Researching: DIY vertical garden ideas that actually look good

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DIY vertical gardens

One of the wonderful things about permaculture design is that with every new project comes a new challenge and the search for a great solution that ticks all the boxes.

That’s where we are at the moment. 

vertical gardens

In anticipation of creating a fabulous permaculture rooftop garden workshop in Redfern, Sydney – one that includes both well-functioning, edible and beautiful vertical gardens – we’re researching what’s out there in the way of high innovation and low cost.

Our requirements are to build something that uses materials that are either free or cheap, that is water-wise, and that at the end of the day you can make look great – and not like it’s made free or cheap.

Recycling PET bottles is looking like it could be the way to go.

As we all well know, vertical gardens are a great solution to many challenges within urban spaces.

Most cities worldwide (and definitely in Australia) lack sufficient green space, and finding ways to incorporate more of the green stuff in our cities where minimal spare land is available has led to a lot of discussion on the benefits of green walls or vertical gardens and green roofs.

Taking it a step further, vertical food gardens are ultimately about growing food, and utilising otherwise unused vertical space to stack a lot of functions into one simple system.

They provide food while increasing biodiversity and providing more spots for our ever-important bees and insects to stop and pollinate.

They provide beauty in a city’s hard landscapes and increase urban green space, which have positive effects on the mental wellbeing and happiness of residents.

They aid the reduction of pollution and the urban heat island effect, helping keep our cities cooler. And importantly they provide learning opportunities – for kids and adults alike.

So yes, vertical gardens are fantastic.

We went searching for inspiration for our own project and came across a whole lot of great designs. We’ve gathered up ten favourites here for you.

DIY vertical gardens01

Using two-litre soda bottles cut in half and turned upside down, they are adhered to a wooden frame and placed so they open neck of the bottle drains water into the one below.

A bottom half of a soda bottle is attached to the bottom row as a reservoir (which could be filled with pebbles for a wicking solution).

There’s a bit of a tutorial on this one here.

DIY vertical gardens02

Same idea as above, different setup, with the rows longer and attached to the wall to fit the space better.

Bushy and trailing plants like these lettuces and strawberries hide the structure, creating a nice ‘green wall’ effect.

DIY vertical gardens03

Same essentials as above again, but a little more technical with mechanical watering via a pump attached to run from the reservoir to the top row.

DIY vertical gardens04

This setup takes the self-watering system larger and onto a timber structure (with hessian covered bottles that look great) – and offers a great tutorial to boot.

DIY vertical gardens05

Using bottles still, this is a much more simplified version that requires hand watering with a hose as none of the bottles are connected. However the bottles suspended by ropes looks pretty good.

More info and a small tutorial on this one here.

DIY vertical gardens06

Ah Joost. The clever go-getter who created the ubiquitous terracotta and steel grid vertical walls that cover his home and many of his projects. You can find more info on these here.

DIY vertical gardens07

We love this one for its simplicity – attach some guttering to a wall, slope them a little so they drain and run into each other, and get some appropriate edible plants in – easy!


DIY vertical gardens09

This idea of using vertical PVC pipe is something that works great for lettuces and strawberries, and is put to good use for the latter at Soul Food Street Farms in Vancouver.

The pipe is filled with soil and plants are planted into decent-sized holes drilled into the sides the whole way along.

DIY vertical gardens10

This is a nice-looking solution for anyone left with a whole lot of leftover bricks looking to both greenify a space and create a thermal sink.

Shortfalls though include difficulty getting water into the soil, and only a small space available for roots. Trying something similar with cinder blocks may be better.

DIY vertical gardens11

One for the timber lovers or for those who have access to an abundant amount of spare timber (and if you don’t, hit up Gumtree).

You could also add a few more rows for planting to this frame and there’s potential for an automated watering system.

You can follow our Vertical Gardening Pinterest board where we’ll be stashing everything we come across.

vertical gardens

Got any more favourite designs for us? Have you set up a vertical garden at home? If so, what set up did you go for?

