Creative Ideas for a Vertical Garden

vertical garden ideas
Bellas Artes
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    Living Walls and Vertical Gardens

    Vertical garden with climbing vines on a wall and white table with pink flowers in flowerpots.
    Bruce DaMonte

    Vertical gardens and living walls make smart use of otherwise bare or unused outdoor spaces and create possibilities for growing and enjoying plants in all types of environments and locations. From rooftop patios to courtyards and stairwells to concrete jungles, walls are coming alive and bursting with the living colors of succulents, ornamental grasses, shrubs, vines, ground covers, and even fruit trees.

    Living walls add permanence and establish boundaries within a landscape. They offer privacy and screen undesirable views such as your neighbor's side-yard junk pile. While the term conjures images of the magnificent living tapestries that adorn public walls and buildings, vertical gardens include smaller residential versions, vine-covered trellises, borders of shrubs or closely planted trees, and walls decorated with traditional and repurposed containers.

    Climbing in Popularity

    There's no denying that vertical gardens are growing in popularity, for several good reasons. Among them:

    • They take up less space, especially when the yard, patio, or balcony lacks space.
    • They provide instant privacy and can disguise an ugly wall or block an unsightly view.
    • They allow people to start or continue gardening in small spaces that usually wouldn't accommodate a regular-sized bed.
    • If well designed and maintained, they can be a garden focal point.
    • They are an environmental choice. Many vertical planters and wall systems are designed from recycled or repurposed materials.
    • Vertical gardens ​are often grown and thrive via a hydroponic system—basically a soil-free alternative.
    • Provide an opportunity to grow vegetables, fruit, and herbs in a small, urban space.
    • Reinvigorate plain exteriors with greenery.
    • Create more gardening opportunities and accessibility for people with disabilities.
    • Provide instant garden boundaries.

    From simple solutions to award-winning designs by top landscape architects and professionals, take a look at these 35 creative ideas for living walls and vertical gardens.

    But first, a little background information on how the movement originated.

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    A Brief History of Vertical Gardens

    Illustration of the hanging gardens of Babylon
    Ferdinand Knab/"Seven Wonders of the Ancient World"/Public Domain

    While it may seem like a new technique, the concept of vertical or walled gardens has been around for centuries. Records show that Egyptian gardens in 3000 BCE established the tradition of compartments separated by plant-covered walls and arbors. The paradise gardens of ancient Persia were vast, park-like areas with monumental walls covered with grapevines and fruit trees. Moorish architecture and gardens influenced North Africa, Italy, and Spain, with features that included intimate and enclosed gardens with high walls.

    The fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon, believed to be built by King Nebuchadnezzar II or the Assyrian king Sennacherib, would have been a walled structure with climbing and hanging vines and plants.

    While the gardens of ancient Greece focused more on crops and enhancing public spaces, Greek architecture incorporated central columned courtyards and outdoor living areas. Formal Roman gardens influenced western Europe for about 500 years. Middle-class Romans lived in townhouses that featured small enclosed gardens used as outdoor rooms.

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    The Influence of Patrick Blanc

    Patrick Blanc standing under a tree in Borneo
    Pascal Heni

    Considered the inventor and "father" of the modern green wall, green-haired Patrick Blanc is a botanist, artist, and author whose vertical garden projects have brought the concept to public and residential walls from Paris to Bangkok and New York to Singapore. His lifelong passion for vertical nature has transformed drab concrete walls into refuges for biodiversity. If you wonder why so many groundbreaking vertical garden designs come from Europe, Australia, Asia, and larger cities, it's probably Blanc's influence that planted the seed, so to speak.

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    Wall Pocket Systems

    Wall pocket garden with three rows of plants mounted on a wall.
    Charleston 'The Digitel'/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    To get started at home, try out wall container systems in which plants are fitted in crevices or planted in containers that allow them to grow vertically and cover all or part of the wall. WallyGro is one such system that has been around for a while and has perfected its products.

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    Succulent Tapestry

    Succulent outdoor wall
    Chris Hunkeler/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Most succulents are drought tolerant and don't require regular water, making them a sturdy species for living or vertical walls. With their rich colors, textures, and fascinating shapes, succulents make a beautiful medium for living-wall art or tapestries. This wall thrives in San Diego County, California.

