My interest in gardening vertically began in the late 1970’s, when I created a redwood box for hanging on a wall once planted with succulents. I called this a living picture/mural. That interest has grown over the past several years, with ambitious projects such as the now famous “Cube” for the Organic Mechanics’ gold-medal winning display at the 2010 San Francisco Flower & Garden Show.
photo courtesy of the SF Flower & Garden Show
For this project I designed and created a 144-square-foot mural that wrapped around four 12’x12’ walls. Each wall used 49 20”x20” square plastic panels, each with 45 slanted pockets. 196 panels in all. Two 2” potted plants went into each pocket, making 90 plants per panel, about 4,400 plants per wall, or a little under 18,000 plants for the entire project. We planted the panels months before the show. (Here is Sean Stout of Organic Mechanics posing with a panel, in front of the “Cube” mural laid out in our greenhouse).
Having trialed and reviewed a number of different container systems designed for vertical gardening, I’ve determined that the best panels for what I do with succulents are the plastic panels originally designed by Greg Garner of ELT Living Walls and since modified into other sizes and configurations by Greg and Bright Green USA.
In addition to the 20”x20” panel I have also been trialing two new plastic panels, the 12”x12” and the more recent 8”x16”. These two panels are about one inch deeper and the pockets are slightly larger than the 20”x20” panel. Some of the succulents seem to appreciate the added soil volume provided by the deeper, larger pockets.
This panel was also used to produce the “Dovecote” for the Filoli/Garden Route display at the 2011 San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, and more recently on a gazebo that made its debut at Sunset Celebration, and is currently on display at our nursery.
We’ve learned a lot about this process over the years. Most important is to think of the panels as containers for living plants; not unchanging architectural features. Like other containers on a patio, you might use them for many years, to house many different types of plants.
All of the plastic panels are mounted in a similar manner by being hung on a bracket that is mounted on the wall. The most important thing about mounting the bracket is to mount it level.
The pockets of the panels are large enough to plant up to a 4” pot size plant in each pocket. For the Cube we used two 2” size plants per pocket for instant fullness, but generally I don’t use potted succulents for vertical designs, preferring to use cuttings in the same fluid manner as my redwood frame plantings. For a 20-inch square panel we use about 200 cuttings.
The 20"x20" panel is designed to water properly when placed in a vertical, hanging position. No additional modification is needed for proper watering.
These panels are designed to be watered by a drip system installed along top panel (one emitter for each vertical column). Water moves down through the panel and exits at the bottom, either into the next panel below, or falling out the bottom. (Drip systems are not included with the panels and must be separately installed). We have successfully watered 5 layers of panels with one drip line of emitters at the top
We are often asked if vertical plantings can be watered by a hose spray from the front. The answer is no, not really. At least not on a large-scale planting. Hand watering is not as effective as drip because it is difficult to hand water at a slow enough rate to achieve even and thorough distribution of water in all the individual pockets. If you want to do a good job watering, install a drip system.
As for watering frequency, the answer to this varies according to a number of different factors such as climate and exposure. As conditions and plant sizes vary, so will the water requirements of the plants. Our panels are typically watered about once each week.
We will discuss maintenance in our next post, but in general we tend to use varieties the do well in shallow soils and do not grow extremely large. When plants get too large, we just pull them out and replant.
We have a complete display of our vertical gardening products that you are welcome to come see for yourself, Tuesday through Saturday, April through October! Also available for purchase on our website.
There is a common misconception that succulents don’t need water, or need very little. While there is some truth in the “need very little” part, the truth is that succulents like water, and they like to be watered deeply.