In the last couple of years, my husband and I have slowly added a number of vertical accents into our garden. Some are functional, others are simply eye candy, but all add that much-needed element of height and dimension in the garden — because when everything is planted on the same plane, things get boring pretty quickly.
So, if you want to add some vertical elements into your garden, check out this article on the “why’s”, but if you’re ready for the “how,” keep reading.
Trellis: A trellis is a flat structure made of interwoven wood or metal pieces, for the purpose of growing climbers like ivy, climbing roses, grapevines or clematis. I like using trellises at the back of the garden, against a fence or wall, because it gives a lovely green backdrop to every plant in front of it. You can purchase ready-made trellises at garden centers or home improvement stores, or make your own using open-work ranch panels. Feeling creative? Re-purpose items like old bed springs — use t-posts or rebar to stake them into the ground, then let your vines grow up and do their thing!
Arbor: Typically a wooden or metal bench with a roof and enclosed with lattice panels, an arbor is often confused with a pergola (below). Arbors are charming additions to any garden, beckoning a gardener to sit and rest for a while in between planting and pruning. Be careful to add vines that will not take over the arbor to a degree that you can’t sit on the bench, however — then you’ll have simply created an interesting but nonfunctional piece of garden art.
Pergola: A pergola is a structure that includes vertical posts with overhead crossbeams upon which plants grow. It can be long, forming a walkway, or short, creating a leafy entrance from one garden space to another. While it can have seating underneath it, it typically doesn’t have seating attached to it like an arbor does. In my front yard, I have a combination arbor/pergola — it’s a metal structure that has attached seating on both sides, but also features an overhead piece. We’ve trained a Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), so when it blooms in the spring, you’re surrounded by a perfumed explosion of white flowers.
Espalier: Espalier is a way of growing plants (particularly trees, shrubs, and woody vines) on a flat surface like a wall, a fence or a trellis. Traditionally, fruit trees have been grown this way for ages. The idea is to prune the plant to develop one main stem or trunk, then carefully over time, prune the side branches to grow laterally. It’s not only beautiful but allows the gardener to grow numerous plants on a smaller footprint — and if you can get some apples as a result? Major score.
Raised Beds: Raised beds can be purchased or built to the height you desire, which can help make bending down to tend to your garden easier on your back. They can prevent your soil from eroding, provide good drainage and act as a barrier to garden pests. Raised beds also typically do not have bottoms, which allow the roots of plants to grow further into the ground to attain more nutrients. You can also add additional vertical gardening elements easily to raised beds, as they can act as a foundation for trellis’s or obelisks.
Living Wall: Living walls can be a beautiful design elements as well as a great use of space. When it comes to materials and display, your options are endless. You can simply adhere lightweight planter boxes vertically along a wall, and plant from there as you normally would with planters. Another way to create a living wall is purchase a living wall “pocket planter” display (similar to the over-the-door shoe storage design) and fill each pocket with soil and plant from there. You can also opt for mat media systems, however these do not provide a very strong base and only work best for small, lighter weight plants. The plants root themselves into a thin coir fiber or felt fabric, and uses a watering system from the top. This system can be a little more difficult to maintain, but aesthetically pleasing and commonly used as beautiful decor.
Obelisk: In a flower garden, these can provide support for flowers like climbing roses, clematis, morning glories and many more. For vegetable gardens, these provide support for vining plants or many types of beans. Similar to trellises, obelisks don’t require a wall to lean on and can be placed floating in a garden with no support. This can be beneficial to plants that you want sun from all sides and less shade, where a solid wall would be obtrusive to those plants on a trellis. Obelisks come in different shapes, materials and sizes, and can be highly functional as well as act as an attractive design element.
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About the Author:
Jenny Peterson is a landscape designer and urban farmer living in Austin, Texas. She comes from a family of gardeners and her gardens include drought-tolerant plants, herbs, veggies, and a wildflower pollinator garden. As a breast cancer survivor, Jenny specializes in gardens that heal from the inside out.