Leave it up to the mad gardener to find new ways and places to display more of his collection of plants. This is the ultimate in my horticulture addiction.
In the past years, like most people with a plant “problem,” I have run out of room to plant one more plant in my garden. Most of us live in communities where the building lots are not that big (or they can never be big enough).
I have been finding less and less open ground to install new plants I find on expeditions to the east coast, where I am searching nurseries for new plants that I have never seen before and I MUST have. I’ve spent countless hours in my garden walking around with a newfound three-gallon treasure in my arms, searching for just a little spot where it will fit in and not finding one. So I have taken my garden upward in many different ways, hence vertical gardening.
Some traditional ways of vertical gardening are using a trellis or hanging pots. Trellises are a great way to show off your collection of vines. Using two different vines on each trellis gives you- if it’s planned right- different blooms all year long and also enables you to have more vines and different varieties.
Sometimes I will put three different vines on one trellis, especially if they are not aggressive- but that’s just me; it doesn’t have to be you. Remember when starting vines on a new trellis, start the vines counterclockwise otherwise they will unwind themselves because of the Earth’s rotation. There are hundreds of vines that do well here in Southwest Florida. This is also the topic of my third book in progress as we speak.
Hanging pots also will give you an opportunity to show off plants almost any-where. You can hang them from tree branches, on brackets off your house, garage or any structure you have.
One new way I have found to vertical garden is by using the old seed pods from palm trees. At the base which is the pointed end, there is a cup-shaped area just right for planting bromeliads or just about any small plant you decide to showcase. The opposite small end is also a perfect fit for a plant. These can be attached with twist ties or a soft wire or even old panty hose. Spanish moss or sphagnum moss is a perfect planting medium and also hides the wires you have attached the plants with. The pods can be hung on lanai walls, in trees or where ever your imagination takes you.
Another way to expand garden is by using concrete pillars that are used for balcony railings on homes. They are about three to four feet tall. The bottom is square and sits perfectly in the garden soil and the weight is just right to hold them upright in our afternoon thunderstorms. The top of the pillar generally has a four-inch spike, which is perfect to anchor any type of pot which has a hole in the bottom for drainage. The spike holds the pot firmly in place, almost as if it were made just for that. They are pretty sturdy and I have never had one fall over. These pillars give you an opportunity to add more color and plants to your garden with very little space needed. It will also give you a great three-dimensional look. You can purchase these at a concrete cast form company.
Recently I was doing some cleaning and was throwing out a metal shelf about three feet by three feet. As I was on the way to discard it I decided that if cleaned up, I could attach bromeliads all over it and add some hanging Spanish moss to cover the twist ties used to attach the plants and to cover the remaining metal parts of the shelf. Now a large area of my lanai wall has become a living wall of plants. It can be watered with a spray bottle. Using old picture frames as living walls has become an addiction with me lately! WHATS NEXT!! Can’t get any easier than that! If bromeliads are not your thing, small potted plants can be used, even succulents and agaves for instance, but you will need a potting medium like sphagnum moss or shredded coconut fiber.
After Hurricane Wilma, we were fortunate to be given three Cypress tree stumps from trees that went down in the storm. We flipped them over and planted bromeliads in them; the stumps can hold a lot of plants in a small area, be sure not to over plant. They easily became major focal points in the garden using very little space. Again, other plants can be substituted.
Obelisks can also be used throughout the garden to secure vines without taking up much room. You can attach plants on fences, on tree limbs, use pots where surfaces cannot be planted, like concrete, or if there is an area in the garden that has too many roots, which make it impossible to dig. You can use metal or grapevine wreaths and attach plants and hang them anywhere.
These are just a few ways you can increase the number of plants in your garden collection, not to mention the beauty and interest. Also, never forget garden art or hardscape. Use your imagination and go upwards.
Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. A Collier County Master Gardener, he has written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted and designed numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or vis