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Gardening Vertically: Fad, Emerging Frontier or Long-Overlooked Art Form

Sure, it makes sense that theres a buzz about vertical gardeningthere are lots more of us to feed these days with much less productive land. Lets make the best use of our diminishing resources, many are saying. And likely there are also those who dismiss vertical gardening as a fad. Mostly, though, I hear talk about increased yields. However, I suspect there are vertical gardeners like myself who have been surprised by another aspect we hadnt expected.

Necessity is the mother of invention, is a clich often quoted, and human food requirements necessitate sponging-up sunlight at smaller and smaller focal points. My wife, Vicki, and I have a small yard, and somewhat out of necessity we began years ago building what began as rather makeshift trellises. Somewhere along our way, it had dawned on us that vining plants, such as cucurbits, those that produce melons, squash, cucumbers and pumpkins, are much like grape vines, their vines produce tendrils that secure to structures so they can climb as they grow.

Commercial farmers still grow cucurbits on the ground, but home gardeners realized long ago that these vining plants are more adapted to growing upward. Of course, home gardeners support cucurbit vines on trellises of all sorts and have devised many ingenious, albeit awkward, means of providing support to heavy melons, pumpkins or squash while they are yet ripening and suspended.

We began to desire a more scientific and artistic approach to vertical gardening and to building a vertical garden structure. We searched in vain for a guidebook to how to build one that is both aesthetic and engineered to be vine-friendly, and finally resigned to sketching our own design and years ago we built our first vertical garden structure. As the next season progressed, we were amazed to see squash and melon vines rise to heights over our heads.

Each year since, we have been delighted by astounding yields and our harvests of both heirlooms and hybrids (see photos at our website). We have harvested mouth-watering melons whose flavors are unmatched by the store-boughts, and we store enough squash each year that it is mid-April before we cook and savor the last of our trophies. As pleasurable as it is to bite into these orbs of sweetness and palate sensation, though, there is another thrill exclusive to vertical gardening that may eclipse these joys.

Vines grown vertically are artful all by themselves as they twist about and their tendrils reach and spiral. Weve observed, though, that with a little pruning and directional coaxing using garden ties, they can be guided to achieve magnificent form and function. Each day of the growing season we can step over to our vertical garden to find wondrous surprises.

The magnificence of vines grown vertically tugs gently at our subtler nature until we begin to awaken to a certain glimpse of the sublime. The joys experienced when tending vines may be akin to what one feels when listening to corn grow during the hush of dawn. I ve fallen into awe sometimes while cultivating and coaxing vines to grow left or right or up or down to fill our garden structure. I am eager already for next season, when I will experiment again with varieties strange to me and surely be amazed anew.

2005 Steven J. Townsend. All Rights Reserved.

Steve and Vicki Townsend share hundreds of vertical gardening shortcuts and secrets in e-books you can download at http://www.gardensup.com

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