An end to hanging baskets?
One of horticulture’s biggest buzzwords at the moment is ‘vertical gardening’. The concept was the brainchild of Patrick Blanc, botanist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who devised a system enabling architects to design structures featuring living walls of plants without the use of soil. Blanc’s vertical gardens reintroduce biodiversity into urban centres and have the twin benefits of offering superior thermal insulation as well as filtering out air pollution.
On a more modest scale, vertical gardening allows people to make much greater use of limited space, especially in city centres where people have little or no access to gardens. Some innovative products have recently come on to the domestic market which allow you to plant vertically, one of which is a British invention: the Polanter. We’ve got our hands on some, and over the course of the spring/summer we’re going to evaluate them and give you an honest appraisal of what we think.
Firstly, what is a Polanter? It’s a modular, vertical planting system which resembles a piece of PVC drainpipe. Inside is a clever but simple internal watering system, which attaches to a standard hosepipe. Constructed from recycled materials, and fully recyclable, in some respects you could think of a Polanter as a 21st century hanging basket.
We had two smaller ‘Kit 1′ and one ‘Kit 2′ Polanters to install. From a choice of eight colours we opted for a conservative dark green, but there are a number of brighter options should you prefer. We thought it best to use a colour which would showcase the plants, rather than compete with them.
Resisting the urge to just get stuck in, we turned to the single page instruction sheet. Despite a rather low budget diagram the instructions themselves were pretty clear, and the process of putting the Polanter together fairly painless. While the instructions called for the use of a bowl of hot water to soften the hose before attaching the connectors, we had our own idea, which seemed to work just as well.
Having satisfied ourselves that the system would work, we totted up the number of plants required before heading off to the garden centre. The Kit 1 has 12 planting holes, with space for one or two more in the top, and the Kit 2 holds 24-26 plants. An hour, and £60 later (ouch – we’ve got unused to paying retail price) we were ready to make a start.
We decided to experiment with different planting combinations. In the first Kit 1 we went for a food/herb combination of Tumbling Tom tomatoes, coriander, thyme, parsley and basil. I was slightly skeptical of planting the whole thing with tomatoes, as they are very hungry feeders and I wasn’t sure they would cope with the confined root space, so in the end we went for 4 tomato plants. The second Kit 1 was planted with a green selection including Ivy, Thyme, Lavender and a prostrate Rosemary. The larger Kit 2 was filled with a flowering summer bedding mixture including Lobelia, Busy Lizzies, Bacopa and Verbena.
After adding some gravel for drainage, planting the units was slightly tricky, as we were unable to get many plug-sized plants this far into the season. This meant the plants we bought had root balls which wouldn’t fit through the holes in the Polanter. Worried about damaging the root balls by trying to force the plants through, we improvised by feeding the foliage through the holes from the inside. This was a bit fiddly, but it worked.
Fixing the Polanters to the wall was pleasingly painless. The bracket system was simple to fit, and my only worry was the wallplugs supplied looked a bit flimsy, especially for the heavier Kit 2. We decided not to chance it and used some more heavy duty ones.
Once planted up and installed on the wall, all that remained was to water them. This is achieved by attaching a garden hose to the integral attachment at the base. Only a trickle of water is required, as we discovered when the end flew out of the internal hose on the first Kit 1 with a loud pop! That was down to me not putting it in properly.
We decided to give the compost in the top of each Polanter a covering of gravel to act as a mulch, which should help with water retention.
The finished Polanters look quite smart, if a little bald, so we’ll watch with interest how they fill out throughout the season.
Whether these innovative planting systems will supplant the traditional hanging basket remains to be seen. One thing we noted was you can get a lot more plants into a smaller space than you can with a hanging basket, and watering is a whole lot easier. We’ll let you know how they grow.