How to use vertical space to grow edibles in a small garden

Do you find that you just don’t have enough floor area when you venture into your small garden?

It may leave you tripping over pots, squeezing into cramped seating areas and longing to be able to grow much more in your outside space.

Yet, if you think vertically, the smallest space can offer an abundance of produce in pots. You should make the most of your walls, windowsills and fences, says Mark Ridsdill Smith, creator of the popular website Vertical Veg and author of a new book, The Vertical Veg Guide To Container Gardening.

Mark Ridsdill Smith makes the most of vertical space (Sarah Cuttle/PA)
(Sarah Cuttle/PA)

Mr Ridsdill Smith, who runs workshops for new growers, found his passion for edible plants when he lived in London and only had room to grow plants on his balcony windowsills. He then moved to Newcastle where he grew veg in the concrete backyards of two rented homes before moving to his present house, where he has a container garden in his concrete front yard.

“Using containers is a brilliant way of growing food in a small space, whether it be a balcony or even just a windowsill,” he says.

He offers the following tips on ways to maximise growing potential in your vertical space.

1. Think about platforms and prettiness

Pots of edible violas displayed on a ladder (Alamy/PA)
Display pots of pretty edibles on a ladder (Alamy/PA)

“If you’ve an old ladder or plant pockets or shelves to attach to a fence or wall, you can increase the amount of vertical space,” Mr Ridsdill Smith says. Think about using the rungs as shelves to display a number of pots with different edibles.

If you only have space for one plant growing up a wall, make space for a hanging basket coming down filled with trailing edible flowers such as nasturtiums and violas.

Orach, also known as arrach, mountain spinach and saltbush, is a fast growing annual that gets around 80cm tall and is great for growing vertically. The hardy leafy green produces masses of spinach like leaves that are used in a similar way.

Read: How to grow vegies in containers

2. Make use of climbers

Vegies such as climbing French and runner beans are ideal for growing in a pot up a wigwam made from three canes tied together at the top. Alternatively use coppiced sticks for a more natural look.

“You can get a lot of beans from one pot,” says Mr Ridsdill Smith. “They used to be grown as ornamentals because they are really pretty. But they don’t tolerate frost.”

Late spring is the time to sow seeds for a summer harvest but you can grow beans all year in tropical to subtropical regions and spring to autumn in temperate to cool climates.

Attach string to your wall when growing vine tomatoes, squash and other tall plants which grow on one stem, and tie the string in as they grow.

Cherry tomatoes are also a good choice, but they are generally best grown in a climate with low humidity. In cool, temperate or inland climates, sow or plant cherry tomatoes after the last frost. In northern Australia, sow or plant during the dry season

For this to work effectively, you’ll need an attachment point above the plant, whether it be screwing small eyes into the wall above, or finding an old nail to run vertical lines down to your plants.

You can even grow tomatoes in a pot on the windowsill if you tie the string to the top of the windowsill and then tie the other end loosely round the base of the plant, winding it around as it grows.

3. Make a vertical herb garden

Windowsill herbs (Mark Ridsdill Smith/PA)
Transform your windowsill into a herb garden. (Mark Ridsdill Smith/PA)

“You can repot supermarket herbs into larger pots to encourage growth. Split plants such as parsley and basil, but you won’t need to split mint. Alternatively go to a herb nursery. Herbs really are one of the easiest things to start with,” Mr Ridsdill Smith says.

You can put them in a row on shelving on your wall, grow them in window boxes or on a balcony and pick the leaves when you need them. Most of them don’t need very much sun, either.

Read: The best antiviral herbs to grow at home

4. Start off with micro-greens
“These are great for beginners. They grow really quickly, so you get a crop in about two weeks. Pea shoots are very tasty. Buy dried peas from the supermarket and sow them in a seed tray thickly and you’ll have pea shoots in two weeks. They are better grown outside and are best grown at this time of year,” Mr Ridsdill Smith says.

5. Trail veg from hanging baskets

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A bracket is all you need from which to suspend a hanging basket, which will provide you with trailing tomatoes and salad leaves.

6. Invest in fruits
“They require a longer investment of time, but you can easily grow fruit in a pot, which will make use of your vertical space. Fruits such as blackberries will grow up a wigwam,” Mr Ridsdill Smith says.

7. Grow salad leaves in wall pouches

“Salad leaves are among the easiest things to grow. There are so many different varieties – mustard, rocket, sorrel and many others. You can have this really mixed diversity of leaves which looks really pretty. Include some nasturtiums as the flowers look lovely and can be eaten,” Mr Ridsdill Smith advises.

Read: 10 easy things to grow at home – and how to eat them

8. Use water reservoirs
If you have a sunny garden and want to save time on thirsty plants such as tomatoes and beans, grow them in containers with a reservoir. They are brilliant for sun-loving plants such as chillies, eggplants and capsicums. You may struggle with some salad crops in mid-summer which could run to seed (bolt) in the heat.

9. And if you have a shady small garden

Salad leaves in containers on a balcony (Alamy/PA)
Salad leaves will take some shade. (Alamy/PA)

“Focus on all the leafy herbs and vegetables, kale, chard and spinach, plus woodland fruits such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and rhubarb,” Mr Ridsdill Smith says. “They will be okay in three to four hours’ sun, but if not, concentrate on herbs and micro-greens.”

The Vertical Veg Guide To Container Gardening by Mark Ridsdill Smith is published by Chelsea Green, available now.

– With PA

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Written by Hannah Stephenson