Professor Communication and Media
Denise is a devoted organic gardener who challenges herself to live as sustainably as possible in her home in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is a professor in the Department of Communication and Media at West Chester University with a Ph.D. from Kent State University. Her teaching and research areas consist of sustainability, close interpersonal relationships, integrating work and family, and conflict resolution.
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March 1, 2023
In the Garden of Deeden: Growing Up
Anyone walking in the Amazon Rainforest knows that the forest is tall, very tall. From the herbaceous layer of plants on the forest floor through shrubs, understory trees, canopy trees and finally the giant emergent trees, vertical growth is what the forest is all about. And a closer look at the trees found at each level reveals many, many others using the trees for support: orchids, bromeliads, vines like Cat’s Claw, moss, lichens, and so much more. This vertical stratification of life in the rainforest helps explain its staggering biodiversity. You can take advantage of this concept of vertical growing right in your own backyard by applying some very simple guidelines for vertical gardening.
In 2011, I was ready to grow up, literally. I took a seminar by Derek Fell at the Rodale Institute about the topic of vertical gardening. When space is limited– my entire property is less than 1/10 of an acre– growing plants vertically just makes sense; it’s very practical and mostly a matter of having the right plant supports and buying those varieties of plants that have a vining habit.
Advantages of Vertical Gardening
Vertical gardening has a number of advantages:
- It allows more plants with a smaller footprint.
- It involves less soil preparation and digging.
- It allows for more variety of plants in much less space.
- It can reduce weeding and other maintenance chores.
- Eye-level tending and harvesting is a plus.
- It also allows space for planting foundation plants (low-growing) at the base of the climbing vertical plants.
Yields of fruits and vegetables can also be greater with vertical gardening. Vining veggies also are capable of continuous yields whereas bush varieties tend to yield only for a few weeks. Because of my vertical garden, I have been able to donate over 100 pounds of food to the local food cupboard each year over multiple years and still have enough to eat fresh, can, freeze, dehydrate, and share with neighbors.
Planning Your Vertical Garden
A vertical garden, like all gardens, will take some planning.
Vertical gardening is not limiting in the sense of plant varieties. A gardener may have to start some plants from seed rather than go to the garden center, but hundreds of varieties of fruits, flowers, and vegetables will thrive vertically. According to www.almanac.com, their favorite vining veggies are: pole beans, climbing peas, sweet potatoes, vining tomatoes, and sprawling types of zucchini, cucumber, melon and squash that can be trained up supports.
A good rule of thumb for any garden is to have the tallest plants furthest north and then to reduce the height as the garden beds/pots/rows proceed further south; this allows maximizing sunlight. In my own garden, it also creates privacy. Passersby cannot even see my house from the alley once things really get established.
Although you can spend plenty of money purchasing various garden supports, it also can be fun to upcycle some items as supports or to DIY from bamboo, twine, or other items like arbors, arches, pergolas, trellises, chain link fence, green walls, maypoles, teepees, and so much more.
Not ready to commit to a full-blown vertical garden? That’s OK. It can be easy to start with some strategically potted plants. Chances are, though, you’ll get hooked – and then the sky’s the limit!
For more tips on vertical gardening check out: