Look up, Look Waaaay Up
Tight urban spaces make room for flora with vertical gardening
There is one thing that sets new homes apart from houses built over a decade ago: outdoor space. I am sure you have noticed that houses are built much closer to the lot line than they were in the past. It doesn’t really matter whether we are talking about fully detached, semis, or townhouses, the current trend demands that we must be more creative than ever in terms of how we use that limited amount of yard space.
This brings us nicely to the issue of growing vertical gardens. As a homeowner, you own the vertical space, as well as the square metres inside your lot lines. To make the very best use of this area, it is wise to consider what vines and green screens can do for you.
Think about the benefits of adding colour, fragrance, and pollinators by way of flowers, food in the form of fruiting plants, and, of course, the cooling effects of a living green screen against a hot, south- or west-facing wall or fence. Get a snapshot in your mind of the garden that you could enjoy by making use of your vertical space
The obvious place to start, when considering the maximum use of your vertical space, is with vines. There are many to choose from in our growing zones; here are a few of our favourites:
Fast-growing, twining vine that will get out of hand if you let it. It loves the sun and will only bloom where it receives at least six hours of it, but it will grow in part shade, minus the flowers. The huge, hanging panicles of purple or blue flowers of wisteria are legendary.
HARDY KIWI [Actinidia chinensis]
Not to be confused with the tender kiwi that fruits in California. This is another aggressive twining climber [vs. a ‘self clinger’ which sticks itself to the wall or fence]. Mark has a hardy kiwi that grows about four metres each growing season. He makes a habit of cutting it back once a month in the summer. The fruit, however, is a rather disappointing, large grape-sized thing that only grows on the female plants.
CLIMBING HYDRANGEA [Hydrangea anomala petiolaris]
This is a winner if you are looking for a permanent wall-clinger. It flowers beautifully in late spring/ early summer with a broad, creamy white flower not unlike its shrubby cousins. While slow to get started, it is well worth the wait. Tolerant of partial shade and full sun, it enjoys a slightly acidic soil.
EUONYMUS SARCOXIE or BIG LEAFED WINTERCREEPER
This is an amazing plant in our growing zone [up to zone 5] as it provides reliable year round interest. The shiny, broad leaves of either variety are attractive right through the winter. A flower that is rather non-descript in the spring produces attractive clusters of orange-red berries later in the season, which many birds enjoy. Big Leafed Wintercreeper is the fastest grower of the two and has the biggest leaves. Sarcoxie is less aggressive and requires moderately less pruning.
It is common to hear them referred to as “The Queen of Vines.” They do suit royalty, especially when they are combined with climbing roses. Putting them together not only creates a gorgeous display, but it helps to overcome the shortcomings of both. When the clematis vine is planted on its own, it does not make a very effective screen, but together with a strong rose like Blaze, you could win an award.
If your idea is to screen out an unsightly view or just give yourself a little privacy, you can use plants to achieve this without using vines. A narrow hedge can do the trick when delineating space in your yard. Certain plants lend themselves to the aggressive pruning that can be required to prevent your ‘living wall’ from taking over the entire yard. White cedar, the most popular evergreen hedging material, is widely used for good reason. Prune it any time of year. There is no need for it to grow more than 80 cm wide with a twice-yearly haircut. Emerald cedar has become popular in recent years; it produces a very attractive hedge over time, but it does not lend itself to pruning as well as the native white cedar does.
Green or Copper Beech can make a great, permanent hedge with leaves that virtually stay in place the whole year. While they turn colour come fall, the plant retains them until spring when the new growth pushes them off. As with cedar, an annual pruning is necessary.
This is a great time of year to plant all of the above. A wide selection of quality plant material is available at full-service garden retailers and, chances are, you will get better service this time of year than you may have in the peak of the spring season.
Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada. He reaches over 2 million Canadians with his gardening/environment messages every week. Receive his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com Ben Cullen is a professional gardener with a keen interest in food gardening and the environment. You can follow both Mark and Ben on Twitter (@MarkCullen4), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MarkCullenGardening/) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/markcullengardening/).