How To Create Vertical Space In Your Garden

How To Create Vertical Space In Your Garden
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Jul 04, 2021

When you have only limited floor space, it’s essential to consider what vertical space is available. It might be at either end of a balcony, a garden fence or just the side of a building.

This extract from Richard Unsworth’s book Garden Life explains how to utilise vertical space in your garden.

Climbing plants

One solution is climbing plants, but beware, as I have seen far too many failed climbers in pots. If you are going to use pots, make sure you choose large ones with reliable irrigation. Climbing plants will often grow well at first, then dry out as they become pot-bound, making the entire wall look dead. To avoid this happening, be prepared to re-pot them every few years, and make sure they are kept well-watered.

STAR JASMINE (Trachelospermum jasminoides) has always been a great climber for a sunny wall, and it will grow wher- ever there is a support. The self-supporting BOSTON IVY (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) on a rendered boundary or house wall is very stylish and looks terrific in winter when the stems are bare.
We use CREEPING FIG (Ficus pumila) a lot as it’s a versatile climber, which will blanket ugly fences or harsh walls (no wires required) and grow in full sun or shade. It will need clipping four times a year to stop it becoming overgrown (it has a bad name for this).


Consider installing a screen on the wall as a feature, or for privacy. There are a plethora of laser-cut screens now available in many different styles and finishes, so you should be able to find something you like, whether it is a screen with an earthy, rusty finish or a slick, powder-coated colour that will blend with an interior colour scheme.

I love using our Indian jali screens to create a patchwork pattern on slick, rendered walls. We bring them in from Rajasthan, and they are full of character, warmth and history. They work in both a classic and contemporary space; it all depends on how they are configured on a wall. Old Indian doors can also add weight and warmth in the right space, it’s just a question of personal taste and what you are drawn towards.

You can also use the plants themselves to create a screen.

Green Walls

Green walls, or vertical gardens, have become quite fashionable, although the cost of bespoke systems and their maintenance can be beyond the home gardener. You could try creating your own green walls using climbers and then installing epiphytic plants on the wall or fence, as long as you have enough light. STAG AND ELK HORN FERN (Platycerium bifurcatum) are perfect for this; try staggering a few on a wall covered with CREEPING FIG (Ficus pumila).

Hanging pots

Hanging pots are useful in tight corners and other hard-to- plant areas and can really liven up a small space especially.

The simplest way to create a green wall is to use a climber – this fragrant star jasmine in full flower on the wall at Point Piper really frames the archway.

Leaf Supply
Clapton Tram

Other ideas

A good solution for making new timber fences look more attractive is to paint them a dark colour and grow a climber up them (depending on the light conditions). Dark colours help green to stand out, so don’t be afraid to use something like charcoal – it will help make your boundary fence disappear and really show off your foliage. Please don’t ever use lattice! A smarter alternative is simply to have some horizontal timber boards mounted and painted in place of the dreadful stuff.

There are many different tiles and kinds of stone clad- ding available, and these can add interest and also link an exterior wall to an interior scheme. Be careful to avoid fads though – there are lots of walls of stacked stone veneer around town now looking very dated. If you use tiles or stone, keep it classic and simple.

Don’t be afraid to make a bold statement, even in a small courtyard.

Hanging planters of succulents soften the horizontal timber lines in the courtyard.


Mirrors can create another dimension in any space. This antique French mirror fit in perfectly in big homes, adding depth and light to a dark corner.

The upright habit of black bamboo works well when floor space is limited.

Create interest on a dull wall by using a composition of different screens.

Hand-made Indian jalis are a nice soft option for decorating stark walls.

Extract from the book Garden Life by Richard Unsworth, with photography by Nicholas Watt and Richard Unsworth, published by Lantern rrp $49.99. 

How have you created vertical space in your garden? Tell us below…


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