Vertical gardening can be a good choice for growing on a small balcony, to cover a patio wall or to hide an obstruction like an air-conditioning unit. But it was a need for privacy that led Margo Buckner to create a garden-covered wall at her Miami Beach home.
Her problem was three bathroom windows that opened directly onto the yard. More specifically, one window exposed anyone in the tub area of the guest bathroom; the other put the shower stall in the master bath on view.
“You had to be really careful about keeping vegetation outside the windows or you’d be putting on a show for the neighbors,” says Buckner.
She first saw a vertical garden at Juvia restaurant on Lincoln Road. “I thought it was beautiful,” she says.
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It didn’t take long for her to visualize a 22-by-7-foot space outside the bathroom windows set off from the rest of the yard by a vertical garden. She decided to hang the garden on a solid background made up of a wall covered with bamboo. “That’s so no one could see through it,” she explains.
Working within the Miami-Dade County building code, she had four-by-four-inch posts set into three feet of concrete on the north, west and east sides of this area of her yard set against the northern wall of her house. “Long after Miami Beach is gone, that fence will be standing,” she says.
From these she hung crosspieces to which she secured sheets of black bamboo. Finding the right bamboo was a project in itself. “I could have just slapped some up and called it a day,” she says. But she wanted it to last.
Doing research, she learned the bamboo needed to be heat-straightened so it wouldn’t warp in our humidity. It had to be hung with its nodes facing skyward so the hollow culms wouldn’t fill with rainwater. And the culms also needed to be suspended about four inches above the ground to prevent rotting.
Once her eight-foot bamboo wall was in place, she researched what she could use as pots to hang on the fence. A number of hanging systems are available, some of which are at local nurseries and large home-improvement stores. But she decided on WollyPockets ( www.wollypockets.com), made from recycled soft drink bottles, which she found on the Internet.
“You tack them up, add dirt, slap a plant in the pocket and water,” she says. “There’s really nothing to it.”
Although there are a variety of layouts you can use to hang the pockets on a wall, Buckner wanted hers to be “completely covered in color and texture.” Thus, she placed the pockets in close rows from top to bottom on the fence.
To help her plants thrive, she laid drip hoses along the top of each row of pockets and attached it to one zone of an existing irrigation system. “You don’t need a separate timer. It’s pretty easy to do,” she says.
Because the envelope-shaped pockets don’t hold much soil, she set her system to water them five minutes a day; in winter, when it’s chilly, she waters about every four days.
Because the entire wall garden receives the same amount of irrigation, she selected plants that had similar water needs. She also realized that those planted in the top rows of pockets would get more sun than those at the bottom.
She went to Homestead to find the right varieties and quantities of plants she needed to get started. “After that it was trial and error. I put in some vines and they died, so I started over,” she says.
But she finally found a mix that thrives as they provide a stunning view from inside the bathrooms as well as from a nearby outdoor shower area.
“It’s fun to take guests into the rooms and show them the view of the vertical garden. Then, when you take them outside to see how it’s done, their faces light up,” she says.
The garden includes red begonias with large leaves that do better here than tinier plants, Buckner says. Sweet potato vines add their heart-shaped yellow-green leaves. There’s also white vinca, a number of colorful coleus, some liriope, caladium bulbs and bromeliads.
“When picking plants, you want color but you also have to go for texture and shape,” she says.
For example, bushy firecracker plants with their red blooms on long stems tend to grow out from the wall; pink and orange kalanoche grow tall to fill in spaces. She tried to cover the pockets themselves with different flowers, colored leaves and waxy as well as feathery plants for variety.
She keeps the plants happy by feeding them time-released granulated fertilizer. “You just sling a handful in each pocket and you are good to go for six months,” she says.
In the area outlined by the vertical garden, you’ll find garden statuary that is nicely set off by the foliage and blooms of the wall garden behind them.
A Buddha statue came from a trip out west that Buckner and her husband took 25 years ago. “We found it at some wacky roadside place where we fell in love with it,” she says. There’s also a piece of cornice from Chicago where they used to live.
Although the garden is special, it didn’t come cheaply. To create what actually is a rather large vertical garden including the trial-and-error with the initial plants and fence construction, Buckner estimates it cost about $20,000.
The couple will soon be packing up their garden statuary and leaving their vertical garden behind. They are finalizing the sale of their home before they move to Austin, Texas.
Buckner is quite sure her unique garden helped make the sale. “It has really great ‘wow’ factor,” she says.