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Look up! Vertical garden is just the ticket when space is minimal

Cucumbers and other edibles can be planted in hanging baskets as a form of vertical gardening when space is at a premium as shown in this photo from Victoria, B.C. on Thursday Aug.13, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Megan Cole

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Cucumbers and other edibles can be planted in hanging baskets as a form of vertical gardening when space is at a premium as shown in this photo from Victoria, B.C. on Thursday Aug.13, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Megan Cole

VICTORIA - With area in large Canadian cities at a premium, urban dwellers are using vertical space to increase the size of their gardens.

A large vegetable garden may seem impossible for anyone living in a condo, but practitioners of vertical gardening, like Judy Kenzie, see endless possibilities, even with a tiny balcony, deck or yard.

"I started looking into vertical gardening because I needed more space. I live in the city, and I started looking at my backyard, and it is about (6.7 metres) by (7.6 metres)," says Kenzie, owner of Strathcona 1890 Urban Seed Collections. "It is fully planted with all sorts of beautiful trees and other plants, and then I have a deck that was barren.

"I thought, if I am going to grow edibles, I need to be growing on my deck because my beds were already full of trees and perennials."

Kenzie began by creating 17 different kinds of hanging baskets with edibles, and used her deck as a place to experiment with various issues that have the potential to impact city dwellers.

"I examined particular variables that could affect the success of a vertical garden," she says. "Some vegetables have deeper roots than others. You can't plant regular carrots in a shallow box, but you can plant chard there, and you'll just get baby chard. I started planting with all sorts of things like that."

Kenzie has now created other vertical garden applications that include structures that look like shelving for plants, and she also regularly uses trellises to maximize vertical space.

While there are products that help people create vertical gardens, Jake Harding, co-founder of Skyline Farms in Toronto, and his business partner Gustavo Macias often repurpose materials destined for landfill for use in vertical gardening.

"We've been working with restaurants and private businesses to design multidisciplinary urban farms and gardens for whatever leftover space they have that they want to use," says Harding.

"We're working with different restaurants to design farms, and one farm is at the Drake Hotel. The idea for their farm was to take advantage of any materials we could salvage and show that we could use the materials removed from landfills and use them to grow food."

He says they are also using pallets for vertical gardening at another Toronto restaurant. The company has also been talking with condo developers about incorporating vertical gardening in the initial designs of a development.

"Vertical gardening is ideal for people who live in condos," says Harding. "They have even less space than your average person. It just is really the only thing that makes sense for condos and apartments."

When planning a vertical garden, Harding advises considering the root depth of plants.

"You can't really grow root vegetables in some applications, but it is perfect for greens and herbs," says Harding. "Tomatoes grow well, but you have to come up with an innovative way to trellis them.

"It is important to keep in mind what you plant where, and what likes shade versus direct sun."

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