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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Vertical Gardening: How Tall Can You Grow

Over the holidays I drove south for a visit to my Dad's house and his south Florida garden. He and his wife live on a heavily treed lot full with tropical foliage. So much so that walking into their back yard you'd never know they live in a neighborhood. The two neighbors they have are blocked by the densely planted shrubs and trees.
My dad has loved to garden for as long as I have a memory. He is meticulous about his lawn, trees, and citrus fruit. He also nurtures a few vegetables in the sunniest spots all year long.

This year he's trying something different. It's called vertical hydroponic gardening. When he described it to me on the phone I couldn't quite get the picture and then I saw it for myself.
The Verti-Gro® system is a simplified system for organic growing that uses no soil, sometimes referred to as hydro-organic or organic hydroponics. The potting medium is a combination of coconut fiber, perlite and a couple of other ingredients I can't remember. :-)
Aren't those collard greens pretty? Each stackable "box" is capable of producing its own harvest. They stack one on top of the other at an angle and the growth comes out of the corners. It's fascinating, really, even though after seeing them for myself, the way it works still kind of baffles my mind.
It was very interesting to actually see their vegetables thriving in such small quarters. I'm not sure if I'll try this for myself as the initial investment is a factor for start up. I am working on enlarging my ground beds right now. But seeing Dad's and using up vertical space does make me ponder the idea.

Dad and his wife are growing strawberries (above), collards, and tomatoes. But the choice of what to grow is endless. Just about anything can be grown this way. It's not a totally new concept but from what I've read, it is one being used more often than ever before.

I can certainly understand how this method would be very useful in keeping pesky rabbits away. Just the fact that the boxes are higher up would create a more controlled environment even from some bugs. In small gardens just think of the space they conserve. I can even see using them along with a garden planted in the ground in order to maximize space.
To the Rest of the Yard We Go...

In view, just as you walk up the front walkway, is this lavish purple Bougainvillea draping over a one-story height wall dividing a small courtyard entry to the front door.
Some of the other blooming plants in their south Florida garden...

Crown of Thorns, Euphorbia milii

Powder Puff Tree Calliandra haematocephala... loaded with bees and butterflies.

According to the Florida 2006 hardiness zone map we are both zone 10 even though they live two hours south of me on the same gulf coast. The chances for Charlotte County experiencing freezing temperatures at any time are much less likely than here however. Which explains why he has avacado, mango, and citrus trees all producing copious amounts of wonderfully sweet fruit.

I brought home cuttings from several of their plants. They didn't know the name of some of them. I put this one (above) in the ground and have left a couple of cuttings in water just to be sure at least one of them rooted. They are all doing well. The ones in water have little roots shooting out the bottom already. The few in soil never even wilted. Does anyone know what this ruffley leaved plant is? It was very tall (4 or 5 feet)and bushy... like everything else there actually.
That day was particularly bright and sunny making some of the photos harder to get. These pictures don't really portray the enormity of the two hanging stag horn ferns. They are just outstanding specimens in size and beauty! My dad started one for me a few years ago from one of these that I featured on a recent post. Mine is not even a quarter of the size of his.

Mango tree blooming.

There are at least 6 different variety of citrus trees covering their extra wide side yard as well as a few of them mingled in with the tropical setting in their back yard. The trees are loaded with fruit. Due to the abnormally cold weather Florida had in November all the fruit is extra sweet and good this year. You can read more about my dad's citrus trees over at my other blog here.

Look at the bounty I brought home.
My latest food of choice!

This is what I've been eating for days. I section out large quantities at a time keeping a container of it in the refrigerator and then eat this yummy mix whenever I please. It's a VERY nice change of pace after all the heavy desserts eaten over the holidays. Yeah, no more talk of over indulging during the holidays. It's a new year right?


  1. No wonder you are such a successful gardener. You came from good root stock. ;)

    Those stag horn ferns are magnificent. I have never seen such a beast. My puny little thing doesn't seem hardly worth the effort after seeing yours let alone your Dad's. Don't worry I won't give up on it. As long as it doesn't give up.

    Just seeing all that color is wonderful on this biting cold day here.

  2. I have heard a little about the vertical growing glad you shared it because I couldn't picture it in my mind. Your Dad's place is beautiful, you did inherit his green thumb for sure! I was thing about your Staghorn this morning, I have one and am not sure where to put it. I have it on an old oak log sitting on the back porch, it's starting to grow, I want it hanging though, any ideas would be much appreciated. Your Dad's are HUGE.

