Vertical gardening is a concept that is well promoted these days, especially when considering urban and suburban gardens in confined spaces. A quick search on any server will reveal a great collection of reused plastic bottles or PVC pipes suspended alongside walls and fences, little bunches of salad greens poking up periodically. Everything from old pants pockets to upcycled dressers to old pallets are used to grow food beyond just ground level. Often times these create beautiful, if not peculiar, garden touches for people, gardeners and the rest alike, to enjoy.
However, small containers like these, while a productive use of space, can often be higher maintenance and are typically used to propagate annuals, but of course, standard permaculture practice is to pursue, though not exclusively, perennial and low-maintenance gardens. It’s from this point of view that the practicality of edible perennial vines become a more obvious choice for utilizing vertical spaces. Climbing vines not only have the potential (and need) to move vertically, but also they can spread along ceilings (to utilize that space as well), become shading roofs themselves, help with insulating, and even function as living walls and fences.
In other words, while the upcycled vertical gardens are a neat trick and fun projects, looking to vines may offer more stacked functions and provide a more reliable, more easily maintained source of food. What’s more is that there are great, varied productive options for temperate and tropical zones, including vines for fruit and vegetables, as well as edible leaves and flowers. Most propagate easily and establish themselves quickly.
Grapes can be beautifully placed within a landscape. Whether it be climbing arbors, fences, or even pergolas, the beautiful flowers followed by big, hanging bunches of grapes are absolutely lovely! And not only do you get to eat the grapes, but the grape vine leaves are also edible and perfect for a raw salad or even cooked! Make sure, however, that proper pruning is done every year to ensure a plentiful harvest. Also keep in mind that grapes will attract the birds and the bees (quite literally), so be aware of extra cleanup that will be needed if planting over any hardscape areas…
There are two types of kiwi, the kiwifruit (like the ones you find at the grocery store), and the hardy kiwi. Kiwifruit produces the typical large kiwis, however it requires warmer, more tropical regions to grow. If this isn’t you, then try out the hardy kiwi! The hardy kiwi produces smaller, grape-like kiwis that can be eaten whole. These won’t grow nearly as fast as the kiwifruit, but in colder climates it will do much better than it’s tropical cousin and will still give you that tangy taste that you love!
This is another tropical plant that is really becoming more popular as an outdoor vine. The fruit is tangy and sweet and can be used in a variety of different ways. The flowers are also edible and can be used as a stunning garnish to a variety of dishes. Needless to say, having one of these in your yard will definitely be a main attraction!
While some pepper varieties are more natural climbers (especially black peppers), all peppers can use a trellis for support and be trained upwards. I find that this usually aids in harvest as well, as you can keep the plant thinner and more accessible from either side.
Though technically also a gourd, I don’t think most people would think of them as related, so I wanted to mention them separately. Cucumbers are a great vine to grow and they do best on wire frames (it’s easy for them to latch onto). Having them grow vertically is actually preferred for cucumbers as it will keep the fruit clean as well as will make it harder for insects to reach.
Most people know that tomatoes do well with a vertical support. However, there are many different varieties of tomatoes that actually love to climb! I remember my professor had a chicken wire tunnel in his yard that he trained his cherry tomatoes onto. By the end of the summer, his kids loved to climb underneath and pick cherry tomatoes in the cool shade of the tomato plants themselves. This not only made harvesting easier, but it created something fun in the lives of his children! You can do this with any vine plant as long as you put in some time to train it in the right direction!