Wednesday 3 July 2013

The Vertical Vegetable Garden

Being on a sabbatical has some enjoyable perks. Like getting up early to have a small breakfast and see the missus off to work, then taking an early morning nap. Add to this the incapacity associated with a knee operation and things get really interesting. You can't really work hard, even if you want to. Your body just stops. Which of course limits your sailing time.

So then one has to think up new projects that are not too strenuous. Being a food blogger, the idea of a garden comes to mind. But we are living in a duplex flat (“double storey apartment in a building” for my overseas friends), so a normal garden is simply not possible.

A brief search on the internet revealed a multitude of ideas around vertical gardens. Living walls in cities, apartment buildings with large flower pots on every balcony, each complete with a medium sized tree. A living vertical forest. Check more images here.

More ideas came from using two litre soft drink plastic bottles, festooned in various orientations, planted with the flowers or vegetables of choice.

I eventually decided on using a pallet, as I have a suitable courtyard wall to hang it on. Two simple brackets over the single brick wall will do the suspension job just fine. This will also leave me with the option of adding another pallet later and moving the two around to fit aesthetically. No use having an ugly garden!

I chose a pallet with narrow openings between the slats. This gives me some distance between the rows. You don't want too large gaps between the slats of the pallet, otherwise you need a lot more plants from the word go to keep the soil in place. This will drive up the cost of your garden substantially. For example, double the width of the slots will require double the amount of plants and therefore doubling the initial cost of the plants. Which is the biggest part of your expenditure.

The pallet cost me R10 from the local tile shop. The landscaping cloth cost in the region of R15/m and the mesh about R60/m. The soil cost around R25/bag. The plants cost in the region of R500, depending on what and how many you buy. I also bought some soluble organic fertilizer. You will need this as you are not able to spread it as in a normal garden. Brackets for mounting on the wall are reasonably cheap too. You will need to figure out what is required before you start your garden. The garden is too heavy to experiment with once it is assembled.

The construction is relatively simple. And you need the minimum of tools. In this case, I used a strong pair of scissors, a pruning tool and some thick staples. That's it. Simple.

You need sufficient soil to fill the volume of the pallet, so you may need to do some simple calculations.


1 pallet, roughly 1m x 1m. That is what fits in my car.
1 running meter landscaping cloth. These are sold in 1m wide strips.
1 running meter plastic mesh. These are also sold in 1m wide strips.
1m x 1m plastic sheeting
2 bags potting soil
1 bag organic mulch
1 bag bone meal


Start by stapling the landscaping cloth to the underside of the pallet. This will become the back of the garden hanging against the wall. Take care to also cover one open end of the pallet. This will become the  bottom of the garden.

Over this staple the plastic mesh. This mesh will provide the strength at the back to keep the soil inside the pallet. Then over all of this you need to put a cover of plastic sheeting. This will prevent your hanging garden from staining the wall.

Now turn the pallet over so that the top part is facing upwards and fill with your mixture of potting soil, mulch and bonemeal. This is a somewhat tedious job, as you will be filling through the slats of the pallet. Work the soil to the bottom of the pallet. I picked up the open end  of the pallet and gave it a little shake to get the soil lower towards the bottom. But I am strong enough. Be careful, this garden is quite heavy. If you are not strong enough, just work the soil downwards with your hands through the slats. It helps if you have small hands!

Once you have the soil nicely settled in, you can start planting your garden. You want perennial plants, as it is not easy to replant your garden. Of course, you need to decide on a variety, like I did. Rather in an impromptu and haphazard fashion. I forgot to get parsley, which is why I need to make another round of the garden shop.

I opted to plant the lower rows with smaller vegetables and having the larger ones to the top end. I reasoned that this will allow the bigger plants some more space to go while not interfering with the smaller ones.

Space the plants close together and make sure that they are individually tamped down properly. Remember, you are going to tip this lot up to vertical, so there must not be gaps inside for the potting soil to go. And the plants are all that is keeping the soil inside on the front side.

This, incidentally, is also the reason why you need to wait three weeks at least before hanging the garden. The roots need to grow and hold the soil and themselves in place. So you need a good root system, which is why you add generous amounts of bonemeal to the potting soil mix.

The garden can be watered by normal ways when still flat. I propped mine up so that there is an incline. This will hopefully also allow the soil to settle as you water the garden every day. I use a small watering can to water the garden. You don't want to wash the loose soil out of the pallet. Once the garden is hung up, you water only from the top. Add fertilizer once a week or once every two weeks, as per usage instructions.

Some people add a piece of plastic guttering at the bottom of the hanging garden to catch any water coming through, then feeding it back at the top. Makes for much less waste of fertilizer and you get a more effective garden, but at the cost of having a more complicated system. I kept this one simple, as it is my first one and therefore a bit of an experiment.

Voila, you have a garden!

Now the waiting starts. Perhaps I shall be able to harvest some leafy stuff in three weeks' time. An afternoon spent in gainful activity, even though my knee is badgering me.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-07-03


  1. Wow, I loooove this! It is a brilliant idea!

    1. Thanks Zirkie. Let's hope the plants all take hold! Then we shall have real organic food in the house for a change.

      I shall make another post when I hang it up.

  2. I love it. Very creative use of space and materials. We have plenty of room for a garden, but I've always been fascinated by the idea of small space gardening.

  3. Excellent post, Johan. Hope you don't mind a little Pinterest love from the Home Depot Garden Club!

    1. Thanks Michael! I appreciate the (P)interest.

      And you may look forward to more: I shall pin an update on progress on this one and some pics. And there is the shady version with ferns and low light loving plants as well as the pop bottle veggie garden, in the offing. I have to wait for some warmer weather though.

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  12. Dear Jake and Mueeid, you both touched on one of the difficult parts of this vertical garden; the water evaporates very fast indeed.
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    Well spotted!

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