Garden editor Johanna Silver demonstrates how to design a vertical garden


If you’ve ever wanted to design a living piece of art, then vertical gardening is the way to go. Essentially, vertical gardens are just tightly packed plantings that are hung on a wall rather than planted in pots or in the ground. In a small-space garden, it’s a clever way to get more greenery into a really tight area. It’s also a smart way to hide an unsightly fence. Another option is to plant your vertical garden with houseplants and bring it indoors for a beautiful living wall—the perfect solution for that blank wall space where you’ve been meaning to hang art.

For the best success, we recommend using a growing medium that’s made from peat moss, decomposed forest bark, and coconut coir. (We like the soil-less options sold at, which also sells full vertical garden kits, including frames, catch basins, hardware, and other products you may find helpful). Instead of potting soil, which dries out really quickly, this sponge-like planting medium holds air and water brilliantly. It allows plants to thrive even in the shallow vertical conditions.

When you plant your vertical garden, remember that water drains downward, so any plants that need more water should be planted at the bottom. In the Sunset Test Garden, we run a drip-irrigation line on the top of our vertical garden and the water drains below. For an indoor application, you’ll need a reservoir to catch the runoff, or you’ll need to be able to remove the planting from the wall to water and drain your garden in a sink.

The most important tip for vertical gardening is to have fun with it. You’re creating a living piece of art! So paint with different types of succulents, or make an abstract with bright pops of color. Your DIY vertical garden should be uniquely yours, and something that you’ll enjoy looking at every day.

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