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    Wall Planters

    Mexican courtyard garden with vines growing on a wall.
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Bare exterior stucco walls without windows can be made more interesting with the addition of a vertical wall planter. Make sure the planter is sturdy enough to hang on a wall and has a flat back. Use the container rule of thrillers, fillers, and spillers for a wall vase or pot.

    • Thrillers are taller, visually striking plants that go in the center or toward the back of a container and can be viewed from all angles.
    • Fillers are more rounded or mounded plants and fill in the middle of the container. They tie things together and make the combination look fuller.
    • Spillers are the plants that spill or trail over the edges. They are usually placed close to the edges of the container so that they can crawl up and over it for that natural spill-appeal.
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    Magnificent Mediterranean

    vertical gardens line outdoor stairs.
    Lynn Kloythansomsup

    Known for creating imaginative living walls for residential, corporate, and institutional clients such as Salesforce, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Dailymotion, Habitat Horticulture transformed a traditional Los Altos stairwell into a work of art. One thing the firm's designers do differently than others: they're bold in plant choices. Species they use vary in texture and height (or width), creating a less-compact and more visually stimulating green wall.

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    Repurposed Soda Bottles

    Vertical garden ideas with hanging two-liter bottles filled with plants.
    2il org/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Projects that recycle or repurpose common products such as plastic soda bottles proliferate on sites such as Instagram and Pinterest. This variation of the pop bottle plant container features an alternative way to hang them, using monofilament (fishing wire) or regular wire and anchoring the planters to a wood frame or other overhead structure.

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    Splendor in the Grasses

    The namesake landscape designer of Amelia B. Lima & Associates used her own yard to experiment with vertical gardening techniques, with gorgeous results. Behind 40 feet of ornamental grasses and ferns is a steel structure covered with marine plywood and two layers of non-organic felt. Lima recommends Patrick Blanc's book, "The Vertical Garden," for plant ideas and to select varieties that thrive in your zone. Among the plants that embellish her wall are sweet flag, fiber optic grass, carex, Scotch moss, philodendron, Boston fern, Colocasia, and begonias.

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    Forever Green

    If you have a garden in tightly packed London, it's likely small and often situated on a rooftop or between walls or buildings. For a family garden, Harrington Porter, which specializes in bespoke city garden environments, used artificial grass on the floor and walls, along with an artificial green wall from Fake It Flowers. Softwood walls and a bench were painted in a dark hue to complement the house, while the herb planters are made of polystone.

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    Terraced Garden

    Vertical garden with vines climbing on walls along with a white table, chairs, and flowerpots with pink flowers.
    Bruce DaMonte

    While the front facade of a historic home in San Francisco's Cow Hollow district remained for preservation purposes, Matazrozzi Pelsinger Builders redesigned the property to meet the homeowners' modern needs.

    MPB built large concrete retaining walls and installed a storefront-style folding door system in the den that opens to a rear stone patio. Terraced concrete planters lead to a striking living wall that is planted with bonsais, ivies, mosses, ferns, orchids, fuschias, junipers, succulents, grasses, and Daphnes.

    The architect for the project was Gast Architects, the interior designer was Martha Angus, and plant design and installation was by Thumbellina Gardens.

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    Softening Effect

    Vertical garden alongside stairs and house wall.
    Bruce Hemming

    Other than its external walls, not much of the original 1950s-built home remains of this house in London. Redesigned by Stephen Fletcher Architects, the two levels of the house are tied by a living wall, which brightens the space on gloomy days and softens the acoustics. Designed by Treebox, the wall was created with recycled and environmentally friendly materials.

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    Casa en Playa de Aro

    Tall, vine-covered walls of a garden near Barcelona, Spain, can be accessed via a romantic spiral staircase. Bellas Artes Studio Design used different varieties of ivy to climb up and over the walls.

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    Del Mar Patio

    Residents of the coastal town of Del Mar, just north of San Diego, enjoy their outdoor spaces most months of the year. Created by Designs by Shellene, this yard features a patio with a raised fire pit and an espalier trellis backdrop.

