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Looking Up: Vertical Gardening with Eileen Barry of Wild Thyme Gifts & Gardens, Redding

Vertical gardening is any gardening that goes up and makes use of vertical space rather than using just the flat surface of the landscape. Vines growing up a nearby tree or ferns growing out of a rocky embankment are natural forms of vertical gardening. As a gardening technique, vertical gardening dates back to antiquity – the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which were elaborate terraced gardens considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, were written of admiringly by Greek thinker Herodotus around 450 BCE. When we stake our beans, tie up our clematis or trellis our roses, we are gardening vertically. Photo: One of Patrick Blanc’s Green Walls or mur vegetal in Paris in 2007.

While window boxes and trellised vines are all forms of vertical gardens, much larger-scaled vertical gardening has been a growing trend for a decade or so – its most recent incarnation spurred on perhaps by French garden designer Patrick Blanc (http://www.verticalgardenpatrickblanc.com/) and his now famous and ingenious soil-less interior and exterior vertical gardens in Paris, and indeed, around the world. Photo: Trellised green beans and city window boxes.

Vertical growing of edibles and ornamentals has many benefits not the least of which are increased space in which to garden; increased air circulation for your plants, which increases health and productivity for many plants; in many cases, easier access to your plants for harvesting and maintenance (not exactly applicable to Patrick Blanc’s 10 story-high gardens); and finally, in vertical positions, plants are frequently able to use light, soil, water and nutrients more efficiently. Photo: A Fern Wall display at the 2009 San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.

And vertical gardens are just so cool when done well.

Eileen Barry owner of Wild Thyme Gifts & Gardens in Redding agrees with the coolness-factor, and expands on it, saying: “Plants change your mood – so the more places you can put plants in your life – including on your walls and inside your house rather than just outside in your garden beds – the better your health, mood and overall environment. Plants reduce stress, they clean the air by removing toxins and providing oxygen. So when you have a vertical wall of green in your house, you are actually enhancing your environment. Plus it’s beautiful.” Photo: Eileen Barry with one of her indoor vertical garden displays in her shop Wild Thyme Gifts & Gardens in Redding.

Horticulturally-inspired would be an understated description for Eileen, whose small cottage-feel house and garden shop on Oregon Street near downtown Redding, is all about using all the space you have for all the gardening you are can fit in. She is a fan of vertical gardening in her small shop and back garden and has some good advice about getting started: Photo: Wild Thyme Gifts & Gardens in Redding.

Decide how complex and self-sufficient you would like your system to be. You can purchase or build systems using designs found on the web or in books with built-in automated irrigation, or you can hand-water your small wall hangings. Photo: An epiphytic stag horn fern and creeping jenny in one of Eileen Barry’s indoor wall pocket gardens.

Decide what you would like to grow: some colorful coleus, some hanging creeping Jenny, some herbs and greens for the winter windowsill, or a collage of sophisticated-looking succulents in a geometric pattern in your front entry. Photo: Another interior vertical green wall display at Wild Thyme Gifts & Gardens in Redding.

Decide where you would like to add some vertical green – front porch, side wall, dining room, etc. Your location will determine the kind of system and specifically the water protection you will need. For instance, if you want to have a vertical green element on your exterior porch or courtyard wall, you may well be able to water it without worrying. If you want to create a vertical element in your living room, on the other hand, watering and careful water protection for your walls and your floors will be an issue. Waterproof paint, and mold resistant paint on wall surfaces will help you to prepare a site; creating an indoor vertical element that can be taken outside or to a nearby sink for weekly watering and draining, will help; or, providing a waterproof barrier or liner between your display and the wall as well as a catch tray for water below, will work. Photo: An interior Succulent Wall display at the 2009 San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.

Several inspirational demonstration gardens featured interesting vertical gardening displays in the 2009 San Francisco Flower and Garden show – specifically some really striking soil-free succulent wall hangings. Sunset magazine did a nice article on these types of displays a while back. The innovative San Francisco nursery and floral shop, Flora Grubb Gardens, do quite a lot with wall hangings built from wire cages filled with a damp sphagnum moss and soil mix and tucked full of little succulents. They are lovely. Photo: An exterior green Succulent Wall and Green Roof display at the 2009 San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.

When Eileen and I chatted about vertical gardening as we walked around Wild Thyme, we used these ideas as points of departure – but then kept right on going. As vertical gardening implies – the sky’s the limit. Eileen is clearly attracted to sophistication that includes color, texture and diversity in her displays, Throughout the shop, her displays use a pre-made product called Woollypockets – engineered out of recycled plastic bottles. “They handle the water issue effectively and easily,” Eileen points out, which will get many people started with the vertical idea on a manageable scale. Once they are comfortable, they can begin to experiment – layering window boxes, succulent frames, whatever. Have fun with it.” Photo: An exterior vertical green wall display at Wild Thyme Gifts & Gardens in Redding.

The sky indeed, or how high you are willing to climb on a ladder, is your limit.

Here are a few good books on vertical gardening. All of my reading recommendations are available in stock (or by special order for the more expensive ones) at Lyon Books in Chico. You can order on-line and Lyon Books is happy to ship. You can also try our wonderful public libraries for these books: :

Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls, by Nigel Dunnett and Noel Kingsbury, 2008

Vertical Gardens, by Anna Lambertini, 2007

The Vertical Garden: From Nature to the City, by Patrick Blanc, 2008

Wild Thyme Gifts & Gardens vital stats: Tue – Sat 10am – 5pm 1272 Oregon Street Redding. CA 96001 Phone: 530-247-0320.

Did you know I send out a weekly email with information about upcoming topics and gardening related events? If you would like to be added to the mailing list, send an email to Jennifer@jewellgarden.com.

In a North State Garden is an outreach program of the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State, based in Chico, CA. In a North State Garden is a weekly radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in California’s North State region. It is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In A North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio KCHO/KFPR radio, Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.