The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) hosted an event for their Young Friends at Urban Jungle in South Philadelphia. The topic of the evening was vertical gardening. After an informal wine and cheese reception where guests bumped elbows with fellow Young Friends, neighborhood gardeners, and staff of Urban Jungle and PHS, Curt Alexander took the reins and delivered an informative and enlightening lecture.
By show of hands, it was revealed that roughly half those in attendance were familiar with vertical gardening. The consensus among those I spoke with, however, was that the idea of growing up—no matter how green their thumbs—were still intimidating. Alexander explained that those willing to give it a try should focus not on the logistics, but on the positives: vertical gardening is a highly efficient use of space, a way to save energy, and even a cure for Nature Deficit Disorder. (As Urban Jungle staff member Kim explained, a lack of green material can negatively affect quality of life. Studies have shown that greening spaces increases productivity and happiness.)
Since the movement’s early days Paris in the 1970’s, the market for vertical gardening has grown tremendously. Led by manufacturers like G-Sky, GRO2, and Wooly Pocket, Alexander calls the method the next big thing in the world of gardening. The systems sold by manufacturers leading the trend range from paneled (grid) systems that are pre-grown horizontally to soil filled pockets that can immediately be placed vertically.
Most of the challenges of vertical gardening are related to plant selection. Watering, fertilization, and plant integrity are three of the biggest challenges. Succulents are a good choice because of their minimal watering needs. Other plants like Bromeliads, Golden Pothos, Croton Petra, Calathea, ferns, herbs, leafy vegetables, and orchids can thrive vertically. In addition to the named challenges, you also want to consider light conditions, plant maintenance, and the structural integrity of your walls. (If you’re worried about the return of your security deposit, consider using a room divider or construct something that stands on its own for your system.)
Alexander reminded the group not to get too hung up on the science and the challenges, but to remember that the fun of vertical gardening is in the experimentation and the observations of what happens in the ecosystem you’ve created.