Residential - Tips & Tricks - A vertical garden

Cramped for space? You can still be surrounded by brilliant colour!
Is your yard too small for a regular garden? Perhaps you’d like to hide the shed, erect a privacy screen between you and your neighbour or create an island of intimacy? Maybe you’re just looking for another way to grow more flowers while leaving enough space to move around in, eat or just relax. Go for the vertical garden and enjoy in height what you’ve not been able to do in a surface area. Not only will your space be more colourful, beautiful and private, your vertical garden will produce just that much more fresh, pleasant-smelling air.

Impressive, sometimes spectacular, “the vertical garden is a landscape, or part of a landscape, that utilizes the characteristics of climbing plants when they’re allowed to grow and when giving them the support they need,” explains landscape architect François-Pierre Nadeau. All it takes to create a vertical garden, then, are supports and plants that climb.

Climbing plants
There are all kinds of climbers, and they come as both annuals and perennials. There’s the morning glory, the snow pea, the sweet pea, the Egyptian bean and more. Some annuals can be sown directly into the ground while others must be germinated first. But they all grow amazingly quickly and flower profusely.

Others are enjoyed for their dense foliage, such as vines, Boston ivy, Virginia creeper and hops, in summer as well as fall. Clematis, honeysuckle, campsis, Russian vine, climbing hydrangea, everlasting pea, wisteria and climbing roses produce gorgeous, colourful flowers. These popular perennials all need the sun, except for hops, which tolerates shade well. They all grow easily and require little maintenance.

Ideally, they go in the ground in April or May or in September or October. But as they come in pots, you could very well put them in the ground during the summer, though it’s best not to do so when it’s very hot. They should be planted 20 to 30 cm away from their support to allow their roots enough space to grow. In soil enriched with compost, dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the root ball, and add some bone meal to promote root growth. As climbers like to keep their feet cool, cover with mulch to keep the ground moist and the roots shaded. A good soaking once a week should be enough.

In the spring, remove deadwood and prune the plants to half their height to encourage new stem growth. They can be left on the trellis in winter. Some plants, such as vines and peas, have tendrils or suction cups that attach to any surface by themselves. Others are voluble, or twining, such as the honeysuckle, and coil around their support. Ivy uses minuscule aerial roots to cling to rough surface. And other climbers, such as climbing roses, have long, flexible stems that need to be attached to a trellis to grow upward and prevent them from creeping along the ground. To get climbers started, their first shoots need to be attached to what will serve as their support.

All kinds of structures
Concrete structures, nested boxes – there are a thousand ways to create original supports for climbing plants just like you might see at the Mosaïcultures Internationales in Montreal. You can also train them on something as simple as a wall or fence, and transform boring surfaces into cascading bouquets of flowers. Is there anything more beautiful than a wall covered with climbing roses?

A carpet of green makes the perfect camouflage. If you’re worried that your bricks will become damaged by vines or ivy, you can rest assured. To avoid unpleasant surprises, all you have to do is attach a trellis to the wall for the plant to grow on, leaving some space between the two for air to circulate. Check the brick from time to time to see if it has suffered any of the effects of humidity. You’ll benefit from an exterior wall covered in ivy or vines as they keep the house cooler; otherwise, your walls trap the sun’s heat, keeping your home hot at night, too.

To support snow peas, Egyptian beans and morning glories, attach nylon or metal string to walls and fences using two screws, one on top and one at the bottom. The flowering climbers will entwine themselves around the string, and by repeating them one after the other, side by side, you’ll have a wall covered in flowers in no time. You can also install a trellis in front of the wall for plants to climb. Trellises come in wood, metal and plastic. In other places around the yard, trellises can serve as green windbreaks that mark off places of intimacy or hide unsightly objects.

There’s nothing like an arbour laden with flowers to welcome you into a yard or garden. Made of slats and trellises, this structure has a rounded top, like an archway, and is the ideal framework for climbing plants to grow on. Like the arch, and the gazebo, this small hexagonal pavilion with Victorian appeal looks lovely in a garden, as does the pergola, a latticework structure on which climbing vines provide some shade to a patio. For a bit of the fantastic, install a small obelisk in your flowerbed and turn it into a fountain of plants. Once very much in vogue over a century ago, this monument shaped like an elongated pyramid has become very big once again. No matter what form you give it, your horizontal garden will be transformed into a verdant oasis.

Thanks to François-Pierre Nadeau, landscape architect and author of L’aménagement paysager sous un autre angle and L’aménagement d’un jardin d’eau (Trécarré, 2003), as well as Bob Lussier of Aménagement Côté Jardin for their contribution.

By Suzanne Décarie
Translated by John Woolfrey