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A hole in the wall garden

Limited space for planting? Try a vertical approach.

March 21, 2009|Nan Sterman

It's a salad garden that can stand on the smallest patch of dirt -- or no patch at all: Van Nuys designer Anne Phillips' edible wall of lettuces, arugula, Swiss chard, mustard, strawberries and culinary herbs.

Phillips' take on a green wall uses a French riddling rack, boards with holes in which fermenting bottles of sparkling wine are perched at an angle, so sediment collects in the neck and can be removed. Instead of bottles, seedlings go into the holes of Phillips' rack, which is about 2 1/2 feet wide and nearly 5 feet tall.

To create it, the designer started at the bottom row, inserting plants from the rear. She covered the bottom of each plant with coconut coir fiber, the kind typically used to line hanging baskets, then packed in dirt around the roots.

The fiber and dirt are held in place with widths of green plastic fencing. This flexible material works well, Phillips says, because it holds in the coir and the dirt but comes off easily to change out soil or plants.

Phillips waters her wall by hand but says drip irrigation could be inserted into the backside during construction.

Harvest the greens leaf by leaf, Phillips says, and the plantings will last all season. When the time comes, simply disassemble the back and replace the annuals, leaving the perennial strawberries and herbs.

Not all plants work in this kind of setup, Phillips says. "Zucchini, for example, gets too big," she says. This spring the designer is testing small-scale cherry tomato plants.

Though the wall seems made for balconies, patios and other small spaces, the one pictured here eventually found its permanent home in a children's garden where the plants are the right height for pint-sized hunter-gatherers. The approach also would work for older gardeners who have trouble reaching down to plants in the ground. Phillips suggests incorporating the design into a fence, mounted on posts or hanging from hooks, so it can be taken down and replanted as needed.

Sterman is author of "California Gardeners' Guide Volume II."



How to make your own

Anne Phillips will offer classes on how to construct an edible wall from a riddling rack. The sessions run 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. April 4 and 18. Cost: $30. For more details or to register, call her landscape design and maintenance firm, Go Green Gardeners, at (818) 755-4647;

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