Vertical Garden 101: Introduction to Vertical Gardening

Space is always a premium in gardens, especially when you are a renter.  Even though I WANT to clear cut the numerous trees and bulldoze the overgrown lilacs and other vegetation in our yard, we are renters and just can’t do it.  As a renter, I did my part cleaning up the wild area a few years ago, but I shall not mess with more of the owner’s remaining vegetation.  I have to get creative using space to grow food, and one creative way to expand is to capitalize the unused airspace.  This post is an introduction to vertical gardening, and additional articles will cover how I built and maintain the vertical gardens I am using in 2016.

What is a Vertical Garden?

I define a vertical garden as a method or system that utilizes unused airspace to grow plants. If you have been surfing around Pinterest, you have probably seen various systems that use pallets and other containers for growing all kinds of plants along walls and fences (as seen in the picture above).

On the Small Scale Life Pinterest page, I have a board specifically set up for vertical gardening, and there are a ton of ideas out there using trellis systems, pallets, window boxes, other various containers and rain gutters.  Given my limited space, I firmly believe in vertical gardening.  In my garden, I use trellises and rain gutter systems.  The rain gutter system is new in my garden, and I am watching it closely.  More about that later.


Tomatoes; Cucumbers; Peppers, Vertical Garden, Trellis, garden

My garden in 2014. Note that the cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers are on lines that are part of my trellis system

Trellises come in various styles, and I have been discovering that the proper trellis really depends on what plant you are growing.  I use trellises for as many vegetables as possible: peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, peas and pole beans.  My trellises very loosely follow the Mittleider Method of growing vegetables, but I have made my own modifications based on experience, constructability and engineering judgement.  I will provide a separate post discussing my trellis systems as part of this series.

Rain Gutter Vertical Gardens

gutter vertical garden

This picture showing vertical gardens using simple rain gutters caught my interest a few years ago.  I didn’t think it was possible to grow vegetables in rain gutters like this, but every year the maple in my front yard reminds me that if there is water and some kind of growing medium (rotting propellers and leaves), rain gutters are indeed big enough to grow plants and trees!

Fortunately, I found two friends on Instagram that implemented rain gutter vertical gardens, and they have been have great success with their systems.  As I watched their success, I was inspired to build my own rain gutter systems.

In Genius Farms in Montreal, Canada

For the past couple years, I have been following “The Plant Charmer” Khaled Majouji on Instagram.  He is an urban farmer in Montreal, Canada, and he grows an obscene amount of food in rain gutters.  I am not exaggerating: OBSCENE amounts of food.  Khaled used simple scaffolding systems and existing chain link fences to secure his gutters.  He used a good soil mix and a chicken manure tea to feed his plants, and this year he installed an irrigation system which really cuts down on the work maintaining his plants.

It really caught my eye last year, but given everything that happened in 2015, there was no way for me to build one of these systems.  Still, I kept following Khaled, and when he started uploading videos on his YouTube Channel this spring, it really caught my attention and imagination.  Khaled is blazing the way on vertical garden systems, and I have invited him on the Small Scale Life Podcast.  Please follow “The Plant Charmer” Khaled Majouji on Instagram; he has a really interesting feed with a lot of interested and interactive people.

Zack’s Rain Gutter System

At the same time, another Instagram friend named “ZackOutside” (Zack) installed three gutter systems on a fence at his home in Winnipeg, Canada.  He followed Khaled’s methods of construction to build approximately 120 feet of rain gutter systems attached to his fence.  To fill those gutters, he used the following soil mix combinations:

Zack indicated that he has grown the following vegetables in the rain gutter systems:

  • Grew Well – Spring mix, cos romaine, little gem lettuce, early Great Lakes lettuce, mini bell peppers, red/green Swiss chard, basil, mild jalapenos, chickpeas, bush beans and dill.
  • Did Not Grow Well – Spinach, garlic, onions, beets and chives

Feel free to follow Zack on Instagram.  He has a lot of gardening techniques that are similar to mine, and he is very responsive to comments and questions.

Coming Up Next

In the next series of articles, I will discuss the trellis systems and rain gutter systems in place in my garden.  I have a lot of experience with my trellis system, and it works very well for a lot of different plants.  The rain gutter system is new, and I am watching it closely.  So far, the basil “food forest” is thriving in the gutters!  I am pleased at this point.

How about you?  Are you using trellis systems or have you tried a rain gutter system like this?  I am curious what your experience has been.