By Libby Schultz

Pocket gardens, living walls, vertical gardens, green-screens…it’s a whole new world of garden design that’s literally on the up-and-up. Ideal for smaller areas and busy lifestyles, these clever space-savers are being embraced by urban gardeners everywhere.

From a cute pocket herb garden, to a full-scale irrigated system – there are options to suit every budget. This article provides an overview of the different options and costs.

With the rise in smaller sections and apartment living – plus the trends towards low-maintenance gardens, and home-grown edibles – it’s no wonder these clever space-savers are being embraced by urban gardeners worldwide.

Living walls in pocket Style NZ

“Living walls first became popular in New Zealand about 10-15 years ago,” says Nichola Vague, a Tauranga-based Zones Landscaping consultant.

“But it’s not just a passing fad; it’s proving to be very practical option as our section sizes become smaller and more urbanised. It lets any home-owner enjoy all the benefits of a garden, just by growing up instead of out.”

Nichola says many of her clients, particularly those with smaller properties, want to incorporate some aspect of vertical gardening into their landscaping projects.

“Vertical planting definitely adds a sense of aesthetic to any garden,” she says.

“When you’re designing a room, for instance, you need elements of height to balance out the proportions. Designing a garden is no different.”

As well as providing lushness, coolness and shade; you can use greenery to cover any less-than-attractive areas in your outdoor space – whether it’s softening a bare concrete wall, or screening out an ugly garden shed.

Costs of a vertical garden: $1,500 - $30,000+

Before you commit to a vertical garden, says Nichola, it’s important to understand exactly what’s involved. When it comes to cost, the big question is whether you’re prepared to commit to a fully-irrigated and engineered system.

“With a vertical garden, you’re effectively getting into hydroponics,” explains Nichola.

“Unless you’re using succulents, which require less water, you’ll need to ensure your vertical plants are being constantly fed. Realistically, you need to be willing to invest in a purpose-designed planting structure and irrigation system.”

The basic principle of hydroponic gardening is that nutrient-rich water is applied directly to the plant’s roots, instead of being drawn up via the soil.

Living walls in lush style

The irrigation system will be connected to your main water supply; or preferably, to a rainwater collection system. The two main types of irrigation are gravity drip-feeding (where the water runs off); and re-circulating (where the water is recirculated by a pump).

“Your Zones consultant will advise on the right irrigation system, and arrange the required plumbing and electrical work,” says Nichola.

Hand-watering is really only practical for smaller green walls – e.g something around the size of a large-screen TV.

“If you struggle to keep a hanging basket alive, then vertical gardening is probably not for you…! But if you’re vigilant about hand-watering, you can still have some fun and incorporate elements of a vertical garden, without having to go the full monty.”

Vertical gardening on a budget

One of the simplest and most cost-effective options is a ‘pocket garden’ – which is ideal for creating an edible garden, or a lush foliage display.

As the name suggests, the plants are contained in individual pockets of soil, which are then attached to the structure of your choice. Pocket gardens are very versatile; and can be attached to walls, fences, house-cladding, pergolas, retaining walls, and even on to other trees.

“You can also create moveable screens or dividers using pocket planters,” says Nichola.

“These are ideal for balconies, temporary gardens, or places where body corporate rules don’t allow you to attach permanent fixtures.”

You could create a basic pocket wall for around $1,500. This might include a 1.5 x 1m frame, pockets, plants, and a simple hardware-store irrigation system.

Another versatile option is the planter-box style. These are free-standing and moveable structures, similar to a modular wall-shelf, that look good both indoors and out. They can be placed against a wall, or left free-standing to act as a semi-transparent divider.

Timber is one of the more cost-effective materials – whether you’re building a wooden screen, a trellis, pergola, or even a simple pallet design. Concrete blocks or masonry is another reasonably-priced option, and has an aesthetic that suits contemporary homes.

Living walls in corporate environment

Custom-designed vertical gardens

When it comes to vertical gardens, there are now a number of suppliers in the market. The great thing about partnering with a Zones consultant is that they will provide independent advice, to help you choose the best one for you.

“We can either help you choose an off-the-shelf system, or we can have something custom-designed to fit your space,” says Nichola.

“We’ll ensure your budget is used wisely – factoring in everything from the initial outlay, to the planting, and the ongoing maintenance required. It’s critical to ensure everything is working property together.”

A fully-designed vertical garden, with custom-made structures and extensive irrigation, can cost upwards of $30,000.

Structures made from powder-coated aluminium allow you to specify a colour to complement your home’s exterior. Or a ‘screen garden’, which combines laser-cut aluminium panels with hanging plants, lets you make a real architectural statement. You can also add back-lighting for extra effect.

Ultimately, of course, it’s the choice of plants that give your vertical garden the wow factor. Landscape designers recommend having a mix of so-called “thrillers, fillers and spillers”.

High end living wall in an NZ house

“You want the perfect mix of texture, colour and size. Just like an interior designer, we’ve developed an expert eye for what works together – and the type of plants that thrive in the living wall environment.”

Keen to know more? Your Zones Landscaping consultant will be happy to guide you through your living wall project.

High-End vertical gardens

One of the best things about a vertical garden is that you can create virtually any shape and structure you like.

“You don’t have the constraints of a traditional garden, so it’s an opportunity to get really creative,” says Wellington landscaping specialist Rochelle Strawbridge.

“We can either help you source an off-the-shelf system, or we can have something custom-designed to fit your space.”

Verticle garden in an NZ house

Timber is one of the more cost-effective materials – whether you’re building a wooden screen, a trellis, pergola, or even a simple pallet design. Concrete blocks or masonry is another reasonably-priced option, and has an aesthetic that suits contemporary homes. Structures made from powder-coated aluminium, although more expensive, allow you to specify a colour to suit your home.

Ultimately, of course, it’s the choice of plants that give your vertical garden the wow factor. Landscape designers recommend having a mix of so-called “thrillers, fillers and spillers”.

“You want the perfect mix of texture, colour and size. Just like an interior designer, we’ve developed an expert eye for what works together – and the type of plants that thrive in the living wall environment.”

Keen to know more? Your Zones Landscaping consultant will be happy to guide you through your living wall project.

You might be interested in reading How much does it cost to landscape your garden on a basic budget.

Get in touch with Zones to discuss your landscaping project

If you would like to discuss options and ideas for your outdoor renovation project in Auckland, please use the enquiry form on this page to provide us with your contact details. We will get in touch with you at a time that suits you to discuss your landscaping design and build. If you would like to provide us with more information about your project, we have a more comprehensive enquiry form on our "Get in touch" page too.

*Costs are rough estimates and are subject to change. For a fixed-quote accurate to your specific project, please consult your local Zones landscaping specialist. All Zones franchises are independently owned and operated.