GARDEN TIP: Growing Vertical

Post last updated: March 1st, 2019

Last winter, I spent some time looking over the book, Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out, For More Vegetables And Flowers In Much Less Space by Derek Fell (2011). Admittedly, I looked at the photos more than I read the book. I liked Mr. Fell’s idea of growing vertical for more production using less garden space. However, it was obvious, from the cover of the book, that his vertical gardening poles were for a small garden.

I gave up on small gardens in 2011 when I went to a 12 x 28 garden with traditional rows. At that time, my solution for vertical gardening was two plumbing pipes at either end of the garden. I consulted Poppie about the purchase of the plumbing pipes and I guess he forgot you’ve always got to prop up the middle. That sort of thing never occurs to me. After driving home looking like a Beverly Hillbilly with those pipes sticking out the back of my car’s trunk, Poppie installed the pipes for me and propped up the middle of the wire with a rickety piece of wood.

I took the Vertical Gardening book to Poppie and told him I wanted vertical garden poles. In late November, we went supply shopping for Poppie’s version of Mr. Fell’s vertical garden poles. I absolutely hate shopping at big box hardware stores because I always have a list, and I want only what is on that list. The last thing I want to do is walk a cavernous warehouse on the hunt. Nor am I impressed with a greeter. I want my very own personal shopping helper! Poppie knew where to look and picked out what I needed. Three 4x4s fence posts would become the poles to stretch the length of the row. A 2×4 would become the three T-braces at the top of each pole. Chain link fencing top rails that Poppie already had hanging around the family compound would become the last component. Alternatively, you could use an old child’s swing set, or, with a little imagination, clothesline poles. You just need something high enough for hanging the Dalen netting.

I don’t recall how Poppie arrived at 20.5 inches for the T-braces. As usual, he didn’t discuss it with me. You can see that we installed the vertical garden poles to the right of my 2011 attempt at vertical gardening. Here are the 2012 vertical garden poles during installation:

For the new vertical garden poles, I ordered a 5-foot x 30 foot Dalen Garden Trellis Net. Mr. Fell’s design would allow anyone to easily slip the metal poles out of their sockets for threading the trellis netting onto the metal poles. Alas, my chain link top rails are too long to slide out of the holes. Way too long. I had to tie the netting to the top rails causing the netting to wompyjaw. I was not happy. I ultimately decided against a garden trellis net for the other side because, as you can see here, at 5 feet, it did not reach the soil and had to be tied/staked:

The garden netting not reaching the soil was an issue. After some serious mulling and muttering about not wanting to put string on my agenda, I succumbed to the inevitability of string. String is still relatively cheap but I’d almost rather take a beating than do all that stringing. Here’s the end result with garden netting on the west side and string on the east side:

Here is an angle view of both the original rickety vertical poles and the new vertical garden poles. I’ll bet even a spider gets confused looking at this.

On the east side, I have a 28-foot row of pole beans. On the west side, I have Thai Melon, red onions leftover from the winter, cucumbers, Birdhouse Gourd and Charantais Melon. All in a row that is, more or less, 20.5 inches wide.

I am now a tad worried about Poppie’s choice of 20.5 inches for the T-braces. It’s starting to look a little crowded in there for good air circulation. The fence rails at the top are only 15 inches apart making all plantings only 15 inches apart unless I angle the strings/netting outward. See what happened to me the very first season. I now wish the fence rails were much further apart. In hindsight, I should have cut the 30 foot Dalen Garden Trellis Net into five 6-foot lengths. This would have allowed the netting to hang all the way to the ground offering support to baby seedlings.    

Looking inside the 20.5 inches of vertical garden

In mid-February I expanded my garden to 28 x 28. I also have an additional two rows on the other side of the property that I refer to as my Tater Garden. However, other things seem to slip in over there – onions, carrots, watermelon, even a pineapple.

For another vertical gardening idea, see what my neighbors, the Golfcarts, did at More Vertical Gardening. You might also enjoy this YouTube video from the Roots and Refuge Farm:




12 thoughts on “GARDEN TIP: Growing Vertical”

    1. Meta – Your other comment on the bald cypress somehow got attached to the photo rather than the blog. This has happened to me 3 times. I finally asked about it in the forums but not sure I’ve gotten an answer yet. Here’s what I said:
      Hi Meta! Yes, I think the balls (actually called cones) are food for wildlife. We have a lot of squirrels and I often find the cones on the ground looking kind of gnawed. We have two cypress trees. One I brought from Texas, one was purchased locally. Both are now 25+ years old. I just started noticing the cones around 2008 but they could have been there before. What fascinated me about them was the intricate markings that made me think of turtles. Yes, I believe the cones are part of the seed process but it must be a tricky process because we’ve had only two volunteer cypress trees over the years.

        1. Meta — This one came through. Whenever you have trouble, just quit and come back to it. I’ve got three sets (comment and reply) that I can’t rescue. I can see them in my comments section, plain as day, but they are attached to the photo rather than the post. I didn’t get an answer from WordPress forums.

  1. Wonderful! Since I have a small garden, I utilize a lot of vertical space. I understand your concerns about air space, but at the same time, the inner gardener in me is giggling in delight to see such a beautiful set up!

      1. I do! I have a wooden fence with 20 >6″ diameter pots hung on it (, I grow on a different chain link fence, and this year I’ve put up cattle panel arches and am going to be working on vertical wall growth of mosses and other plants as well as hopefully a vertical hydroponics-style system. I also have trellising throughout my yard for ornamentals and edibles and of course tomato cages (although those don’t really count). I have multiple posts about my garden available here:

        I’ll have to do a targeted post some time soon. 🙂

        1. Hi Jen – I’ve seen the vertical hydroponics at our Extension Agent. Won’t work for me. I’ve got to play in the dirt. I subscribe to a couple of freebie newsletters online. One of them is Natural Home and Garden. They recently did a story on that controversial guy, Jules Dervaes, and had better pictures of his garden than I’ve ever seen. I was particularly impressed with the hanging pot section. Here’s the link to the photo gallery for that article. Be sure to click through to all 8 photos.

  2. I come from a family that believes cucumbers should grow over the ground. It took much convincing from me after reading about the use of a climbing trellis and a few types of cucumbers that thrive as climbers in order to get them to believe otherwise. My folks now have a trellis in their 4×4 garden for 4 cucumber plants, two pepper plants, and a squash. They all fit perfectly!

    Plus, climbers (of all kinds) just decorate more space! I love it.
    (I currently have about 6 cucumbers, 8 sweet pea plants, and a handful of larkspurs trained to use the same 4×4 wall trellis. It’s hardly crowded, but I do have to be sure the cucumber vines don’t strangle everything else!)

    1. Dena – Do you suppose the family background of growing cucumbers over the ground is just a case of “we’ve always done it that way?” I prefer to get as many of my veggies off the ground as possible to avoid bugs boring into the veggie. The few watermelons I’ve grown have had the melon set on an upturned tuna can. The only veggie I haven’t figured out how to get in a cage or on a trellis is squash. Call me paranoid.

      1. It’s definitely because they’ve always done it that way and couldn’t imagine how or why you’d want to grow cucumbers as climbers! We have a squash growing over an side-turned tomato cage, to help keep the other cucumbers off the ground, too. So far, it’s been working, but they’re not really “vertical” so much as just “off the ground”.

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