Even a kitchen with no windowsills or spare surface space can have some fresh herbs, or even fruits and vegetables growing in it, thanks to innovations in vertical growing. It is a growing trend in horticulture, and can also be of financial benefit, saving you money on buying fresh produce. A vertical wall of food is practical, being easily at hand to use at its maximum freshness, as well as beautiful. And, if your kitchen doubles up as your dining area, what could be sweeter than eating in the fresh and fragrant atmosphere provided by the edible wall.
Choosing a Container
The container options for wall gardens basically fall into the following categories:
- Fixed structures that mount to the wall and can hold various pots
- Actual pots and troughs that can be attached directly to the wall
- More flexible, modular systems of material planting pockets
The only thing to consider is to ensure that the wall behind will be sufficiently protected from any water or damp (usually the product you buy will include this protection) and that both the wall and the fixings are strong enough to take the weight of the thoroughly watered, fully grown plant (or plants) and the compost.
What to Plant
Leafy and trailing plants are best for covering containers and creating a green wall appearance, but if the containers are a feature, many culinary plants can be used.
Use annual and bushy herbs such as basil, parsley, thyme, mint, lemon balm, coriander, and chamomile. Shrubby upright herbs, such as rosemary and sage, will eventually outgrow small containers and won’t regrow new leaves quickly, but young plants can be used for a short time.
Also, worth considering are dwarf and tumbling tomatoes (those bred for growing in windowsill pots and hanging baskets), such as “Tumbling Tom Red” and “Hundreds and Thousands”.
Other edible favourites to try are dwarf cucumbers, cucamelons (grape-sized melons that grow on an attractive, scrambling vine and taste like cucumbers), strawberries, salad leaves, nasturtiums, radishes and spring onions.
Fabric planting pouches can bring greenery and fresh produce to the smallest of spaces.
If you have bought a ready-made planter, follow the instructions on the product. If you wish to give it a more personal feel, use a little DIY skill to mount the pockets or planters with a wooden frame surround. This can make an even more decorative feature (a piece of living art).
Paint your frame or pots to make them look more attractive in your kitchen. You may wish to paint them with blackboard paint to add plant labels (useful for identifying plants when you are cooking).
Any multipurpose compost can be used. Crops can be grown directly from seed in the wall or purchased as young plants.
It is possible to add an automatic watering system, such as drip-line irrigation. This could be worth considering for large-scale wall plantings, as the small pockets of compost can dry out quickly. In most cases, however, hand watering is just as practical and cheaper.
A staple of continental cookery. Sow seeds from spring to early summer for a regular supply. Seeds give the best range of varieties, but supermarket-bought potted plants can also be divided and replanted to provide a good crop. For pesto, grow “Genovese“, for Asian dishes “Siam Queen” and for ornamental plants “Purple Ruffles” and “African Blue“. For a more intense flavour and bushier plant, try Greek basil (O. minimum). Lemon basil (O. x citriodorum) is also an alternative worth trying.
A biennial but best treated as annual because the leaves become coarser with age. Easily grown from seed or from potted-on supermarket plants. Sow seed from spring through summer. Parsley will take a cooler and shadier spot than most other herbs.
Thyme’s aromatic leaves have a wide range of uses. As with rosemary, regular snipping of the shoots will keep the plant compact, but it is best to replace every five years or so to prevent the lower stems from becoming woody and sprawling. When potting on, include some grit in the compost to aid drainage. Never allow to sit in wet compost. An alternative thyme plant to try growing is lemon thyme.
This is undoubtedly one of the most natural herbs to grow indoors and actually thrives when potted, becoming a vigorous plant in no time. The container should have adequate drainage, and a commercial potting mix, for healthy plant growth. The mint should be watered well and placed in indirect light, away from bright sunlight. It prefers a warmer temperature but can tolerate cooler nights. Mint enjoys humidity and will benefit from a thorough misting every few days, and should be turned regularly.
This is an attractive plant to grow year round and has a fresh, lemony fragrance, with its leaves being ideal for adding to various drinks and cocktails. It will snowball, so start with a large container, which drains well, and add a good amount of potting soil. Lemon balm requires regular watering and enjoys a sunny position in the kitchen. Don’t allow flowers to form as they affect the flavour of the leaves, pinch them off on appearance.
Widely used in many cuisines. Easily grown from seed. For fresh leaves, use bolt-resistant varieties such as “Leisure“. Seeds are easily produced by any stressed plant; alternatively, use the variety “Moroccan“, which has been developed for good seed production. Water well and give seedlings plenty of space to avoid bolting. Sow successively from spring for a regular supply of leaves and a good crop of seeds by the autumn.
Rosemary’s aromatic leaves have a wide range of uses. Regular snipping of the shoots for the kitchen will keep the plant compact, though they are best replaced every five years or so to prevent the lower stems from becoming woody and sprawling. “Miss Jessop’s Upright” is a slightly more upright and compact form. When potting on, include some grit in the compost to aid drainage. Never allow to sit in wet compost.