For those of you who love the challenge of vertical gardens then it’s time to get planning. Food and flower pairings are spectacular. It is important to remember to allow space if you are pairing up, the best way is to plant in separate pots and to allow a lot of space between the poles. The following article is both informative and well worth considering as a project this season.
Mangetout and cosmos
Two of my most successful perpendicular pairings have starred 4ft (1.2m) tall Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Sensation Mixed’. Their co-stars are my two favourite mangetout peas, ‘Carouby du Maussanne’ and ‘Golden Sweet’, which are tried-and-trusted back-saviours.
‘Sensation Mixed’ looks stunning with mangetout peas (Alamy)
‘Golden Sweet’ easily matches my height, while ‘Carouby de Maussanne’ is capable of racing past it. Both are non-stop croppers for several months if you pick their sweet, eat-me-whole pods relentlessly when they’re under 3in (7.5cm) long. Both have intense purple flowers, and ‘Golden Sweet’ pods are easily spotted, even among its own yellow-veined leaves.
To support these high-rise peas, I push 6ft-7ft long twiggy hazel shoots into the soil in a circle, bunch the tops together and bind with twine. This forms a neat column with a small footprint, but it’s big on vertical promise. I plant young pot-grown peas (at 6in tall) inside it and let their tendrils get to work.
To form my double act, I add some sturdy young cosmos in or around the hazel columns at the same time (there’s too little light to sow seeds). As the young peas clamber upwards, the branching cosmos shoots spread up and outwards. By late summer, I have a solid, multi-cropping column of colour giving me copious pickings of green/yellow pods, and bunch after bunch of white, pink and deep red cut flowers. Bees and butterflies adore them.
Great varieties to try
There are other tall mangetout peas to choose from (the convenience of picking, steaming and eating them within half an hour has banished shelling peas from my patch). For pretty, easily found purple pods, ‘Blauwschokker’ reaches 5ft (1.5m) tall, while green-podded ‘Weggiser’ can hit 6ft (1.8m). Garden Organic’s heritage seed library lists several taller growers, including ‘Victorian Purple Podded’.
Other good pea companions are Verbena bonariensis (use young plants at least 12in/ 30cm tall for a good start), and sweet peas. If you’re happy with a riot of shades, grow a medley with strong fragrance, such as ‘Incense Mixed’, or try pink-flushed heirloom ‘Prince of Orange’ among the purple blooms and pods of ‘Blauwschokker’. Both are sweet in every sense, and you get a double-value harvest.
Verbena bonariensis makes a good match for sweet peas (Alamy)
This summer I fancy the dusky shades of multi-headed sunflower ‘Pastiche’, among the gold foliage and purple flowers of pea ‘Golden Sweet’. It might just work.
Towers of power
Hazel columns are fine for clambering peas, but for climbing beans of all denominations, canes or poles are a must. Lashed together at 6-7ft (1.8-2.1m), a tall tepee takes growing to new heights. I don’t skimp on distance between my hazel poles, using four 8ft (2.4m) lengths at each corner of a 3ft (90cm) square. I push the poles in upright and arch them in at the top before binding them together. This lets in plenty of light for climbing crops and spurs the germination of self-sowers, such as pot marigolds (calendula), which entice beneficial insects.
Wonderful tepee for sweet peas at Hadspen Garden, Somerset
Beans and annual climbers
Runner beans are so pretty they’re almost worth growing for their flowers alone. Scarlet varieties still dominate catalogues, but there are red/white bicolours (‘Painted Lady’, ‘St George’), a red/pink bicolour (‘Tenderstar’), whites (‘White Lady’, ‘Snowstorm’), and even pink (‘Celebration’). If you’re struck on red runners, go for ‘Firestorm’, one of the new “self-fertile” runners that will pod-up even in dire summers. It did well here last year, but began setting only after 2ft (60cm) of growth up the poles – marking the end of the short-lived heatwave. If white flowers appeal, ‘Stardust’ is another self-fertile good-doer.
I think you will agree that the two together will make a spectacular show. One of the advantages of vertical gardens is how it will save your knees and back from the stresses of border gardening. Another popular resource to consider is the garden rack system that is increasingly growing in popularity.
This sort of gardening is also very useful if you only have a small space to work with. Take a look at the next page and discover a very easy to do yet spectacular vertical gardens project that is ideal for small spaces.