  3. I think I could jump-start a diet with all that fresh citrus. How blessed you are to have access to that.

    Your dad's property looks amazing! The apple, (or the orange in this case) doesn't fall far from the tree.

  4. What a fabulous garden. No wonder you're a gardener too. I love your new header picture, by the way.

  5. What a wonderful paradise of green. I wish we could grow more tropical plants here.--Randy

  6. Oh that citrus salad looks so yummy I could eat it right off the screem! And those staghorns, mine is already too large for the greenhouse, it may be the last year for it to come inside so it might just die. Maybe I can get a local nursery to take it off my hands. That hydroponic set up sounds puzzling, but the look of the collards cannot be questioned! Your dad sounds like a terrific garden teacher for you and your family too. What a treasure!

  7. What a beautiful garden your Dad has! Loved the photos. Runs in the family and there's a certain similarity in your gardens. Or maybe it's being in the same zone?!

    That green ruffly plant is the Acalypha wilkesiana. I have the same one. Not sure about the full exact name. It can be confusing with so many similar looking types on the net. Great to see plants that are no strangers to me. Will surely make use of your links and read them up.

    Have a lovely week!

  8. They do some vertical gardening at Disney...I found it very interesting too. They also had plants where the roots were completely exposed and they went through this system that watered them and gave them nutrients. Way over my head, but very interesting!

  9. Your father's garden is lovely. I see how you come by your love for gardening. It seems there's always a parent or grandparent who helped develop one's love for gardening. And you are doing the same with your grandchildren.

    I've seen those hydroponic containers at my daughter's school and, I too, do not really understand how they work but they do seem to produce beautiful plants and veggies. They are especialy great for folks with small yards.

  10. Gosh Meems, too bad ya'll can't grow much down there. My goodness. It looks like dinosaur food. Your dad's vege experiment is interesting. Do the vegetables taste as good when they are grown in that medium vs. soil?

    Your salad looks really good. I suppose grapefruits are in season and maybe they are good in the grocery stores right now?

  11. wow Meems your have definitely inherited your dad's green thumb! Citrus does not grow well here in Barbados since it needs a bit of a chill to sweeten and ripen to that beautiful colour. My oranges and tangerines ripen a greenish colour and in the cooler areas on the island they ripen a brighter colour. That mystery plant is an acalypha hofffmanii. They also come in a copper, a variegated yellow and green, a fine leaf and many more red leaf varieties. They are prone to mealy bugs and powdery mildew. I had some in my garden and quickly got rid of it. Perhaps they won't be pesty due to the cooler weather.

  12. Dear meems,

    When I was 10, my mother, sister and I got on a plane and flew to our new life in Tampa! It was the second week in January and 18 degrees when we left Missouri and it seemed like paradise when we arrived in Florida. There were oranges on the trees in our backyard and the city smelled delicious! Looking at the bounty that your dad shared with you...took me on a sense memory that was delightful. Thank you!

    Your dad's place is wonderful...I agree with Lisa the Staghorn Fern is a magnificent beast!

    Could you answer one the powder puff tree fragrant?

    I need to visit the beach!


  13. Okay, Meems -- if you keep posting all these glorious Florida gardens, I may have to fly south for a few weeks to escape the brown/gray landscape up here!

    Your Dad's vertical hydroponic gardening is definitely intriguing. I'll have to ask my son about this since he worked at 5th Season, a hydroponic garden center in Carrboro, between his archaeology projects last year. He probably knows how to do this. I like your suggestion that veggies can be out of the reach of bunnies, too.

    Great post (as always)!

    PS Late to the party again -- but, I felt good enough today to go with the Musician and the Archaeologist to see Clint in Gran Torino. They waited for me to get well! :-)

  14. How interesting - hydroponic gardening done vertically. I love looking at all your pics. Really brightens up a cold winter day.

  15. oh dear meems, very nice coverage of dad's garden. it does look so luscious and all so delicious. i have not seen anything like the vertical baskets before but what a great concept. it did make me think of two things i have heard about and seen a little. one is planting your tomato plants in the air upside down and they grown off the ground and don't rot as much and you need only a small amount of soil. very interesting.
    also a friend of our was growing hydroponic veggies in tanks and had tilapia under it feeding on the roots, also very interesting.
    i am so glad you shared dad's beautiful grounds and fruit, too.
    his staghorns are so incredible, maybe a genius record?
    i have always like the powder puffs, are they different than the bottle brush or is that just another name for it>?
    i do like your food of choice lately, yummy! and oh so good for you!

