This article is designed to assist the DIY vertical gardener choose the best product for growing vegetables on an outdoor wall (this type of planting bed is referred to as a ‘living wall’ or ‘vertical garden’). Garden Beet has been trialling vertical garden products for over four years. We keep researching new products and believe we have a good understanding of the various systems on the market. If you think we have missed a good product please let us know.
If you can’t be bothered reading the text and you just want the best living wall product here is the summary.
Buy WOOLLY POCKETS: these fabulous fabric wall planters are easier to install than rigid plastic systems and the plants love the Woolly Pocket design. If you want a serious vegetable garden that grows vertically year after year spend the money and buy some Wallys by Woolly Pocket.
A quick introduction to vertical gardening
Vertical gardening is basically growing plants on a wall. Vertical gardens are also known as living walls and green walls.
If your vertical garden is considered to be more than an experiment (ie it is an important component of your garden or its the only garden space you have) you need to be aware which systems will provide a healthy home for a plant long after the first growing season has finished. Remember you are asking a plant that normally grows in the ground to thrive suspended in mid air.
The two main vertical garden systems
There are two basic types of vertical gardens: soil based and water based (also known as hydroponic). Garden Beet has only experimented with the soil based systems.
The DIY soil based systems can be divided into fabric wall planters and rigid wall planters.We prefer the fabric planters for outdoor applications.
Why we prefer fabric wall planters for outdoor applications
The fabric vertical garden planters are flexible and light weight when compared to the rigid wall planters (Mini Garden see images below or Living Wall Planter by Woolly Pocket). The fabric systems allow easy installation and are transported with ease. The reduced weight results in shipping costs being lowered and larger wall gardens can be built (fabric places less loadings on the wall than the rigid planters).
When used indoors we are concencered that the fabric planters can leak: creating potential water damage to a property. Yes this problem can be overcome via application of a water proof paint behind the fabric planters. A water collection trough can also be added at the base of the pockets however the level of fuss required makes the rigid systems more appealing. In general the rigid systems tend to design a water collection device into the system.
The rigid products will be reviewed in greater detail at a later date.
Back to the fabric planter. Despite the fabric living wall being our planter of choice the fabric must be robust if it is to last more than one or two growing seasons. The stitching also needs to be sound. Over time the weight of soil and a plants growing root system will damage cheaply made wall planters.
Garden Beet is alarmed to read that the cheapest vertical garden systems are often claimed by those in garden forums to be the best vertical garden systems to use (using examples such as repurposed Ikea shoe holders). If you are serious about growing food do not listen to this advice. Cheap solutions are likely to offer only one growing season and are a waste of resources. Water is unlikely to be conserved, plants are more likely to die and new containers will need to be sort the following year. Vertical gardening can be demanding for a plant and its container. You are asking the plant to be suspended mid air, create food and hopefully not cause structural damage to your house or fences.
Who wants to see biodegrading material with a plant ball half suspended from the wall. Not me thanks. Cheap materials can not withstand constant dry and wet periods and eventually the living wall will look, at the very least, shabby. At the very worst a living wall may collapse and injure a small child.
1. Wally by Woolly Pockets (start at £24.99) above
FABULOUS, a bit pricey but money is well spent on quality
One of the first fabric wall planters to enter the market was Wally by Woolly Pockets. This vertical garden solution still amazes me. Every time I trial a new living wall product my respect for the design of this fabric wall planter increases. Yes Garden Beet sells Wally but I stand by my assessment.
It is a clever shape that sits well against a wall while providing generous room for a plant’s root ball. Compared to the other vertical garden products on the market this product allows a plant to grow to substantial proportions.
Product quality control is marvellous as well. Every Wally Pocket I have handled has kept to its specified dimensions. An important feature when installing a large wall.
Wally Pocket is fabulous for those who like experimenting with plants. The vertical gardener is normally limited in plant choice if they wish to grow a living wall that has good plant coverage. All the other systems trialled have very small spaces available for a plant’s root zone. There are not many plants that create enough foliage to cover a wall whilst tolerating a restricted root zone.
Despite the roomy root zone Wally Pocket does not create the bands of planting that have been made famous by Patric Blanc (shown below). The plants grown on Blanc’s living walls are able to hug the buildings as the plants are grown without soil – the plants are grown using hydroponic systems.
For a detailed review of Wally Pockets please refer to Garden Beet’s 2010 article Review of Woolly Pockets.
2. Verti-Plant Burgon and Ball (£9.95)– This is Burgon and Ball’s second attempt at producing a fabric wall planter. Yes its a much cheaper solution than Wally Pocket but it would be better as a desk tidy than a serious plant growing container. The pockets are too small and they are just hopeless at retaining water. The eyelets do not match up so forget about overlapping each unit to create a large green wall design. Customers have complained. I complain to myself.
3. All the other fabric wall planters – there are loads of Wally Pocket by Woolly Pocket copy cat designs coming out of China. All I have seen are poor substitutes. These products are sold on eBay, Amazon and a range of internet businesses. I have seen liners in the pockets made out of garbage bags! Eek. The plant pockets are simply the wrong shape and size. The space available for a plant’s root ball is too small – which leads to an increase in a plant’s water requirements – or the pocket will never hold the plant, its soil and the water securely. A mess.
BUYER BEWARE: a cheap vertical garden product may look like its going to perform because there is a picture of a lush vertical garden growing alongside a product shot. Don’t be fooled. The pictures may have been lifted from other retailers or manufacturers’ websites.
I have caught several manufacturing websites using my images to promote their products. All of those websites were selling sub standard living wall planters. The industry is so rife with this practise that I have even found reputable retail websites unkowingly using my images as well.