Vertical Gardens seem to be all the rage now, lining walls everywhere from restaurants to some of our own stores. The reason behind their sudden ascent to popularity should come as no surprise—greenery, especially greenery that seems to envelop an entire space, is the perfect antidote to urban existence. While vertical gardens may seem like the work of wizards—or at least next-level horticultural masters—you can actually get this look at home with relative ease. Here to share her technique for bringing these natural beauties into your own home is Caitlin Atkinson, the author of the newly published Plant Craft: 30 Projects that Add Natural Style to Your Home.
Join Caitlin Atkinson at west elm Palo Alto
on October 30 at 2pm for her Plant Craft workshop!
The first time I saw one of Patrick Blanc’s vertical gardens in Paris I stopped dead in my tracks. His awe-inspiring gardens have been the inspiration for countless vertical gardens. One of the challenges of installing a vertical garden in your home is the weight of the garden’s soil and frame. In this project the weight of the garden is decreased by not filling the frame with soil, but rather just hanging the potted plants from a 1/8-inch-thick sheet of plywood. This 4×2-foot panel is still heavy, but not nearly as heavy as a traditional vertical garden panel. The larger obstacle in installing a vertical garden in your home is usually irrigation, but for this panel the need for an irrigation system or for watering the garden while it’s still on the wall is eliminated. The plants can be easily removed one at a time from the wall and watered in a sink. This also has the advantage of allowing you to easily change out a plant or redesign the vertical garden at any time.
I used lush bear paw ferns, Peruvian grape ivy, and a diagonal line of cordatum lemon philodendrons for a pop of lemon-lime green. You can use different plants, but be sure to choose plants that have the same light needs. They can have different watering needs, since you can remove and water them individually, but the light requirements should be the same for all the plants. You should select plants that are full and drape well; for example, tradescantias, Chlorophytum comosum, or any philodendron.
When you mount the piece on a wall be sure to hang it from at least two points so that it stays balanced. You will also want to make sure the screws are inserted into the wall’s studs, or else use heavy-duty drywall anchors so that the weight of the piece is supported. I suggest hanging the plywood on the wall while it’s empty and then hanging all the plants on it after it has been secured.
Two 4-foot-long garden stakes with a 3/4-inch-thick width
2- × 4-foot × 1/8-inch-thick piece of plywood
10 wood screws
Felt pads (optional; to prevent the piece from scratching the wall)
Roll of 18-gauge galvanized wire
Fifteen 6-inch plants with similar light needs
1/16 (or larger) drill bit (to make the holes for the wire)
Drill bit matching the size of your screws
(1) Make the frame for the back of the plywood. Line up the two garden stakes with the points facing the same direction and draw a line with your pencil across the two stakes at the spot where the stakes taper into a point. Then, measuring from the top of the stakes (the end that’s not pointed), draw a line across both stakes at 30 inches from the top. You should now have four lines—two on each stake.
(2) Cut the two stakes at the two points you have marked. You should have four pieces—two that are 30 inches long and two that are about 18 inches long. Each pair should be exactly the same length in order to make a perfectly rectangular frame for the back of the box. The frame will be attached to the plywood and prevent it from resting directly against the wall, which will create a gap for the wire to sit in without scratching the wall.
(3) On the back of the plywood, measure and mark the spot that’s 4 inches from the top (the long side) and 9 inches in from the side (the short side). Repeat this on the remaining three corners of the plywood. These marks will be your guides for attaching the garden stakes to the back of the plywood. If you like, for additional guidance, make several marks at 4 inches from the top and bottom and several marks at 9 inches in from the sides. Your measurements might be slightly different if the length of your garden stakes is different.
(4) Predrill two holes in all four stakes, one hole at each end, about 3 or 4 inches from the end. You’ll use these holes to screw the garden stakes to the back of the plywood.
(5) Starting with one of the long stakes, screw it to the back of the plywood, aligning it with the marks you made. Use a tape measure or ruler to make sure that it is straight. Then attach the two side pieces (the shorter stakes) and the bottom piece to make a rectangle. Be sure that the stakes are tightly attached to the plywood by applying pressure to them while you screw them on so that you end up with a tight connection. If you are hanging the garden on a wall that may get scratched by the frame, attach a few felt pads to the frame.
(6) About 3 inches from the top and 5 inches from the sides, use the 1/16 drill bit to predrill two holes next to one another, less than a 1/2 inch apart. Continue along doing this making a roughly five across, three down pattern. You should have fifteen pairs of holes.
(7) Cut a 22-inch length of wire and, from the front side of the plywood, thread each end through a pair of holes.
(8) Pull about an inch or two of wire through each hole. You should have a loop of wire on the front side. Place a 6-inch pot in the loop while holding the two ends of wire on the other side. Pull the wire through the holes until the pot is secure, with the wire under the lip of the pot, and secure the wire by twisting the ends together snugly with pliers. Once the ends are twisted together, bend them toward the back of the plywood so that the wire doesn’t poke out. You can also cut off any extra wire. Continue along all fifteen pairs of holes. As you move along to the next pair of holes, you can remove the plants from the wire loops—it’s easier to finish making the wire hangers and to hang the plywood while the hangers are empty.
(9) Once you have secured all fifteen of the circular hangers, install a wire hanger from which to hang the whole board. I used two screws inserted in opposite ends of the top piece of the back frame (the frame made of garden stakes), and then I strung a wire tightly between the two screws. You could also use a picture hanging kit. Once the plywood is hung on a wall, insert the plants into the wire hangers.
To water the plants in this display you simply pull the individual pots out of their wire hangers and water them in a sink or tub trug. The ferns require more water and humidity than the philodendron and cissus. I mist the ferns daily. Water each potted plant individually when it feels dry and lightweight. The ferns will need water at least once a week, the others will need to be watered less often, but of course this will vary depending on the plants you selected, the humidity and temperature of your home, the time of year, and the region you live in.
Use plants that need the same amount of light—the plants I used all need bright indirect light.
You may need to occasionally prune the plants, remove dead leaves, replace a plant, or reconfigure them.