength of the bottle is reduced … opting for a total of 10-12 holes is perfect. Also pierce the base of the bottle to allow for drainage. Carefully using a funnel helps. Pour some top quality soil / compost into the bottle from the top, filling up to the bottom lip of the first row of holes. Gently insert plant roots into the holes, laying them on the soil and then add more soil to cover the roots. Lightly watering them down as you proceed is a definite help. Continue in this way until all holes have plants in them and the bottle is full to the top with soil / compost. Water again. Affix strong wire around the bottle top or through the upper part of the bottle itself, form into a ‘handle’ and hang it on high or, if preferred, forget about hanging and stand the bottle, in a saucer of some kind, on the ground, on a table, a shelf or in some-other convenient spot ... turning it once in a while to ensure that all plants get enough exposure to the sun.

The result is lots of plants / produce in a very small space and very pretty to look at.

More ‘spaced out’ ideas another time.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 19th, 2016