“A garden teems with life. It glows with color and smells like heaven and puts forward at every hour of a summer day beauties which man could never have created and could not even, on his own resources, have imagined.”
Vertical gardening is the technique of training plants upward to conserve space and increase the potential harvest in a small garden. Vertical gardening can also simplify harvesting and maintenance tasks, and in some cases, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, can ensure healthier plants and more uniform fruit.
But, as C.S. Lewis implied, gardening is not only about the practical matter of feeding oneself. Gardening is an act of creative collaboration with God that feeds the soul as well as the stomach. Vertical gardening has some aesthetic applications, as well as practical ones. Vertical gardening creates a space that is more visually interesting. The eye naturally looks upward. Vining plants, such as cucumbers, peas, and beans have a charming appeal when grown along a fence or trellis. Few edible plants are more beautiful than arbor grapes, with their curling tendrils, luxurious leaves, and clusters of bright fruit.
If you’d like to add vertical spaces to your vegetable garden, follow the tips below to get started:
• Select a training device appropriate for the weight and size of the plant. Bamboo stakes are inexpensive and widely available, but they are lightweight. They work well for peas, but they won’t hold up tomatoes or melons. For these heavy crops, stick with metal stakes, cages, or sturdy sticks.
• Visit historical museums or online sites for traditional, rustic training methods. The early settlers made cages and trellises from sticks and branches roped together at the top to form a teepee shape. These devices have an appealing, natural appearance and take advantage of resources already in your yard. It’s hard to beat free!
• Understand a plant’s vining tendency. Green beans, for example, don’t climb well from one horizontal wire to another, such as those you’d find on a fence, but perform better when given thin vertical supports, such as strings or wires. Tomatoes don’t climb at all and must be either corralled in a cage or fastened to stakes and trellises. Use soft fabric or cut old socks into narrow pieces for this purpose. String or wire will cut into the plants.
• Make your support six to eight feet high. You’ll hammer at least six inches to one foot of the support into the ground, and many crops, such as indeterminate tomato varieties, can grow six to eight feet in one season.
• Choose lightweight plants. Some gardening books suggest making fabric slings to protect ripening fruits, such as melons. These heavy fruits will rip from the vine unless given some support. Making slings is certainly an option, although the simpler solution is to choose appropriate plants and let larger plants sprawl on the ground.
• Store vertical supports in a shed during the winter season, if possible. With a little care, you can save these structures for many years.