Saturday, May 8

How to grow a vertical garden

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A gardener tends to the world’s largest vertical garden on a shopping mall façade in the town of Rozzano, near Milan in Italy. The Fiordaliso Commercial Complex was awarded by the Guinness World Record for its 1,262.85-square-metre wall garden composed of over 44,000 plants and 200 flowers. — AFP photo

WHEN we are pressed to find space to grow additional plants in our modern housing schemes with little open space for the garden, we are literally ‘pushed up’ to the wall now.

I was asked to do such an interior wall decoration in a shop-house hotel downtown some years back.

The conditions were most challenging because of the sheer height and the shortage of natural light and water or rain on the wall making the daily needs of the garden plants inaccessible.

The correction factors included piping for timely irrigation over the fence daily.

Then there was the unfamiliar challenge of selecting plants suitable for planting on the vertical wall without any natural rooting medium.

Data and information from the websites were limited in the early days when Internet was not easily available for knowledge and information.

Handphones back then were only for making calls – even messaging was not yet developed.

And so, it was without the luxury of easily available information and knowledge through the Internet that I groped my way through in setting up the vertical garden.

Looking back, it was a blessing in disguise as I overcame all the obstacles through trials and errors, and the knowledge has gained sticks to my mind till today.

Let us examine the challenges in starting a vertical garden and go through the solutions I acquired through my hands-on experience.

Types of vertical gardens and planting materials

1. Location to house the vertical garden

⦁ The typical vertical gardens are for beautifying the compound or buildings and so creativeness and adaptation to the environment is a key factor.

⦁ Installing narrow passage walling with living plants poses the challenge of short of floor space on the two-dimensional space; thus opting for the third dimension –vertical wall is ideal.

⦁ The partitioning walling between houses or garden walls are good places to start a vertical garden although beginners may baulk at thought of planting flowers or other plants on concrete walls.

2. Structural support

⦁ Structural requirements for hanging or displaying pot plants can be on wooden or metal structure.

⦁ Ready-made angle iron sturctures with shelves are easily installed for this purpose. Choose the coated metal frame so that it does not get rusty or you can also paint it. Hanging up ready-made vertical pots on plastic frames are also viable and they can be assembled to a convenient height of, say six feet, which would not entail you to use the ladder to tend to the plants.

⦁ The pattern of support can be done up to suit individual convenience and choice. Once installed, it is expected to last for some time. My friend used a 10-foot, 2.5-inch-square ‘belian’ (ironwood) post to establish a frame for creeping passion fruits along the coated wires in between. It looks beautiful and natural as the transparent ‘big window’ is now filled with green leaves and yellow and purplish round fruits. This is creative vertical wall gardening. Another friend has the wire-mesh attached to the concrete wall for creeping vines to spread and soften the patent-hardy wall with nightingale vines, with its fragrant yellow blossoms

3. Potting media

⦁ It is important to choose the right potting medium as different species of vegetation have different nutritional and maintenance needs. Auto-pots would come in handy as watering is a periodic task. This facility is available at the Polycom Trading Sdn Bhd at Mile 5 of Penrissen Road in Kuching.

⦁ Orchids would require little media, if foliar fertiliser is used. However, it is best to use the traditional growth medium made up of some porous materials and expanded pebbles. It is advisable to buy the ready packed medium from local nurseries.

⦁ Cacti and desert plants need special media to plant.

⦁ Vegetable planting is a popular during current stay-at-home situation nowadays. For ease of gardening, one can go for the compost and burnt soil, or ready-mixed potting mixes with fertiliser and additives such as lime or dolomite to adjust the pH level of the soil. Compost and coco-peat are garden friendly items.

4. Seeds or vegetative seedlings

⦁ Most vertical gardens for flowers would use live plants direct from the nursery and making it more accessible and uniform for display. Here, we can choose the suitable growth habits of the plants. It is good to place the ready-packed small pots for the tender seedlings – it is often easier to deal with the well-established plants to grow under the new manner. It is good to choose the hardy ones for the start.

⦁ Among the plants you can choose are cacti, orchids, ferns, staghorn ferns, or even succulent plants such as Aeonium undulates, Agave americana, Aloe ferox, Echevena gibbiflora, and the Kalanchoe Wendy variety that may flower once in a while.

⦁ We can even try to decorate the edges of the wall with creepers and passion fruits that produce both colourful flowers and fruits.

5. Water and addition of fertiliser

⦁ Except for the use of auto pots, watering can be administrated one a fortnight.

⦁ Liquid fertilisers’ components A and B are ready-formulated to be used in the auto-feed tank connected by tubing.

⦁ Foliar sprays can be useful for the newly-established plants to improve growth and early flowering.

⦁ Both high K and P are promoters for flowering, and N is mainly for foliage growth in general. Ready packets of various speciality fertilisers in droplet form are available now. Organic fertilisers of animal and fish sources are also available for good growth too.

6. General maintenance

⦁ As plants grow, the formation of shape and size changes; regular pruning and trimming are necessary to ensure good look and reduce shade or overlapping on the vertical garden wall.

⦁ Maintenance work is also to remove deadheads and faded flowers to encourage vibrant flowering and enhance the beauty of the whole project.

⦁ Most importantly, dead leaves and infected foliage need to be pruned before the infection and diseases can spread.

Planting a vertical garden can give you the expectations of the good things to come soon.
Happy gardening!