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Six reasons to look upwards. Vertical space in the garden

Think vertical. It adds a new dimension to your garden

If there's one aspect of a garden which is often ignored, it's the vertical. This isn't vital in large gardens where trees and larger structures provide plenty going on in an upwards sense. But in a small space it is foolish not to take advantage of the exciting opportunity to branch towards the sky.

Using the vertical space within a garden needn't be expensive, posh or complicated! Simple shelves with succulents look stunning. The majority of gardens possess boundaries. Indeed, the plot would be limitless without them. What do you see when you drive past gardens created within modern housing estates? Generally wooden fence panels, and they are often a rather shocking orange colour. Few people consider that these fences are a thing of beauty. Some fences have the benefit of a bit of coverage by shrubs and a few climbers, but it is rare for these fences to have been included within the planting scheme or garden design. Covering an unsightly structure or boundary is the first reason to think vertical.

Any well-chosen plant that adds a vertical dimension to the garden is an asset. Why is this? Generally it's because a fence is a rather short-lived structure that will eventually need to be replaced. People are also worried that plants against a fence will shorten its life. Whilst this could well be true, vertical planting can be viewed as a creative addition to a garden. Like a piece of art of sculpture, it may require an occasional overhaul but it's worth having for aesthetic beauty. That's the second reason to think vertical. It's a chance to create your own piece of living art.

There are ways to construct a wall specifically in order to grow plants. Isn't this one beautiful? You might be lucky enough to have a brick wall. If so, it offers a raft of opportunities for the creative thinker. Mirrors, shelves, climbers and wall art can all be used to make a magical scheme. A vertically planted wall consisting of individual units and planted with care is an exciting option which can be added to portions of almost any wall. A boundary doesn't need to look the same all the way around the garden. Indeed, changes in materials present a natural break which could well be disguised by vertical interest.

This living green wall in Paris is iconic. It was designed by Patrick Blanc  

Greenery in towns and cities

Even the smallest patch of planting is worth doing. In fact, it's vital in a courtyard or tiny garden, particularly within urban settings. The third and fourth reasons to think vertical: Greenery benefits the mind and body. It also brings relief to the urban heat-island effectPlanting introduces dappled sunlight together with intoxicating scents.

Small courtyard gardens can look stunning and if they are planned carefully they will create an oasis of calm. Have you noticed the green revolution? There are roof gardens, green balconies and green walls springing up all over the place as people acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that vegetation in cities helps regulate temperatures and reduces air pollution. Plants ingest toxins and trap pollution particles on leaves. The London Plane is a great example. Its beautiful trunk is a pollution-eater. It sheds its bark in little jigsaw-shaped lozenges, thus shrugging off pollution and allowing air to reach the tree. It is tolerant of pool soil, compaction around the roots and the open tree canopy means that branches rarely break in the wind. So the fifth reason to think vertical is this; to help reduce the effects of pollution.

The bark of the London Plane tree (Platinus x hispanica) helps this beautiful tree cope with pollution. It absorbs toxins, filters it and then shed its bark continually. What's more, trees and greenery reduce the risk of flooding because they absorb rainwater. The roots soak up water, the soil is stabilised around them and the canopy of foliage also holds on to water. Planted areas also increase biodiversity. The sixth reason to think vertical: Plants help to reduce flooding.

Vertical green walls

Did you know that foliage around a building actually acts as an insulation material? It not only keeps a building warm in winter but cools it in summer.

Smell the cool air! It's easy to see how a green wall would help to regulate the temperature of a building. In a domestic garden, the least you can do is to go to town with trellis. Grow climbers up fences and extend their interest by letting them grow a little higher. Don't limit yourself to just one. An array of different clematis, for example, will give you flowers from early spring through to late summer, then there are even winter-flowering and evergreen varieties such as 'Winter Beauty' too.  

How beautiful this wall looks with a flowering clematis adorning. There are around 200 species of Jasmine and many are known for their fragrant flowers such as Jasminum humile and Jasminum officinale. The vertical protection of your fence might well mean that you can keep a half-hardy jasmine going through a mild winter.

If you have a sheltered wall you might be able to grow one of the more tender varieties of Jasmine. The flowers smell divine. Thinking big? A green wall will really inspire you! Plants that do well in vertical systems include Heuchera, Sedum, Thyme, Ajuga, Carex, Ferns, Ivy, Geraniums, Buttercups, Strawberries and many more. The leaf colour can be used to create a pattern green walls can therefore become works of art.

This green wall in Mexico is certainly a work of art. The wall at the Rubens Hotel, near Buckingham Palace Mews, for example, is one of the largest in the world. It covers an area of 350 square meters and contains more than 10,000 plants. There are supermarkets which are greening up their act by clothing their exteriors in greenery. Businesses which are adding to the green tapestry and homeowners who are using the idea to great effectiveness.

The Rubens Hotel near Buckingham Palace Mews has what is believed to be one of the largest living walls in the world. Green walls have not lost their appeal since the idea first grew from a seed sprouted by Stanley Hart White in 1938. Patrick Blanc created one of the most famous green walls in Paris at the Musee du Quai Branley, within sight of the Eiffel Tower, in 2005. Other individuals and companies have since taken over the baton. But there's absolutely no reason why you can’t have a go at home!

Have a go at creating a green, living wall. It's fun!    

By Perfect Plants


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