  16. Lisa, Both my mom and my dad and my grandparents loved to garden now that you mention it. I'm routing for your staghorn to pull through and keep growing for you!

    Darla, I honestly don't know that much about staghorns. Here they don't need any care to speak of except to be left alone in the shade. They rarely even need water. The other observation I've made is the fact that they get very heavy when large and will require a very sturdy tree and heavy chain to hold them up. For you, the cold could be an issue - you have probably already looked up the conditions they prefer. You probably already know they don't grow in soil... they only need to be attached to something to grow.

    Robin, Yeah, my dad and I are alike in many ways. He doesn't know the names of most his plants either... only knows what works for him. The citrus fruit is really helping to curb my sweet tooth after feeding it during the holidays.

  17. Victoria, Thank you. The new header is an African Iris. Even though they bloom here off and on most of the year I never tire of snapping their photo. This one taken on the 1st of January.

    Randy, We all have our wishes don't we? And so many times they involve something we can't have. There are so many things that won't grow here due to our heat. I'm learning to just go with it and plant what loves my zone.

    Frances, It is very puzzling still to me and I saw it. But like you said the beauty of the vegetation can't be denied. I would imagine a local nurser would be happy to take your staghorn or you could break it up into several smaller starts and give them away or keep them... or one at least.

    Kanak, Yes, I think it is the zones but dad's garden has some very different plants than I do. It was a lot of fun as always to come home with so many cuttings. I concur with your ID after looking it up I found it to be Hoffmannii... thank you so much for the help.

  18. mjm, Disney always has the most innovative stuff. The second system you mentioned does sound intriquing... and complicated.

    Susan, the thing that baffles me about them is the small amount of medium the roots are growing in. Also they are dependent upon an organic mix that has to be fed to them daily and sometimes more than once a day because the medium is very airy and gets dry quickly. That would wear me out with everything else that goes in the garden. But then everything has its drawbacks.

    anna/flowergardengirl, I haven't eaten of the veggies but my dad and his wife rave over the flavor of the food.

    Helen, I figured out after Kanak gave me pointers that my plant was a Hoffmannii. I LOVE the copper colored one. I will surely hope they don't have the issues you describe because I will surely rip them out if they do... no time for such nonsense. Thank you for the ID help, too.

    Gail, And here we are the second week into January and this is surely when it seems like paradise down here on the peninsula. I can picture you as a child experiencing such an abrupt change and being in wonderment at the differences. I don't think the powderpuff is fragrant but you would have loved all the bees swarming it.

  19. Cameron, so glad you are feeling better... hope you liked the movie... Mr. meems wants to take me to that one...Clint is like Bond... they have to see every one.
    Would love to hear what the archeologist knows about hydroponics... I don't have issues with rabbits but the bugs are disastrous for the tomatoes in the spring.

    Wendy, Happy to brighten your day on any level... thanks for stopping in.

    Marmee, I have seen the upside down method of growing tomatoes and it is very pretty as well as practical in the sense you mentions. The vining ones I'm continually battling to keep staked right now in my garden would have been a perfect specimen for upside growing. The vines could have trailed in a more natural downward journey rather than me fighting to keep them upright. Dad literally has one other staghorn that is bigger than either one I photographed. I couldn't get a really photo of the other one as the glare behind it was too severe. That one might be a record breaker.

    Powder puffs are very different than bottle brush although the flower similar in texture (and color). I'm not a fan of the bottle brush due to the unattractive foliage (IMO). The powder puff I like... it is far more discreet.

  20. Oh, my goodness! The staghorns are fabulous! And the verti-gro is very interesting. I've been wanting to try growing tomatoes upside down. Your dad's yard reminds me of my grandmother's, full of wonderful things to eat fresh from the trees.

    If you get a chance, drop by my place... I have something for you there. 8-]

    Have a JESUS-filled day! ^i^

  21. Meems, one of my great joys in visiting Florida was the fresh fruit. Taste so much better than what we can get here. And the juice-I miss that too!
    What a beautiful garden your Dad has. A tropical oasis. :} Vertical gardening sound very interesting. You will have to keep us updated. Thanks for a lovely, day brightning post.