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    Tropical Retreat

    A refurbished home in London's Dulwich settlement features a patio designed by Antonia Schofield of CP Landscapes. Conceived to complement the home's architectural design, the space has walls teeming with a variety of plants such as hardy agapanthus. The benches were made from softwood decking boards, feature casters for movability, and a hinged top for storing pillows and other outdoor necessities.

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    Sustainable Mountain Home

    Outdoor structures besides walls can serve as vertical gardens such as this vine-covered arbor designed by The Garden Route Company. The modern mountain home in Northern California features sustainable construction methods that blend with its natural surroundings while being environmentally conscious.

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    Greenwich Village High Rise

    Reclaimed barn doors provide a focal point to a Greenwich Village courtyard garden created by Jeffrey Erb Landscape Design. Originally a dark space, the firm added built-in planting beds, salvaged pavers, a trellis wall, and a two-tier planting system that lets vines climb up two stories toward more light.

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    Madrid Mediterranean

    A crisp, white house in Madrid is made even more appealing by Casa Josephine with the addition of a wisteria and bay laurel tree. The two were planted near each other so that at least one (the evergreen laurel) is always green and in bloom. The designer tied the wisteria's main branch to a vertical wire suspended from the roof and it is supported by wires that are anchored to the wall. The purple-blooming wisteria covers the home's facade in spring and summer.

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    Symmetry

    London's Scenario Architecture designed a well-organized outdoor space for their clients that makes smart use of tight quarters. When not in use, children's bicycles and garden equipment are stored in the built-in hardwood benches. Plants are meticulously maintained and include a pomegranate tree, grapevines, heuchera, olive trees, English boxwood, wisteria, and assorted herbs.

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    Walls of Chelsea

    A roof deck in New York's Chelsea neighborhood bursts with color. Designed by Lynn Gaffney Architect, the space is situated in the midst of an industrial/commercial area, but offers lots of privacy with living walls.

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    Exotic Landscape

    An antique Balinese temple gate with a Japanese basalt stone lantern leads to an Asian-influenced garden with a custom-designed maze and blue stone. San Francisco-based Zerterre Landscape Architecture used hundreds of plant species to create an exotic fantasy-type garden that features varieties such as red-leaved banana trees, giant birds of paradise, towering black bamboo trees, and Japanese blood grass.

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    Mod Wall

    Green wall growing on an enclosed patio with wicker chairs and table.
    Green Living

    Living space is extended to the balcony of this Mumbai home in a high-rise. KNS Architects used Jaali laser-cut Corian that is backlighted to provide a soft glow for the outdoor space. The midcentury modern-inspired chairs resemble spun-fiberglass designs from the 1960s and early 1970s and echo the shapes in the ceiling panel. A bright living-green wall provides contrast.

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    Vibrant in Seattle

    A colorful, well-designed yard created by Kim Rooney Landscape Architecture features cedar-framed trellises that support English laurel hedges—great for creating privacy walls. For colder climates—such as Chicago—Rooney recommends growing living walls with Hicks yew or a mix of shrubs and trees such as hemlock, Serbian spruce, flowering trees, and fragrant viburnum.

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    Shutter Garden

    Living wall grown on shutters hanging on a wall near a bicycle.
    Mike Linksvayer/Flickr/Public Domain

    Succulents are packed tightly into the slats of old wooden shutters hung on the wall of this house, providing a focal point, color, and greenery.

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    Orange, Greek, and Mod

    Vertical garden near wooden wall highlighted by orange and red furniture.
    Photo: Adriana Bufi, Andrew Garn, and Annie Schlecter

    Standing on the back patio, you'd never guess this Greenwich Village home is actually a Greek Revival built around 1840 and is 15 feet wide. The solution for designer Axis Mundi, naturally, was to use vertical space in the yard for greenery and privacy. The fence is clear-stained teak and the vibrant chairs are Paola Lenti. Others on the design team include John Beckmann and Richard Rosenbloom. Axis Mundi's living walls on a larger scale include their design for New York's MoMA Tower.

