Most of us think of a garden as something that lies across a horizontal surface, but the latest great idea in gardening takes it into another dimension.
Vertical gardening is now becoming a major trend, as landscape designers and architects search for ways to bring plants into limited spaces and urban settings. And no one is more familiar with this movement than Robin Stockwell, owner of Succulent Gardens in Castroville, California.
Stockwell turned out to be a man ahead of his time. Back in the 1980s, he came up with the idea for creating a planting system that could be set into a wall. But at the time, the idea fell upon deaf ears.
Fast forward to 2011, and Stockwell has the pleasure of saying, “I told you so.”
Stockwell has become the go-to guy for succulents becoming part of structures, not just on walls, but also covering rooftops as part of the “living roof” movement.
His vertical system is now being used on residences, in gardens, and on commercial buildings. He sells two different devices – several sizes of redwood-framed boxes with wire netting to hold the plants in, and plastic panels with shallow slanted hollows where succulents can be planted. On his website, there is a step-by-step guide on how to create a vertical garden square, using such low-growing succulents as echeveria, sedum, aloe, and other plants in this fleshy-leafed family.
“Designers are starting to see (succulents) and to present them in a new way,” said Stockwell. “It’s a pretty radical transition.”
Although a variety of plants can grow straight up – vines, of course, are a natural – succulents are uniquely qualified to actually grow in a wall, thanks to their shallow roots and undemanding care requirements.
“They’re cliff dwellers, and they do well in abusive environments,” said Stockwell.
But Stockwell has also taken the idea a step further and has introduced the idea of creating patterns and images in these vertical gardens by employing succulents of different colors and textures.
He’s helped create these living murals at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show and at residences and buildings across the country, many on high-end homes.
Monterey Peninsula residents and visitors probably remember Stockwell’s store, also called Succulent Gardens, in Carmel, California, from 1981 to 2009. These days, Stockwell is concentrating on his greenhouses in north Monterey County and his thriving online business.
He is seeing a tremendous change in the succulent business as a whole. In years past, succulent sales were aimed more at collectors who liked to buy weird and unusual varieties, the more the better. So what growers produced was a constantly changing inventory, with no consistency to the output.
These days, because succulents have emerged as a water-wise garden element that’s being added to all kinds of landscapes and living arrangements, there is a new emphasis on producing the same varieties, in large quantities, over and over, rather than constantly introducing new species to the market.
“I have 700 to 800 varieties in my nursery. It’s my palette,” said Stockwell.
The boxes he sells for vertical growing differ in their uses. The redwood-framed boxes are better for creating an individual hanging on a wall, which Stockwell calls “living pictures.” The plastic panels can be put together to cover a larger area.
Stockwell said that a vertical garden of this type still takes care and maintenance. He recommends that a drip system be installed to take care of the plants’ moisture requirements, and the plants must be groomed regularly to look their best.
But that’s because it’s more than a garden – it’s an item of visual impact.
“Vertical gardening,” said Stockwell, “is art on the wall.”
Succulent Gardens is open to the public 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at 2133 Elkhorn Blvd., Castroville, California. Information on Stockwell’s vertical gardening systems: www.sgplants.com or (831) 632-0482.