One of the more exciting projects I’ve been working on is something completely different to the normal. Whilst garden trends have recently lead to the popularity of living walls and rooftop gardens, it’s the air space under the roof and above our heads I have been looking at.
A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of visiting a restaurant in New York that had introduced a garden with a difference to its interior design, a string garden. The concept involves taking semi-mature plants, washing the potting mixture off the roots, packing the roots with activated coco peat and binding it tightly around the root system with string. The plant is then suspended in the air by another piece of string. Effectively, you have this amazing group of plants suspended in mid air, creating a stunning visual effect.
The first step is getting basic requirements, including; string, hessian, activated coco peat, a bale of sphagnum moss, seed such as lawn, Dichondra, chia or alfalfa, seaweed extract, anti-transparent spray and – most critically – the right plants for the job.
The suspension string needs to be capable of holding a dead weight of 75 kilograms and, in this case, avoiding an organic material is wise. Sisal or garden twine is fine for wrapping the plants and the hessian should be of a reasonable grade so it lasts long enough for the plants roots to fill the potting medium.
To make activated coco peat, saturate the coco peat with liquid worm castings. This turns it into an incredible growing medium. You could also achieve the same result by expanding a the standard 60 litre block available from garden centres and incorporating blood and bone or even composted chicken manure.
The plant selection is critical, but you will be surprised by the diversity of plants you can grow. Some do not work so well and it is wise to avoid softer foliage plants like Syngoniums and Philodendrons. Succulents, cacti and grasses also seem to struggle.
Colourful plants like Azaleas, Vireyas (rock rhododendrons), Mandevilla, Cymbidium, Dendrobium and Phaelenopsis (or moth orchids) all seem to love it! Cordyline ‘Red Fountain’ is a stunner, with wonderful foliage cascading down over your head. We have trialed 30 different species so far and few plants have disappointed, so be daring and look at what you have in pots now and consider whether they might look better if you were looking up instead of down.
The critical thing with this kind of planter is maintenance. We soak our plants twice a week for 10 minutes in a large bucket of Seasol/water solution before rehanging them. These plants also benefit from a liquid feed every two months with Seasol PowerFeed.
This is not a low maintenance garden, but with as many as two plants per square metre of hanging area you can create the most incredible effect. If you are willing to maintain the plants, the garden will blow the minds of visitors. As the chia or lawn seed emerges and grows, the effect becomes surreal and transforms the appearance of the atrium, pergola or shade area you establish as your string garden.
How to create your own string garden
- Remove the plant from the pot. Wash the soil away from the roots gently, aiming to keep the majority of the root mass in place.
- Set out squares of hessian 60cm x 60cm and lay them out flat on a table.
- Wet the hessian and then scatter the seed over the wet hessian.
- Lay the plant in the middle of the hessian with the top of the plant positioned at the top of the hessian square.
- Add sufficient activated coco peat to the root system to replace the majority of the soil.
- Sprinkle more seed over the top of the covered root system so that both sides of the plant will have seed germinating through the hessian.
- Wrap the hessian over the root system covering it completely.
- Tie the string around the wrapped root system once.
- Cover the complete bag with a generous amount of sphagnum moss that has been soaked in water.
- Tie the string in a random order tightly around the bag, securing the majority of the sphagnum moss to the hessian. Ten to fifteen loops around the hessian-covered root ball will secure the root system and add to the string-bound effect.
- Spray the foliage of the plant with anti-transparent spray to reduce shock and loss of foliage.
- Soak the hessian-covered root system in a tub of Seasol seaweed extract mixed with water for approximately 10 minutes, ensuring the roots are thoroughly saturated in the solution to reduce any damage through shock.
- Tie the hanging strand to the string looped round the bag with it placed so as to ensure a balance that will leave the plant standing upright in the air (as it would appear in the ground or a pot).
- Hang your new string garden planter in a position protected from wind, ideally in a brightly-lit position.
About the author – Trevor Cochrane
Trevor is a born-and-bred proud West Australian who grew up on a dairy farm in Mundijong, just outside of Perth, WA. He launched the media company Guru Productions in 2002 that has since produced over 750 episodes of television telecast on Channel 9 nationally and is now seen in over 100 countries across the globe in 14 different languages. In the years since creating The Garden Gurus he has created and produced over 50 hours of international travel shows, food and wine programs, local WA food program Our State on a Plate and the Destination WA travel series. All Guru Productions projects appear on Channel 9 and WIN Television, as well as nationally on the popular digital TV channel 9 Life. Trevor’s passion for gardening has seen him write four books and regular columns for the The Sunday Times and The West Australian Newspaper.