If you’re running out of space to grow … look up

By Margeaux Emery

Plant lover, plant lover, how does your garden grow?” If you answer, “In leaps and bounds and spill-arounds,” you might just be running out of space. This common plight of avid gardeners begs for creative solutions. One of the simplest is to look up. Tap into your creativity and suddenly options will unfold for vertical and hanging gardens. By attaching a wooden trellis to the side of a fence, you have the makings of a living wall. An attractive use of a fence near a garden entrance or patio is to make metal or rope supports that will hold galvanized steel or painted metal pots filled with greenery. Have a porch or overhanging wooden beam? You can suspend gardens made of small lengths of guttering, or simply hang bottles that shimmer in the light, each kitted with a side pouch to hold a small plant. 

Large-scale installations are often professionally maintained and can require frequent upkeep. For instance, the rubber tree (Ficus elastica), at top, will grow rapidly and need to be replaced. Below the young Draceana ‘Janet Craig’ faces a similar future. At center is pothos (Epipremnum). When making a plant landscape, indoors or out, keep the plants’ rate of growth and mature sizes in mind. Photo courtesy of GSky Plant Systems.

Perhaps you are thinking that these approaches require more energy than you have. One of the simplest hanging gardens uses a shoe hanger made of cloth, one of the staples of closet organizer systems. Simply nail the hanger to a fence or vertical support and fill its pockets with soil and plants. While fabric offers breathability, vinyl shoe hangers also work. Just remember to add drainage holes. These offer apartment dwellers new possibilities for balconies.

Hung vertically on a sturdy wire screen, various tillandsia and small epiphytic orchids enjoy the light and humidity of a greenhouse. The hangers used here are driftwood and branches with plants mounted on moss and attached with flexible copper wire. As plants mature, their roots grow onto the mounts, making the wire unnecessary. Photo by Dr. Robert J. Lauf.

Modern vertical gardens are popular in all styles, but don’t forget the classics. Have an arbor or pergola? In today’s hanging gardens, these can be plant tunnels. Wisteria will always be a delightful climber of breath-stealing beauty, and so will climbing roses. Grapevines offer both visual and culinary treats for you and visiting birds. Tunnels of squash offer produce. Consider planting a mix of ornamental gourds. They will climb and grow and ultimately bear fruit for a vividly colored and textured roof. If you have this tunnel in your backyard, lightning bugs are all that’s needed for a truly magical evening. 

Small or large, dangling or attached to a wall, limitless hanging garden possibilities are at your fingertips.

Effective hanging garden design can consist of a singular specimen or object, such as a beautifully planted hanging basket, or feature multiples or masses. An example of multiples for indoors is an eye-catching display of simple, identically mounted Tillandsia. Their bases can be as elaborate or minimal as you wish. Hardware stores offer sets of wall fasteners that can assist, and for the lightest of bases, a tack nail or two may suffice.  

Hanging gardens can play on tried-and-true designs in fresh, new ways. Remember those macramé hangers of the 70s? Here Eliza Wise has “microsized” them in appealing colors. Repetition of the same shapes, like this, or planting in masses makes attractive hanging gardens. Photo courtesy of EclecticEs, Etsy.

Vertical wall planters and freestanding plant walls turn interior walls or floor areas into lush lifescapes of green (and every other color imaginable), and deliver clean air and increased humidity to a home or work environment. 

Outdoor hanging gardens can improve your home landscape, add visual interest, and make for healthier and more productive plants. Oversized globes of Petunia held aloft by iron stands and lined in a row beside a walkway provide impact through color, shape, and repetition. Cucurbits attached to and trained to climb a vertical screen or trellis will have more uniform shape and less risk of rot. Leafy lettuce and miniature vegetables, including tomatoes, peas, peppers, beans, and small cucumbers can grow in suspended vinyl guttering or guttering attached to walls or fences. This will put these plants within reach without bending and stooping, and often accommodate more plants than container gardens.

Consider objects around you that can be recycled. Capped and empty two-liter soda bottles can be turned on their side to become planters. Cut a wide oblong opening into their side then string multiple bottles by wire. Fill the opening with soil, add drainage holes, add your plants, and grow! 

The hanging baskets of plants we know and love today can be works of art. This beauty is composed of Begonia, Helichrysum (centerpiece), various coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides), golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’), Fuchsia ‘Autumnale’, and Impatiens. These plants love deep shade and will grow quickly into a colorful mass of foliage and blooms. Photo courtesy of The Garden Corner, Tualatin, OR.

For inside or outdoors, use a picture frame to hold and grow plants. Turn a wine crate on its side to attach to the wall and fill with 4-inch pots. Assemble a frame by forming a square of cut boards and join the corners with a brad nailer or hammer and nails. Attach wood to cover the frame’s back and add a way to hang, such as eyebolts and picture wire. Lay the frame on its back and fill with soil and coir. Cover the top with chicken wire, and, finally, press individual succulent plants through the holes to plant. Hang and behold your handiwork. 



Hang It Up!
Tips for Heavenly Hanging Gardens

  • Opt for sunny walls free from gusts.
  • Make sure you can easily reach the top plants for maintenance.
  • Treat hanging plants the same as those growing in containers.
  • Think carefully of any risk posed to interior walls by hangers and plants mounted there.
  • Tillandsia are among the easiest plants for hanging gardens.
  • Hanging gardens require less weeding.
  • Consider hanging gardens for small balconies or fenced-in areas.
  • Create wall art using commercially available pocket systems or craft your own with boards, pots, hardware cloth, and wood backing.
  • Brad nailers can make assembly quick and fast.
  • Mix ornamental and edible plants for beauty.
  • When choosing plants to hang, consider a plant’s mature size.
  • Systems that can be moved indoors and out add value to hanging herb gardens.
  • Select hanging plants (spillers) as well as uprights (thrillers) for planters.
  • Be creative and have fun!



Let’s think small for a moment. Consider creating your own fairy garden. Use a larger clay pot and insert two or three curved pieces from other broken terra-cotta pots you may have on hand. These can be used to hold small hanging plants, such as succulent string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus).

When presented in multiples, large, suspended globes of Petunia held aloft by iron stands have impact through color, shape, and repetition. Photo courtesy of The Garden Corner, Tualatin, OR.

Small or large, dangling or attached to a wall, limitless hanging garden possibilities are at your fingertips. Just consider the objects and elements available to you and then flex your fingers and prepare to enjoy yourself.

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