See the comments

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15 responses to “Researching: DIY vertical garden ideas that actually look good

      1. A very valid point. Henve the reason I am leaning towards options whuch dont utilise plastic bottles. Id have trouble sourcing enough anyway as we dont drink any soft drink 🙂

  1. Last year the Powerhouse Museum did quite a few talks/events on green walls as part of Sydney Design and City of Sydney has a great little booklet around at the moment on green walls and roofs and how to decide on the most appropriate style (basic, semi-intensive, intensive) for your home. We’re looking at greening a high south facing wall so will probably go for an intensive system with ferns and bromeliads etc. I’ll be following your pinterest posts!

  2. I garden in containers and the critical issue is “maintaining” access to moisture and nutrients. Because pots need daily water if they have daily access to the sun. Edible plants need it for photosynthesis and flowering.

    I’d avoid any design which requires you to water pots by hand, because there will be those odd weeks where you’ll just forget or are too busy to tend them daily. I water my pots by hand, but I have the time. I help them along however, by nestling pots together, so that some larger fruit trees can semi shade the ones that will wilt quickly.

    I think vertical walls are a great idea – but like all garden spaces, if the design doesn’t meet the users capabilities, it will end up failing its intended purpose. The smaller the container being used, the more critical it becomes for access to daily water and nutrients. Anything with a wicking capability will help on those days you don’t get around to watering.

    I hope this info doesn’t put anyone off wanting to try container gardening, its a very rewarding pursuit and can produce some high yields for the space. Just remember they can’t handle being left to fend for themselves, so design something that can cope during a busy week.

  3. I think you need to be a tad more discriminating in the content of your posts. The plastics featured in this post and proposed as possible planters are rife with nasty chemicals that will leach into planting soil especially when exposed to sunlight and high temps. Please don’t just pass on info like this without a little research. We depend on you.

    1. Thanks for the concern Thom – we are, however, aiming here to present a variety of solutions for different applications. Many of the plastic examples above are things that we’ve seen in situations where there is an excess of plastic bottles (ie the bottle wall from Sao Paulo) that folks are trying to use constructively.

      While I get you (totally) on the plastics thing, I’m also interested in growing solutions that use what’s available as a starting point.

      We’ve had some long conversations around here to the tune of: “is spinach grown in a PET bottle on your back porch better or worse than conventional spinach from the supermarket (or in your next cafe baguette)?” In terms of food miles, chemical inputs, industrial food handling and all the rest of it… it’s not actually a simple thing, in my opinion.

      Please note there were also terracotta, wood and metal options in this post, that could be used instead depending on your available materials, budget and planetary location 🙂

  4. Having made my point, I find on my 10 acre farm here in Eastern Washington, I have to make tradeoffs and compromises on a sometimes daily basis. Thanks for your response.

  5. I ran a Vertical Garden Workshop on Saturday at Thirroul Community Garden. We tried out three different types of vertical gardens. I can’t stress enough, the importance of irrigation and quality soil/potting mix. We used untreated palettes, plumbing pipe and made succulent frames which could be applied to edibles as well. It was great fun and everyone went away very enthusiastic to make more. Narelle A Garden for Life

  6. I have a vertical wall at the moment that is very similar in design to the first, using cut open 2L milk containers zip-tied to a metal frame (old pool fencing turned on its end) and a drip system which feeds every second row. I’ve had three main issues with it: 1) the plastic degrades after about a year, which is fine if you keep replacing them; 2) a ringtail likes cropping the top row; and 3) some of the herbs’ growth seems ‘restricted’ which I think is because of the small growing space. Im currently thinking of doing away with the individual containers and attaching some of the long rectangular plastic pots, so the plants have more space to naturally occupy the available space, rather than crowding each one.

  7. Containers are great, and I have a fence to hang them on. But aren’t you limited in what plants can thrive with such small root space? (I have lots of 1-gallon milk jugs which hold maybe two litres of soil after they are cut down. I like to leave the handles intact so they are easy to move.)

    To ease the chemical leaching issue, is there anything the containers could be lined with?

  8. Vertical (untreated) pallets with strawberries is an awesome way to save space!
    Look it up!

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