Vertical garden update

A year on and it seems vertical gardening is still as popular as ever. I’m always being asked how the vertical garden is looking and if I would change anything.

Well, I won’t sugar coat it for you. There’s lots I’ve had to change. Mostly because I live in Western Sydney where the weather forecast for this week ranges from 33-36 degrees Celsius! Plants find these conditions hard, especially if, you know, um, sit in the air con and forget to, like, water them.

Let me break it down for you.

What works

  • the Hills system is still hanging on the fence and hasn’t cracked and has minimum fading, which isn’t very noticeable. I half expected quite a bit of fading because it’s outdoors and gets sun, and everything else in those two categories hasn’t held up, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Would I buy it again? Yep.
  • the individual pots in the Hills system allows me to swap plants around. This has been great for plants that have needed a little less sun (move towards the bottom) and to replace dead plants without disturbing the whole lot.
  • grass plant varieties have done far better than the shrubs and ground covers. They seem to handle the heat better, stay green longer and have filled out nicely. I don’t have to water these as much as the other plants. These have been my favorites:
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Grasses from the list above, a couple of months after planting.

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Same grasses, one year on. A couple of plants have been swapped around.

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Same grasses. They’ve filled out off the wall and the mature leaves hang down.

What hasn’t worked

  • the little water level float on the Hills system gets stuck. You really need to give it a tap to knock it free and then you can read the level (always empty, in my case!). Not a big deal, but it is a bit annoying.
  • the top of the Hills system has a little hole there for you to fill the water up, presumably with a watering can. That happened about 3 times in my house, before I worked out that I could shove the hose down the back of the top row and fill it in a quarter of the time.
  • speaking of watering, these little things really need water every day or every other day in summer. In the cooler months they go a while between drinks, but in the heat of the Australian summer they really need quite a bit of water. Over the Christmas break we took a 2 week holiday- most of the shrubs have dried up and died! I definitely recommend setting up an automatic watering system. Not hard or expensive to do, but can be tricky depending on where the nearest tap is. (Probably worth noting that our plants receive quite a bit of west facing sun in summer, which is the enemy of green things.)
  • the Rock daisy didn’t last long. This didn’t surprise me as it hasn’t really lasted long anywhere else in our garden, either!
  • the Little Ruby Alternanthera dentata is quite sensitive to the heat and wilts. It looked lovely for one summer, but this year has gone very stalky. I guess I was supposed to cut it back. I’m going to cut it down close to ground level and see what happens.
  • The Silverstar Liriope muscari isn’t doing too badly, but is certainly lost in the vigor of the other grasses. I’ve had more success growing this one in shadier places.
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Mixed plants, a couple of months after planting.

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Mixed plants, on year on. The Rock Daisy is long gone. The Little Ruby (purple) has wilted over our two week holiday (no water!), and has also gone pretty stalky. The Silverstar is the white looking one in the middle- rowing ok but not competing well with the upright foliage of the yellowy Shara and green Tankia.

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Mixed plants, one year on. Hmm, needs a bit of work.

Tips for success

  • do as much homework as you can on the plants, but be prepared for a bit of trial and error for your specific circumstances. If your garden is in the sun, it will definitely be drier than an average garden bed. If it’s in complete shade, it will likely hold the water a lot longer and perhaps even be a bit soggier than an average garden bed. If you have a spot like mine, that gets lots of heat and sun in summer and then almost no sun in winter, then pick something that can cope with both. There are miracle plants out there. The Isabella Liriope muscari has performed well in several areas of my garden and I can’t seem to kill it (miracle!). The Just Right Liriope muscari  has been a little slower growing than some of the others but is definitely looking the most lush.
  • ‘full sun’ and ‘heat’ are not the same thing. If your garden is going to face west, try to pick plants that are heat tolerant.
  • if you’re buying 140 mm or larger pots of plants when you start out, you can definitely break them up into a few separate plants to save some money.
  • remember to fertilise. The vertical garden is pretty much wholly dependent on you. Good thing there’s plenty of slow release fertilisers out there.
  • a vertical garden still needs a bit of love. You’ll still need to prune, remove dead foliage and replace dead plants from time to time.
  • check the darn water!
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