  22. Hi Meems, looks like you already have your plant id but I wanted to stop in and say that the fruit looks awesome!! Your dad's place is beautiful!

  23. I just love the idea of confounding the little varmints. Fabulous horticultural practices and a good eye certain run in your family - I'm feeling warmer already. Thanks for the tour of your dad's garden.

  24. Gosh your Dad would be a hard act to follow. Such a beautiful garden and I love the stackers....what a great way to grow really got me interested when you mentioned the dreaded R word...rabbits....

    I may have to think on that one......

    The stag horn's are amazing....I really have not seen any that size before......

  25. What a fun post...and idea...featuring other gardens, and such a pretty (and related) one at that! I like this vertical garden idea, great for small spaces. And that photo of the strawberries was my favorite. I've never seen them in that stage before.

  26. Your Dad's yard and garden are awesome...thanks for sharing!

  27. Sophie, I'm tempted to try tomatoes upside down as well after this last go round with vines too tall for my stakes. Thanks so much for the award, too.

    Beckie, The vertical gardening is intriguing to me too. I think that is especially because I am just learning to grow veggies the conventional way. So you know what I'm talking about?... There's nothing like fresh squeezed orange juice from a natural orange.

    GreenJeans, Thanks anyway. Do you grow that plant? I'm wondering about the powdery mildew islandgal was referring to...

    Barbara, You are most welcome.I do hope I got some of my dad's good qualities. I'm with you anytime we can trick the buggies.

    Cheryl, I didn't realize until this post that the staghorns probably don't grow to that size except in tropical climates. but I can see why everyone is surprised... I've seen lots of big ones but Dad's are over the top for sure.

    Rissalee, I would really love to grow strawberries but they intimidate me a bit... well, a lot. But I think they are pretty at every stage of growth. Strawberries are another big crop for certain counties in Florida... as you probably already know.

    Connie, thank you- you are kind to stop by and let me know.

  28. A simply marvelous post, Meems. You are making me want to move down there...I'm going to beg my husband to find a job down there:) Honestly, I'm so tired of cold weather...even VA weather. I don't care about the heat & humidity for 6 months. We get it here, a lot. And I've lived in SC and been to FL so I know I could handle it. I like to helps my skin, and I swear it helps lose weight too!! ha ha.
    Anyway, everything you featured here is beautiful. The purple Bougainvillea reminds me of an azalea but much larger and bigger blooms. I wonder if I could try it here? I shall check.
    I have seen ads for hydroponic gardening but not 'vertical'. Sounds like it could be a possibility for me, I could place it on my deck and it would be easier for me to get to. I seriously might try this!
    Thank you for some great ideas!

  29. One word..MAGNIFICENT!!

  30. What a lucky gal you are, Meems! The gift of still learning from your father and delicious nurturing fruit from his garden ... I think both are about as good as it gets!

  31. Meems, that was interesting about your Dad's vertical gardening. Someday, I want to taste a mango grown nearby at the peak of its ripeness. I love mangoes. Your melange of citrus also looks great.~~Dee

  32. Your garden is paradise especially today when it is so cold.

  33. That vertical gardening system is so interesting! My dad has so little sun in his garden that it is difficult to rotate his tomato crop. You may have introduced us to his solution! Mary Beth

  34. Your dad has a beautiful garden, I would like to try that vertical garden, it looks good for my limited space garden. Yes I have impatiens growing everywhere, they reseed and I usually let them be. Good luck with the cold weather tonight

  35. Hi Meems, thanks for visiting my blog, good to see you.

    The Kalandiva is probably considered a flowering house plant. If you live in a warm climate, you could grow it outside year round. We can grow them outside during the summer, and the rest of the time we have them indoors.


  36. Jan, you had me chuckling with your response today. It is true that other southern states experience humidity and heat but before you make your move here please take note that our heat and humidity are not the same. We don't cool down at night and we start our days out steamy for many months of the year. It just doesn't let up. But then that is why the tropicals do well here. They thrive on that extended time of heat and humidity.

    Also if sweating helps you lose weight... well, I'd be a lot thinner. LOL That said, we'd love to have you join us down! I think you are onto something with the vertical gardening being easy to get to on your deck. It might be worth giving it a try.

    Brad: Thanks... I like that word.

    Joey: You are a wise woman recognizing the blessings I have at my fingertips. I am grateful for the very things you mentioned. Thank you.

    Dee: I love mangoes too. Seems most folks either like them or hate them. They are delish ripe from the tree.

