Inexpensive Ideas for Taking Your Garden Vertical
Hog and cattle panels or finds at recycling center can work well to elevate some of your garden greenery.
Looking to add vertical interest to your garden for climbing vines, peas, beans, or flowers? Bamboo poles work well.
Photo by Ramona d’Viola
Most people think of vertical gardening as a solution for the space-challenged. Yet even those with large yards can benefit from going up. The best-looking gardens combine a variety of textures, colors, and vistas, so the eye finds something beautiful on multiple planes. Done right, vertical gardening adds secret spots, shady nooks, and passages to another world. Think mystery and enhancement all at once.
The best part is that you don’t have to spend a fortune on fancy ready-made pergolas or gazebos. Get creative. Here are some tips to up your garden on a budget.
Make a Sketch
Admittedly, this is not my style. But trust me—it helps. Head into your yard, measure, and start thinking where you could profitably put vertical features. Be open to changing pathways or finding a new destination. Do you tend not to look at certain areas, such as that tangle of blackberry brambles against the back fence? Tear them out, create a pathway to that space, and put something fun there—a sculpture you made, a rocking chair, twinkling LED lights on a timer that comes on at dusk and shuts off a few hours later.
Simple Can Be Satisfying
The easiest vertical gardening is against an existing fence. But too often we ignore that opportunity. Depending upon your fencing, facing it with twine or chicken wire produces an easily climbed trellis for peas, beans (some runner beans are gorgeous), cucumbers, and flowers of many types. Decide if you want a permanent green cover, in which case you want vines that stay green all year round while adding interest during their budding and flowering periods. Some clematis are evergreen, for example; pink-budding jasmine is a popular choice (deer won’t bother it once it gets taller). Trumpet vines can be overwhelming, but the lavender-flowered variety is smaller and more manageable. Bougainvillea is gorgeous in its many colors, but remember it can get huge and also has scary spikes.
If you do nothing else, make a 30- to 45-degree angle off one section of your fence. Use bamboo or 5-foot-tall chicken wire for a 6-foot run toward the center of your yard and cover it with fast-growing Italian pole beans. Place a couple of chairs within your instant screen. You’ll find yourself retreating there on sunny days, and if you keep them picked, the beans are a stir-fry sensation.
Think Vertical Whenever You Can
Even if you’re just planting a container full of annuals, imagine how you can add a vertical element. A few 3-foot-tall bamboo poles set around the edges makes a teepee for petunias (the Wave series will climb). The petunias give shade to begonias that spill over the walls of the container. Color-match for a sensational effect. If you have railings or stairs, you can plant hops (yes, the kind in your beer—a lime-yellow variety is especially gorgeous). You’ll have to cut back the stems in the winter, but they’ll sprout in the spring with vigor to dependably cover your railings again every summer. You can harvest the hops and pass them on to a grateful beer-making pal.
Comb Recycling Centers and Urban Ore
Once you start adding height to your garden plans, you’ll be surprised how often you find a prop that’s fun. These treasures needn’t be expensive or purposed for gardening, though you do want to think about watering and an occasional rain shower. And don’t get something that’s going to topple at the first gust of wind.
To create a walkway, shop for hog panels. These are metal rectangles 16 feet long by about 3 feet high, composed of about 11 lines of open squares. You’re going to bend the long part to create what looks like a giant croquet wicket, anchoring the 3-foot-wide ends into the ground about 4 to 5 feet apart from each other. Even one is plenty useful, but if you set two or more next to each other, you’ve made an arched walkway for about $25 per panel. Home Depot carries cattle panels that are the same size, but with variegated spacing on the squares—the hog panels are evenly spaced. (Hog panels are available at Friedman’s in Santa Rosa or the various tractor supply outlets. Combine a Santa Rosa visit with a trip to the independently owned garden centers along Sonoma County Farm Trails, FarmTrails.org.) It won’t matter whether you choose hog or cattle, especially if you grow table grapes or a similar heavy vine up the panels. Imagine camping out under your own arch and reaching up to grab a big bunch of purple grapes. The panels are also useful for climbing annuals such as beans, peas, cucumbers, and squash.
Once you turn your mind to the skies, you’ll find yourself wondering why you ever thought of gardening as earth-bound—and your yard will become a panoply of visual treats.
This report was originally published in our sister publication, the East Bay Monthly.