I’ve often seen it written that dwarf beans are a good thing to grow in a small garden, for example, but if you want to increase your yield per square foot of ground space then you’ll get a lot more beans by growing the climbing version up some canes or sticks. Granted, this does involve putting some supports in, but these don’t have to be expensive and it might even be free if you can improvise.
The most common ways of growing vertically to increase yield include:
- Canes or sticks (single, row or wigwam)
- Hanging baskets
- Etageres (also sometimes described as garden ladders)
- Pots or pouches on brackets (large numbers make ‘living walls’)
- Frames covered in netting
The picture at the top of this page is of a very productive patio area that makes great use of vertical growing space. It includes canes, a sturdy trellis, pea netting and an etagere. The canes are old ones from Poundland which are sterilised and reused, the trellis is recycled, the netting is part of a two-pack from Pound World, and the etagere was bought during the Greenfingers winter sale and smartened up with some paint that was left over from painting the shed. All very cheap and easy solutions.
Of course, the supports are not the whole story. You need to buy the right plants for this too. What you grow will depend on your personal favourites and the growing conditions you have in your space, but you can choose from a good number of climbers and smaller plants that do well in pots.
Climbers and tall plants that make good use of vertical space include:
- Beans: runner, French, borlotto
- Tall types of sugar snap pea
- Cordon types of tomato (aka vine or indeterminate)
- Trained cucumber plants
- Climbing pumpkins (Red Kuri / onion squash, Sweet Dumpling)
- Climbing courgettes (tromboncino, Black Forest)
- Melon plants (warm locations only)
- Grape vines
- Fruit trees (maiden, spindle or espalier)
- Blackberry canes
You can also grow catch crops, companion plants or small shade loving edible plants around the bases of many tall plants to make even more use of the ground space.
Many plants grow well in pots that you can fix to brackets, shelves, hooks or drainpipes. There are even pots designed to clip firmly to the tops of fences and balcony rails. Examples of things you can grow in them include:
- Bushy tomatoes (aka determinate)
- Salad leaves
- Oriental veg
- Stubby carrots
- Spring onions
- Edible flowers
They need watering regularly as they tend to dry out quite quickly. The other thing to remember is that the pots at the bottom can be overshadowed by what’s growing above – therefore you need to grow shade-tolerant plants here, or arrange it so that they’re further away from the wall (for example, by using a wider pot and a longer bracket).
Making the plot look attractive too
If, like many people, your outside space is for leisure as well as growing food, give some thought to making it look good as well as being functional. ‘Living walls’ are popular right now, and you can plant them up with different coloured and shaped plants to create a pleasing pattern. You can also mix up edible plants and flowers. For urban, modern outdoor spaces, rows of black guttering can look good fixed to a wall and this is a fairly cheap option for creating a living wall look.
I’m a big fan of etageres and ladders, as they can be moved around from season to season to create new effects, and you can paint the wooden ones any colour you like to fit your chosen colour scheme. You can also move plants around on them to ring the changes (I have flowering bulbs on mine in winter and early spring then switch to strawberries and veggies in mid-spring). I think it looks best if the pots you group together are all similar colours or shapes as it’s more easy on the eye.
Some climbing plants are ornamental as well as edible. For example, the Cobra variety of climbing beans have beautiful violet flowers that would look great in most flower beds, and climbing Lingua di Fuoco borlotti have huge pods that are streaked with pink, red and cream. Climbing courgettes can be quite sculptural too, and can look amazing if you train them over an archway.
Do you make use of vertical space to grow more fruit, herbs or veggies? Feeling inspired?