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    Water-Wise Wall

    Shapes and colors dominate in this modern, architectural yard in Johannesburg, South Africa. Created by Young Landscape Design Studio, the vertical planter on the wall was formerly a bucket elevator unit from an old bread factory that closed down and was retrieved from a salvage yard. Plants include a selection of hardy echeveria hybrids and sedums.

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    Eiffel Tower View

    Yes, that's the iconic Eiffel Tower as viewed from this rooftop terrace. Located at the ninth and tenth levels of an 11-story apartment, the building was constructed after World War I as social housing for Paris' Habitation Bon Marché (HBM) program. Artelier FB installed a 19th-century hut via a crane on the terrace for the shared garden. Trees, vines, aromatic plants, and cherry tomatoes growing in small jars were placed throughout the space for all to enjoy.

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    London Rooftop Garden

    The sophisticated penthouses at London's Chelsea Creek include modern linear rooftop gardens with green walls designed by Aralia. While each planting scheme is different, all are unified by structure, form, evergreens, along with accents of rust, orange flowers, and foliage.

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    San Francisco Organic Garden

    Trellis climbing a wall for an outdoor living wall.
    Joshua Thayer

    With an emphasis on organic, Native Sun Gardens redesigned the rooftop garden of a 16-floor apartment in San Francisco that produces vegetables and herbs for the building's residents. Using steel horse-trough containers and steel-engineered cages, the vertical landscape uses pesticide-free soil, an organic compost tea, and foliar spraying.

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    Tree Walls

    Privacy shrubs growing near a road.
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Years ago, whoever had these trees planted cared more about their privacy than the architecture of their house. Planted so precisely it looks like a measuring tape was used, the trees appear to have held up quite nicely and are doing their job. Note the giant birds of paradise peeking out over the hedge—they're evenly spaced, of course.

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    Old-Fashioned Vine

    Plain walls of a London courtyard garden were adorned by Silva Landscapes with light-green vines and potted plants that appear to thrive in the damp climate.

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    Walls of Hedge

    Living wall hedge cut in box shape.
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    If you or your gardener are expert hedge trimmers and the shrubs are healthy, growing a living wall that takes sharp corners and curves is possible. Just make sure you have plenty of time for maintenance, along with a good set of tools.

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    Hideaway in Molina de Segura

    The outdoor living space of a house in Molina de Segura, Spain, allows the sun to filter in while the high walls provide privacy. A modern, natural look is achieved with hardwood furniture that can tolerate sun, along with sub-tropical plants that look striking silhouetted against the white wall. The space was designed by Alberto Garcia.

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    Honeysuckle Wine Cave

    Orange cap honeysuckle vine runs rampant on a sprawling property in Northern California. Built by Reyes Landscape Construction, the estate features a wine cave built with concrete walls, a stone veneer, and heavy timber doors with metal hinges. Throughout the property, buildings and walls are covered with vines for a lush, old-Italian rustic look.

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    Ipe Accents

    An outdoor room in London designed by Living Colour Gardens uses vertical real estate to create more space. Among its highlights: an illuminated ipe-wood bench, travertine paving, and behind-the-seating planting beds filled with agapanthus, Japanese maples, and allium.

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    Framed Space

    Vertical garden near hanging window pane.
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    An old frame is suspended from a wood pergola, where it acts as a support for a young tree and some vines that need to be attached to something. For extra support, the frame is anchored on the bottom by wire attached to the concrete base.

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    Gardens of San Miguel Allende

    Walled gardens along brick walkway in Mexico
    Alfonso Alarcon

    In the artistic Mexican town of San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato, Terra Landscape Design revived a brick courtyard patio with a pond, hanging gardens, and colorful bougainvillea for an old-world atmosphere.

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    Lush Courtyard

    A lush living wall transforms a small courtyard into a beautiful outdoor social area. Designed by Biotecture, the wall features plants in a variety of textures and hues.

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    Dark Green Walls

    Dark, richly textured living walls are stunning, as evidenced by this outdoor seating area designed by Urrutia for a home in Mill Valley, California. To prevent the walls of this outdoor room to literally cave in and grow wild, you will need to commit to frequent and precise maintenance.