An Alley Story: Vertical Gardens

Photo by CGIOS

We are not all perfect and some of us have vertical gardens as evidence. I’m intrigued by one that sits behind a neighbor’s garage in the alley behind my residence. The idea is fascinating: Take an old slatted wooden pallet, chop up some flat lumber to make mini shelving, place old soup cans full of plants (or dirt and seeds if you’re a start-from-scratch type) on the shelves, watch life happen. Or watch the shelves fall out and the squirrels dig out the faux pots. In this neighbor’s defense, she works endlessly in her tiny backyard gardens and has some incredible color going. The vertical garden appears to be a forgotten whim, and I can’t blame her given the beauty of the rest of her property.

The above vertical garden perhaps isn’t the most attractive example, but the creative possibilities for such gardens are virtually endless. What’s neat about these gardens is that they take advantage of the lack of yard space while allowing gardeners to also show their inner architects. ‘Artists’ might be a more appropriate term than architect, but aren’t all gardeners artists in one way or another? Painting with flowers and plants?

I’d love to say that I am also working on a vertical garden, but I’m not. I’m barely growing spearmint. People feel the need to tell me constantly that spearmint is fool proof. Found the fool. To illustrate just how green my thumbs are not, real gardeners can sniff me out. A woman at a farmers market in West Virginia actually rescinded her offer to let me buy a pot of her herbs. She offered me a tiny pot of sage instead, because “it is impossible to kill sage.” While I like proving people wrong, she was right. That remains the only plant success story I’ve ever had. I ate a lot of butternut squash ravioli in butter and sage sauce that fall. This butternut squash soup with sage was also a hit.

It’s a little early to be thinking about butternut squash in D.C. so let’s get back to vertical gardens.

Check out some great sites for ideas to build your own vertical gardens:

  • Here is a more successful version of the DIY recycled pallet vertical garden (like the one in my alley).
  • Marcelle Friedman’s list of “39 Insanely Cool Vertical Gardens” on Buzzfeed would take more than a stepladder and an apartment balcony to create, but boy it’s fun to drool over the possibilities.
  • If you would rather have insanely precise instructions than wing it and you’re good with tools, try making a vertical garden like this one demonstrated by Saul from Home Depot.

If you’ve created one yourself, please share pics! If my spearmint seedlings ever decide to have a little faith in me, I might try to build one, too.