    Donna: It was even cold here today. Well, I should say it is getting cold tonight and tomorrow night. But I can't complain because it is so much colder everywhere else. Try to stay warm.

    Mary Beth: Wouldn't it be great if your dad ended up finding vertical gardening useful! It does seem to be a very manageable system once in place... especially if you keep it small.

    rusty: If you did try the vertical gardening, you could easily manage it on your morning walk through the garden. It requires feeding once a day and then you could be off to work while your veggies stayed home and grew. See, I have it all figured out for you. LOL

    Jen, Thanks for visiting Hoe and Shovel and for the information on the Kalandiva. I will be looking it up to see how it would do here.

  37. I am just sitting here stunned at the aray of plant material you are able to grow...ughh it makes my poor cold Northern heart simply green with envy! Just gorgeous! Kim

  38. I like those veggie garden pics as well as the rest of your yard. I am so ready for spring! At least it's January and not November.

  39. Wow! Memms--your gardenin' talent is in yore genes! Hooray fer Dad!

    What a fabulous tour of yore Daddy's garden. I'se real real envious of the fruit--but wait !

    Funny thang is my Daddy grows them vertical gardens too!! Mostly tomatoes. Beautiful fruit and veggies free of leaf miner--but he say no luch wif' root corps like carrots.

    We had frost last night--out 'maters is covered, but I is not sure they made it....

    off to read backwards on yore wonnerful site to see what ya been up

  40. OOOPS! (Even Aunty doan spell that bad--sorry fer the typos)

    But MEEMS!! Please share yore blueberry plant source--I wanna copy ya! I could/should put blueberry plants in mah western border--youse a smart lady, Meems!! Wow, now ya got me so so excited!

  41. I see your genetically predisposed to Green Thumb Syndrome, Meems. Your dad's garden is gorgeous, and such variety! Did he lose much to Hurricane Charley in 2004?
    On the hydroponic gardening, there's another popular system, Earth Boxes, that my sister uses. She gets lots of beautiful veggies and most of the effort seems to be in harvesting all that bounty.

  42. Kim, Thank you. It is this time of year when we are thankful we have endured the miserable summers. You will be very happy you are where you are in a few months. Loved your new compost bins!

    Sue, That's the attitude! Everyday you are getting closer to spring.

    Aunty, Very interesting your dad also grows vertical. Mine hasn't tried carrots in the boxes... not sure if he grows them ever. I LOVE carrots from the garden... so different than from the stores.

    Our temps didn't get to freezing the past two nights when the interior of the state was frosting and we are very happy about it. I sure hope your tomatoes didn't suffer.

    I got my blueberry plants from True Blue Plants
    ... they are located in Hudson FL. I have no idea what I'm doing with them but I figure I'll learn like I have with everything else... by trial and error.

    Penny, Hurricane Charlie went right over the top of my dad's house. As you know it made that sudden turn into Charlotte Harbor instead of coming into Tampa Bay like had been predicted. Besides his roof he lost several trees and lots of his foliage. A couple of his citrus trees were badly damaged.

    My dad also uses earth boxes. He really likes them. Me? Call me shallow, on this front, but they're just too ugly for me. LOL

  43. Thanks for sharing your dad's garden. It is lovely.
    I've grown tomatoes upside down & it's easy but time consuming. I will try another kind this yr.
    That stag horn is awesome. I've heard they can get very large.
    I agree it is so nice to sit down & enjoy fresh fruit that has just been picked.

  44. Hi Meems! Your garden (as well as your Dad's) is gorgeous. I am on the east coast of S. Florida and was just getting ready to order some "earth boxes" but his verti-grow system looks very interesting. I will have to check it out first before placing my order for the earth boxes. I have a small yard, but really have no luck growing tomatoes because of the bugs. My neighbor loves her earth boxes and grows wonderful veggies with them!

  45. Meems- I Google'd "Charlotte County garden" and ran across this blog entry. We're in Charlotte County too! We're in Englewood, between Venice and Port Charlotte. Where is your dad's place? It looks beautiful! ;)


  46. SW Florida...
    Dad lives in Port Charlotte. His garden has suffered a bit this year as he has not been well. I think he's finally going to relinquish some of it to hired help. He hates to do it but it has gotten too much for him lately. You are not far away from him. Mr. Meems and I LOVE to visit Manasota Key.


Have a blessed day,

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