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Blog/Opinion: Vertical Gardening Ideas…Tube Planters

I was transformed into a lover and student of vertical gardening after seeing Patrick Blanc’s vertical wall designs years ago in a magazine. I’ve written about vertical gardening on Gardening Go over the past few years. Since then, the field has continued to grow at a quick pace. The horticultural industry is focusing more and more on green roofs and vertical gardening, realizing that these two forms of gardening are not only environmentally beneficial but can help expand peoples’ horizons of how to create a garden when dealing with an unconventional space.


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In the 1980s, Pat McWhinney noticed that many rock and waterfall type projects were lacking plant life around the rock formations. Consequently, he created a unique plant system called Tube Planters. It can be used for a variety of purposes in several different settings such as rockscapes, living walls, free standing plant columns, living arches, hillsides and horizontal plantings. For the purposes of this article, I’m focusing on vertical gardening.

For more gardening insight and tips...


Tube planters are made of an industrial cloth: Patrick has them sown up by a seamstress into circular tubes and lengths of varying dimensions. A machine then packs the tubes with a special horticultural mix. The results can be dazzling (as shown in the photos below). They’re exquisite when used as vertical walls but as a ‘newbie’ at roof top gardening, I can easily imagine how rows of them could work beautifully as transportable garden beds. And boy, would they ever be easier to maintain than dozens of containers!


Vertical Gardening Ready


Five tube planters secured to a latticed screen, ready to be planted. Patrick describes this type of design as an air mattress configuration.


Flower Vertical Gardening


Agapanthus in a 4 inch tube planter in full bloom. They were initially planted with 2″ liners two years ago. This is a great example of creating a horizontal garden look. In urban areas, it will help to provide greenery and beautify the appearance of buildings without any heavy pots, clutter or wasted water. How cool is that?


Ficus Tree Vertical Gardening


Green Gem Ficus plants/trees grown in a tube planter 15 years. As you can see, the roots are trying to escape the container trough. Had they been grown in the ground, they would probably be 20′ high by now.


Here is some additional information that Patrick offered about tube planters.

The trough seen in the photo above is the linear equivalent to a saucer under a potted plant. Troughs are intended to support the tubes and to contain any excess water seepage, especially important when used on balconies, decks, etc. The trough itself is simply a catch basin and conversely, functions as a method of watering the planted tubes, as the water is wicked up into the soil in the tubes.

Tube planters are particularly well suited for roof top gardens. Water-proofing between tubes and roof is essential. Again, tubes in plastic troughs will accomplish this. Tubes placed next to each other will give a full ‘garden-bed’ feel, whether grasses, wildflowers, or natives to the area.


Vertical Gardening Meadow


Fescues planted in horizontal tube. Imagine rows of them, along with other grasses to create a meadow like setting.


Filling a plastic trough with only a few inches of loose soil would not be the optimum way to grow plants. Tube planters do not require being seated in the troughs; it is simply more efficient. In my experience, the smaller segments can just as easily be dunked in a bucket of water. Yes, the troughs are mainly suited for horizontal applications.


Irrigation systems for vertical plantings are basic off-the-shelf landscape drip emitters, positioned at the top of the row of tube planters. As the water saturates the top tube, the water will seep into the lower tubes until the “soil blanket” is saturated. Again, here is another way the troughs come into play to gather excess water.


Because tube planters are not an inexpensive method for creating large vertical projects, Patrick suggests that the average do-it-yourselfer would probably benefit more from buying one of the many pre-fab plastic tray growing systems. But if like me you think that you’ve just got to have a tube planter, you can start off with small lengths; and as your budget allows, you can add additional planted tubes to enlarge the display.


Framed Vertical Garden


Another option is to create small to medium sized framed picture tube planters as shown in this photo.

Patrick was kind enough to send me a tube planter so that I could experiment with different specimens and see how it fared on my rooftop garden in an extremely hot and arid climate.


Mini Vertical Garden


Initially when planting it up, I wondered how all of these mini succulents were going to thrive in a cylindrical soil stuffed tube; but no problem whatsoever.

I soak it with a sprinkler each morning and keep it in a semi-shady spot. Because I have a rooftop container garden, I think that once the cooler weather settles in, I will treat my tube planter as part of a vignette of containers. I also can envision a small piece of an intricately planted tube planter being used as a centerpiece on a dining table or buffet. Wouldn’t that make for a great conversation piece?


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Vertical Gardening Ideas…Tube Planters:  Created on May 14th, 2011.  Last Modified on March 11th, 2014

About Fran Sorin

Fran Sorin

Fran Sorin is a recognized gardening expert, ecologist, author, broadcaster, and journalist. Her book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, now considered a classic, was groundbreaking when published as no one had written about gardening in the context of creativity, spirituality, and transformation.

Fran’s faith in the healing power of nature informs all of her work. She believes that each of us benefits from being surrounded by the beauty and therapeutic effect of nature – at home, work, and in the city or town where we live. To facilitate the ability for city dwellers to interact with nature, she focuses on ecological landscape design, vertical green walls, green roof gardening, urban gardening, and sustainable urban agriculture.


Fran is the CBS Radio News Garden Contributor – her gardening features are heard several times a week on CBS Radio stations throughout the country. She has been a Regular Contributor on The Today Show and made appearances on Live with Regis and Kelly, CNN, HGTV, Discovery, DIY, Comcast, and NBC10 in Philadelphia. She has been the GardenSmart Contributor for USA Weekend Magazine, a Contributing Editor for Radius Magazine, and was instrumental in developing the iVillage Garden Channel.

Learn more about Fran and read dozens of articles she has written on her website, and at her group gardening blog:




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