Vertical garden: What worked, what didn’t


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As we’ve been reporting, vertical garden design continues to evolve as designers push the limits of what’s possible and discover what works -- or what doesn’t.

Last year, Gregory Thirloway and Glen Fretwell’s company, Inside/Out Design, was working for a client in West Hollywood who wanted to have a hanging garden that was a “living painting,” executed in the Impressionist style, all swirls and swaths of color.


Approaching it like a museum-quality work of art — Thirloway graduated from Art Center in Environmental Design — they first had the frame done: custom-fabricated 4’ x 1.75’ extruded aluminum tubing joined to make a rectangular box. Then, over several days in January, the plants were transplanted into the 1-inch spaces in the box’s interior 8-gauge aluminum wire mesh. They chose varieties based on their growing patterns first, looking for lateral rather than vertical growth. Only then did they start to consider texture and color palette.

“We set it up on sawhorses and started playing like we were working with paints — but instead of oils we were using plants,” says Thirloway.

When the box was filled with transplants, a light loose mixture of potting soil/perlite, and the drip system that snakes throughout, it weighed more than 400 pounds and required a floor jack and a crew of five to hang it on a cabinet rail at the top.

It’s been six months since the garden has been up on the west-facing wall, adjacent to an outdoor kitchen and a fountain and pool beyond, and Thirloway is taking note of what worked and what didn’t. Click to the jump for his results, plus more photography and links to other vertical garden projects ...

“The sedum didn’t take,” he says, indicating the few empty squares in the grid. They had used a small petal variety that knitted quickly and provided a ground cover/backdrop and although it settled in easily, some has rotted and will have to be replaced with another variety.

Considering that there are more than 240 plants and dozens of succulent varieties in the 74-by-54 inch frame, the learning curve doesn’t appear too painful. The vast majority of the plants are sending out new pups and even though it’s starting to heat up, there are still spring flowers here and there while the summer blossomers are just sending out. And besides, says Thirloway, “I like the structural element of the mesh showing through.”


In addition to the ill-fated sedum, they used a hefty quantity of echeveria: Black Prince, Blue Cloud, Elegans, Glauca, Morning Beauty, Perle Von Nurnberg, Agavoides Red, After Glow. Most are slow-growing, tolerate full sun, and are relatively expensive — a 2-inch head of Agavoides Red can go for $10.

And usually, says Glen Fretwell, succulents are remarkably resilient. “It’s a plant that’s hard to kill.”

The Inside/Out vertical garden is approached as living art in the garden and costs about what “fine art would in a gallery.” But there are DIY kits available. San Francisco gardening superstar Flora Grubb sells a 20” by 20” square panel with 45 slanted pockets for $99 (you provide the plants).

-- Jeff Spurrier


Woolly Pockets deployed en masse Vertical gardens at San Francisco flower show Head-turner at Paris design show Photo gallery two projects, including an edible wall Love to hate it: Facebook. We’re on it, with pages for California gardening and home design.