The perfect gift for the gardener who has everything

Hunting for a Christmas present for the gardener with everything? Maybe try a wall planter. Wall planters come under various names: living walls, living picture frames and green walls. As the names suggest, they provide another dimension to the garden: vertical.

Hunting for a Christmas present for the gardener with everything? Maybe try a wall planter.

Wall planters come under various names: living walls, living picture frames and green walls. As the names suggest, they provide another dimension to the garden: vertical.

Each product has pockets or containers that allow plants to grow on a vertical surface. Materials used, configuration and watering systems vary.

All systems recommended for indoor planting that can be installed by a homeowner are plastic or have a plastic base that protects the wall from moisture.

Differences are in the shape and materials that make up the growing pockets. One system has ridged plastic pockets that face upwards at approximately a 45-degree angle. Another design is made of individual pockets that are singular or joined together. The pockets are made from recycled plastic backed by a plastic board. A third type of wall planter is one large container that is covered by mesh with large openings and sphagnum moss.

Each design has advantages and disadvantages. The sizes of the pockets or individual pots determine the mass of roots and ultimately the size of plant. One planting area allows plants to expand as needed. If planted with an aggressive plant, it will crowd out all other plants.

A good watering system is a must as watering each pocket individually would be messy.

Wicking and drip irrigation are the choices.

In the wicking system, there is a container on top that is filled with liquid and a catch tray at the bottom. A felt material along the back of the planter becomes wet and the soil wicks moisture from the material. When the bottom container becomes full, it is emptied back into the top to conserve moisture. When using a wicking system, the container must be set in one position it can not be placed sideways.

Drip irrigation is similar to wicking except that water is distributed to each individual cell by small tubes. In large walls, a pump is used to move water from the bottom holding tanks to the top to ensure that the planting is well irrigated.

It is possible to take sections of the living wall down and soak them, let them drain and put them back in place. This method is time consuming and labour intensive.

How the living wall is hung depends on the system used. Hooks and holes, and bars that hold the containers appear to be the most common methods. Whatever method used must be able to support the weight of the container when it is wet.

Added features can include a frame, hence the name living pictures. The frame does add to the aesthetic appeal but it can add weight, depending on the materials used.

Planting a living wall is similar to planting any small container. Place soil in the bottom, add the plant and place soil around the plant, pressing it firmly in place. Using root wrappers makes for a cleaner plant and replacement if needed. The roots are wrapped in a felt made of recycled plastic and tucked into the pocket. Water is absorbed into the felt to water the roots. As the roots mature, they will grow into the felt.

Before planting, determine the position of the container, which will determine how much light it will receive. Choose plants that require the same amount of light and moisture.

How quickly the planter can be placed upright depends on the design of the planter. If the soil is in danger of falling out, allow some time for the roots to expand before mounting the planter upright.

Living walls are not new but the availability of easy-to-use kits make it doable for the average gardener.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House.