Holey pipes! It’s a vertical garden.

Last week we finished building our first vertical garden. It was the result of a joint family effort with the kids putting their ever increasing skills to good use. Our vertical garden is simple and efficient which makes it the perfect addition to our Permaculture garden.

We first saw this vertical garden idea during a visit to Michael Mobbs’ sustainable house in Alexandria. It was created as a clever way to divide his small back yard from the neighbour while providing them both with an abundant supply of fresh vegetables and herbs. 

Michael Mobbs vertical garden

There are heaps of options for making vertical gardens but if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a reasonable length of PVC pipe you can turn it into a simple vertical garden like this one in no time at all. You’ll need to source some plastic pots and it’s preferable to use pre-loved ones if you can get them. One of my local nurseries has a seconds bin where people donate back their used pots and I’ve picked up a heap of pots this way but check with your neighbours and friends as they might just have a collection of old unused pots lying around. In Sydney try the Kimbriki Resource Recovery Centre at Ingleside. They usually have a stack of cheap pre-loved material at the buy-back centre.

Before you start this project you’ll need to think about where you’re going to put your vertical garden and how you’ll hang it. When choosing the location, keep in mind that efficiency and access are important elements in a Permaculture system so you want this vertical garden to work for you rather than you being a slave to it. 

We chose the northern wall of our nursery. Firstly because it’s sunny in Winter and shaded in Summer but it’s also right on the path that leads to our chooks and as we visit them every day the plants won’t ever be ignored. This vertical garden takes up very little space and is also self-watering making it water and time efficient. It’s made from pre-used PVC piping which is very strong and able to support quite a bit of weight. The pipes are sealed at each end because they hold a small amount of water and a wick in each pot transfers water from the pipe up to the roots.  Once the pots are in place, the water in the pipe is completely enclosed which prevents it from becoming a mosquito breeding ground.

We decided on 3 tiers which we recessed between the deck uprights. The lowest pipe is just out of reach of any passing by chooks and the highest is at eye level. The whole system holds 24 pots, 8 in each pipe.  

We cut the holes in the pipe with a hole saw. Hole saws aren’t cheap and because they’re an item you’re unlikely to use again, it might be a good idea to borrow one from a friend or better still ask them to drill the holes for you! It’s a tool most plumbers or builders will own or you might be lucky enough to have a husband like mine that has one of every conceivable tool ever made.

It’s important that the holes are evenly spaced along the pipe so mark the centres before you drill them and make sure you leave enough space between each hole so the plants have enough room to grow. Next, place a cap at the end of each pipe and waterproofed with plumbers glue. Now you’re ready to paint the holey pipes and an undercoat will prevent them from peeling. 

While the pipes are drying get your pots ready. You’ll need to thread a 40cm fabric wick through a hole in the base of each pot and leave enough of a tail to dangle in the water below. The wick also needs to extend up into the soil so the absorbed water can be distributed to the roots. 

Fill the pots with prepared potting mix and choose your favourite seedlings or seeds. We’re growing parsley, lettuce, small carrots, beetroot, rocket, marigold and chives but any smallish plants or flowers will be fine.

Once the holey pipes are ready, secure them in place with wire or cable ties. You may need to angle the holes slightly forward if your pipes are directly against a wall or fence so the lips of the pots aren’t touching. Put a prepared pot in each hole and watch as your great looking recycled vertical garden grows you a fresh supply of vegies, herbs and flowers. 

Stay tuned for my next update when I recap on the last few months.

11 responses to “Holey pipes! It’s a vertical garden.

  1. What a great idea for small plants and herbs!

  2. I bet this would work on our enclosed back porch for the winter! I’m the un-gardener, hubby is the gardener, so I have shown him this idea. Love it!!

  3. Pingback: Replicating nature, vertical garden style | Ordinary 2 Extraordinary

  4. What size of pvc pipes did you use, and what size of pots did you use?
    I went to home depot and only saw 4″ pipes, but I think I want 6″+ pipes to hold bigger pots in.

    • Sam I used 4″ pipes but if you want bigger than that you’ll probably have to go to a professional plumbing shop. Pipes 6″+ are quite expensive I believe by might be a bit more robust. I would imagine that home depot is similar to our hardware chain in Sydney, which only stock pipes up to 4″ diameter for the DIYer. Good luck.

  5. What undercoat did you use? I hear acetone can be used as a “primer” by removing the shinny top coating on the PVC thereby promoting paint adhesion.

    Also, any particular type of fabric used as the wick?

    We had thoughts of a soil filled horizontal PVC but I like the pot idea so we might give it a go.

    • Couple of ways to undercoat, acetone works, abrasion or a purpose primer. In our case we used solarguard which has a built in primer for exterior use but we abraded the surface to remove the shine. Best to check with your local paint shop. Wicking is a heavy duty (cotton?) 2.5cm webbing that comes in a flat ribbon-like role. Initially I repurposed an old calico bag but it rotted after about 6 months. Worth looking for something more heavy duty. Problem with filling the entire pipe with soil is the weight. Limiting it to pots reduces the overall rate and provides a built-in watering system.

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