Vertical garden ideas – 9 stylish ways to add more planting to a small space

With vertical garden ideas, the sky's the limit. From living walls to hanging baskets, find the right way to plant perpendicular for your space

a plant wall along steps in a garden
(Image credit: A Greener London c/o Plantbox)

If you're short on space, vertical garden ideas prove that you don’t have to be blessed with bundles of square footage to create a relaxing haven to be proud of. 

‘Vertical gardening is great for those with limited gardening space and large vining crops,' Gail Pabst from the National Gardening Bureau explains. 'Growing upward, or vertically, can help you make the most of your gardening space by tapping into the potential of the vertical space above your garden plot or container gardens.  Gardening in all three dimensions increases the growing area available to you. It is also good for better disease control on vining crops that need good air circulation.'

From hanging pockets to living walls and hanging containers to using a trellis to train your plants to grow upwards – and not outwards, these small garden ideas will make you think big. So whether you’re working with a balcony, courtyard or small urban jungle – unleash your garden’s true potential with these expert-approved vertical garden ideas that add style and maximize your small space.

Maximize your space with these vertical garden ideas

1. Grow your own vertically 

Tomatoes growing on a balcony

(Image credit: Getty)

Sustainable living is on the rise. You only have to look at the world around you and the top garden trends of 2022 to know this. So why not weave two trends into one and grow your own veg, vertically? 

‘Explore a variety of techniques to find what works for you,' Gail Pabst from the National Gardening Bureau says. 'From cages to trellises to bamboo tent structures, there are lots of different systems to grow just about any crop you could imagine in the garden or containers.’

If you've can sacrifice some space, a bamboo tepee is a sustainable way of encouraging your plants to grow upwards. While a wooden trellis structure, like the one above, not only looks good, but it can be placed just about anywhere. 

 

2. Create a living wall

a large living wall in a garden

(Image credit: Habitat Horticulture | Photographer Garry Belinsky)

Installing a living wall can be a super effective idea when looking at how to design a garden, so breathe some life into your outdoor space by taking your plants to new heights (quite literally) with these wonderful designs.

But as well as looking aesthetically pleasing, living walls can 'contribute to a biophilic experience in indoor and outdoor spaces that provides the opportunity for people to connect with nature,' David Brenner from Habitat Horticulture explains. 'This can enhance your mental wellbeing, reduce stress, improve your mood and even improve cognitive performance, as studies have shown.'

3.  Get creative with your living wall foliage

a living wall with a seat set into it

(Image credit: Plantbox. Design: A Greener London)

Talking of living walls, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different ways to add a suitable design to your small space.

 ‘The limiting factor is typically the light levels, but also the cold and heat tolerances of the plants,' David says. 'Most plants used in a vertical garden are herbaceous perennials, but sometimes small shrubs and even small trees depending on the design intent.’ 

Just remember, like most garden plants, there is some maintenance involved to keep the vertical plants thriving. So make sure you can easily access your design to keep your plants well-watered and looked after. Consider how the size of your garden may affect light levels and more. There are, typically, some plants to avoid in a small garden that should be left out of a living wall. 

4. Make your living wall a work of art 

Transform your living wall into a work of art in this vertical gardening design

(Image credit: Amir Schlezinger | MyLandscapes)

Take the design of your living wall one step further by adding a sculptural element, as seen in this creative design by Amir Schlezinger from MyLandscapes.

Spanning across a 5-meter back wall, this green plant wall can be viewed from every floor. 

'We centered the design around the living wall,' Amir explains. 'We designed the previous garden for the same client in the same house. The garden size was reduced recently to a depth of 3 meters because the clients added an extension and a basement. A living wall was a space-saving solution. 

'In turn, it is visible from the ground floor at eye level and upper levels at a birds-eye view. I planted plants suitable for shade as the space is north-facing, many are native plants: ferns, sedges, grasses and flowering perennials. The plants have an irrigation system. I added a tile motif to create a sculptural element and visual interest. Then added LED strip garden lighting ideas behind the tile edges to create a stunning nighttime effect.'

5. Put your pergola to good use

Calm and neutral house in the Hamptons

(Image credit: Matthew Williams)

Plants can be hung just about anywhere. Just take this pergola as an example which has been covered in a blanket of green. 

