When Terry Adams first got started on his lush south Fargo garden, he had blank grass plots in his front and back yard to work with.
Over the past 30 years, every single inch of grass gradually gave way to a vibrant quilt of ornamentals, a vegetable patch and a goldfish pond under the care of this retired entomologist, who found in his garden a reprieve during 40 years of doing research cooped up in his office.
After conquering all horizontal space, Adams and his wife, Naomi Nakamoto, a retired floral designer, started taking over the third dimension. With the help of strategically located wooden structures - a trellis, an arbor, a shade - these gardeners went vertical, and they never looked back.
Experts have dubbed vertical gardening the ultimate trend of 2005. A longtime staple of the vegetable patch, vertical arrangements are becoming increasingly popular with ornamental gardeners faced with shrinking outdoor living spaces.
"It's a very handy way to garden in a very limited area," says Ron Smith, North Dakota State University extension service horticulturalist.
But vertical gardening has more going for it than merely providing ammunition in the race to eke out plant legroom from Subway-stamp-size plots. Adams and Nakamoto, for whom space hasn't been an issue, readily vouch for that.
Taking the high road
In Adams and Nakamoto's garden, dogged climbers have latched onto wooden structures as they make their way upward.
Two types of clematis, vigorous perennial lianas, scale the side of an arbor in the front yard. The arbor also hosts a variety of potted plants, from a New Guinean impatiens to begonias, hung from its top or clipped to its sides. Snaky petunia stems spill over the sides of a pot and droop downward, brushing the clematis branches on their way up.
In the back yard, honeysuckle twines around the crisscrossing planks of a wooden trellis and, when in bloom, lures hummingbirds to the hushed garden.
In the summer months, a wooden shade attached to the south side of the home houses the family's indoor plants, such as bonsai and orchids. Leafy wisteria and a potted passion flower frame the "entrance" to the shed on each side, their reaching branches twining up the wooden posts and meeting on the lacy top.
Adams takes out the tropical passion flower each spring and trains it on the shed post. At the end of the season, he cuts off the effusion of clingy branches and retires the plant for the winter.
The gardeners say the vertical elements have greatly benefited the looks and well-being of their yard besides giving them a chance to grow climbers such as the wisteria, which without vertical support would be reduced to an unshapely bundle of leaves.
"You want your eye to stop and see something in front," says Adams, and adds about the trellis and arbor lining his garden: "They demarcate the yard and act like a picture frame."
Besides, the structures give sun-loving climbers and potted flowers an edge in a shady garden off a street lined with huge trees. "We have to find the sun because our yard is too shady," Nakamoto says.
And one more advantage: Adams spent more than $100 on pesticides to fight a slug invasion this summer, but the higher-standing plants have flourished undisturbed.
Rise and shine
Eric Baker, of Fargo's Baker Nursery, says area gardeners have been more reluctant to tap into the opportunities of vertical gardening than their counterparts on the West Coast.
Gardeners here generally have more space to work with, and some have been turned off by misconceptions about climbers' hardiness.
But the main reason vertical gardening is taking off in the area is the explosion of plant options readily available at local nurseries. Baker's customers have been warming up to black-eyed Susans, tropical vines such as mandevilla and new varieties of climbing roses and ivies.
In his garden, NDSU's Smith has scarlet runner bean scaling bailing twine hung from the house conduit and showing off gorgeous bright-red petals. "It grows like Jack's bean stalk," he says.
Also, Baker says, whereas gardeners shopping for vertical props had to suffice with plain wooden structures, now they can choose from a variety of chic trellises, arbors, tripods and trainers made of materials such as fiber glass or wrought iron.
At the same time, baby boomers are downsizing and occasionally moving into condos, and smaller spaces spur extra creativity. Besides, some of those baby boomers are finding they are not in their best shape, and vertical gardening is a great option for those uncomfortable with the physical demands of more traditional approaches.
For gardeners of all ages, going vertical elevates dazzling blooms to eye level and intoxicating scents to nose level, and allows home owners to hide and prettify unsightly parts of yards. "Going vertical expands the creative interest of gardening," Smith says.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529
Common climbing plants and what to know about growing them successfully
- Black-eyed Susan: This genus of fast-growing annual or perennial vines, also known as clock vine, bears a galaxy of bright-orange flowers that attract hummingbirds. A native of the African tropics, the plant with graceful twining stems thrives in light shade and needs to be taken indoors after the first frost.
- Honeysuckle: Honeysuckles are more than 180 species of twining vines with clusters of nectar-filled bell-shaped flowers. These sun-loving hardy perennials, magnets for hummingbirds and butterflies, are low-maintenance plants that don't require diligent pruning.
- Clematis: Clematis are aggressively climbing lianas with eye-catching flowers. Some members of the hundreds-strong genus thrive in cool temperate climates, and others are tropical inhabitants. Clematis enjoy direct and plentiful sunshine on their stems and cool shade on their roots.
- Wisteria: A genus of about 10 woody vines, wisteria is a hardy, aggressive climber with fragrant, pendulous flowers in purple, pink or white. It can extend higher than 60 feet upward and stretch about half that far horizontally. This shade-tolerant plant requires a sturdy support structure as its wrist-thick stems can snap latticework and flimsy wooden posts.
- Sweet peas: This annual vine is a widespread favorite for the delicate bright blooms and delightful aroma of its many varieties. To ensure continual blooming, clip the flowers every few days.
Based on information from wikipedia.com and marthastewart.com; photos courtesy of marthastewart.com