In its own right, a pergola can be an attraction in itself. But along with adding some shade and style to your space, a pergola can also become the proud houser of plants – particularly climbing plants including favorites such as honeysuckle and jasmine. 'For a pergola, I am an eternal fan of Trachelospermum jasminoides for its evergreen leaves and jasmine-scented blooms,' suggests garden designer Alexandra Noble

You could also try adding some hanging baskets to your structure to really make the most of your outdoor oasis. So add some drama with this outdoor living space idea of giving your pergola a green glow-up. 

6. Go big on hanging baskets

a hanging basket on the fence by outdoor seating

(Image credit: elho)

Hanging baskets are one of the quickest – and most affordable ways – of incorporating more gardening space to just about... anywhere. 

But while they might be one of the simplest tools to get a vertical garden blooming, they can also inject some serious style into your space. 

Decide on some flowers, an assortment of herbs or even use it as a small vegetable garden idea, making use of walls, fences, balcony railings or windowsills. 

7. Make use of a trellis

a trellis walkway through a narrow garden

(Image credit: Holly Lepere)

As well as decorating your small outdoor space, a trellis can add privacy, structure and become a natural way to zone your garden. Nowadays, trellis' come in a range of shapes and sizes. 

A curved archway, like in this example above, can help you make an entrance to remember. While in a compact urban garden, a typical rectangular-shaped trellis might suit better. It can be placed on walls and fences, helping to soften boundaries and make a small garden look bigger, while doubling up as another surface for your green shrubs to grow on. 

 

8. Use raised beds to add height 

modern garden ideas with steep landscaped garden

(Image credit: Future)

Want a space for entertaining as well as growing your own flowers? As seen with this flourishing outside area, you can have the best of both worlds, even in small spaces. 

So get creative with raised beds. They will work to keep critters out, help with drainage and even your back will thank you later. 

This form of vertical gardening can also add an architectural feel to your space while making way for greenery. It’s a win-win, especially for gardens on gradients which may need retaining walls, or for courtyard garden ideas that don't have ground-level flower beds. 

9. Pocket forest gardening 

The IBC Pocket Forest designed by Sara Edwards

(Image credit: RHS/Tim Sandall)

Pocket gardening has had a 21st-century spin. The design technique has been used by gardeners for years (and years) as a way of getting creative with what small outdoor space you have. 

Essentially it involves adding living plants to underutilized spaces – whether it's on outside staircases, in between paving or using pocket garden holders on your walls to max out your garden growing space. It's the perfect idea to adopt for a space like a rooftop or balcony garden too, where your planting options are limited. 

If square footage allows, you could reuse and upcycle large plastic containers to create compact but creative pocket beds, just like designer Sara Edwards did for her IBC Pocket Forest Garden in the 2021 RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021. The sky really is the limit. 

What plants grow well in a vertical garden? 

‘Choose vining cultivars and varieties instead of bush types,' says Gail Pabst from the National Gardening Bureau. 'While bush-type crops such as cucumbers are more petite, they actually take up more horizontal space on the ground.  

'Growing a vining variety lets you grow it up on a trellis, using less horizontal space.  

'This is also true for tomatoes, even though the effect isn’t as dramatic. Growing indeterminate tomatoes vertically on trellises, wire, etc. can increase yield and use a little bit less garden space than bushy determinate types.’

Are vertical gardens hard to maintain?

Like most gardens, vertical gardens need some TLC. Along with tending to your plants and watering them well, it's important to think about the different types of plants you use to help your vertical garden bloom. 

'There can be extra labor to train the crop to grow vertically and often you will need more watering depending on what you are using for growing vertically like green walls, growing pockets, hanging containers, and vertical hydroponic systems,' Gail says. 

'Like any garden, there is some maintenance involved to keep the plants thriving,' add David Brenner from Habitat Horticulture. 'This will depend on the types of plants used and how difficult it might be to access them. This can be especially challenging when dealing with gravity!'

'My team specializes in working from heights using ladders, scissor lifts, and swing stages that you typically see window washers using to clean the facades of high-rises. All of which equates to long-term time and cost, which some might call a disadvantage.'

Becks Shepherd

Becks is a freelance lifestyle writer who works across a number of Future's titles. This includes Real Homes, Top Ten Reviews, Tom's Guide, TechRadar and more. She started her career in print journalism at a local newspaper more than 8 years ago and has since then worked across digital and social media for food, fashion and fitness titles, along with home interior magazines. Her own interior style? She's big on creating mindful spaces in every corner of her home. If it doesn't spark joy or happiness, it has no place here. When she’s not writing, she’s reading and when she’s not reading, she’s writing.