It’s no news that vertical gardens are a hot item in the gardening world. It’s hard to open a glossy-paged design magazine or follow a garden-related Pinterest thread without being mezmereized by lush vegetation spilling down stylish walls.
And there are legion DIY projects that involve repurposing pallets, gutters, and cabinets into elevated planters with a cascade of flora.
I confess to having leapt right up on that bandwagon, having used a number of materials and products to bring plants off the ground and on a wall or fence (often involving moss and chicken wire).
If you’ve ever perused the Web for vertical gardening accoutrements, you’ve likely encountered Woolly Pocket vertical gardening products.
Woolly Pocket is the brain-child of brothers Miguel and Rodney Nelson based in Los Angeles and Phoenix. Woolly Pockets are lightweight modular containers that come in flexible, breathable industrial felt and liners, made from recycled plastic bottles. The idea is to allow the soil to aerate naturally, encouraging plants to air prune while maintaining even levels of moisture.
Performance – 8
A huge mark in Woolly Pocket’s favor is that they’ve worked out a lot of the installation and watering kinks for you; the materials and modular system offer versatility in space and function, along with their Wally Reimagined, felt table planters, their ‘Meadow” or felt raised bed, and other iterations.
They also sell their kits with the watering system, all the hardware, their recommended fertilizer solution, etc.
Photo: Woolly Pocket Garden Company
Construction Quality – 8
Woolly Pockets are made of sustainably manufactured materials (mostly recycled plastic bottles) and are hand-stitched in the USA with durable UVA resistent fabric.
Also, the new Wally Reimagined abandons the felt for a corrugated plastic with a self-watering reservoir and large slots for breathability and drainage. It also starts at a lower price-point (around $27 for one wall planter, $40 for the Wally One).
Breathable portion made of 100% recycled plastic bottles that have been industrially felted.
Military-grade moisture barrier is made from 60% recycled plastic bottles.
Woolly Pocket vertical gardening systems come with necessary hardware and optional irrigation and liners, accompanied by soil and watering recommendations.
Each individual Wally measures 15-by-24 inches and can hold 0.4 cubic feet of soil, which is a greater soil volume than some other notable green wall structures on the market.
Woolly Pockets come in units of 1,3, or 5 pockets, either vertically or horizontally arranged making them versatile in soil volume, configuration and application.
Each pocket weighs approximately 20lbs after planting and watering.
Ease of Use – 8
For me, they are undeniably one of the easiest, best-looking ways to get plants off the ground and suspended. Their visual appeal is irrefutable. If you’re going to buy a manufactured vertical gardening kit, this is the one to get.
The basic assembly is more accessible than a simple Ikea wall unit—and offer good-looking results, especially a la Apartment Therapy for contemporary urbanites. See the sumptuous hanging gardens designed and installed at San Franciso’s Flora Grubb Gardens.
In LA, hundreds of feet of fenceline have been converted to school gardens hanging with Woolly Pockets. See this video for a primer on how to implement a grid of Pockets for food gardening on a relatively small parcel:
Maintenance – 4
A garden is a garden and requires care, tending, watering, and observation, whether it’s vertical, pocketed, containered or permacultured. There is no such thing as a no-maintenance garden; smart science and design can’t eliminate those demands.
With a relatively small elevated planter, especially one designed for breathability, there is a lot of evaporation. Watering efforts have to be more precise and monitored more carefully.
Water-reservoirs may hold water and make sense for interior wall plantings, but impede proper drainage in an outdoor food garden. A lot of the plants that are tough enough to grow with the added stress of elevation from the ground are the very plants that are easiest to grow in the ground in the first place and need little to no extra watering once established (herbs, for instance) so any water necessary for maintaining the Woolly Pocket is extra water used, even if used efficiently.
Further, short of having a really large set-up, harvesting the water from a few pockets is also more trouble than it’s worth, so planting in a more French-intensive or permaculture method is likely to make better use of water runoff.
Locale, climate, and idiosynchratic indications are just as important. Woolly Pockets thrive best in locale with moderate climates, with fairly consistent temperatures, and some ambient moisture but not dense humidity. If you live in the Deep South where long humid summers leave even the toughest plants depleted in the ground, Woolly Pockets aren’t going to sustain them.
If you live in a cold windy spot, a vertical planter could be useful on a protected south-facing façade, but such planters will be susceptible to freezing and shortening your growing season if they’re more exposed. Plants in the Woolly Pocket are subject to myriad microclimate variables, even more so than plants in the ground.
Brand Reputation – 9
Woolly Pockets have become the benchmark for home-owner vertical gardening products and small to mid-scale corporate and public display—for good reason. They’re smartly designed and smart-looking; they’re well marketed with an ad campaign based in value, efficiency, science and aesthetics.
Inspired by French botanist Patrick Blanc’s pioneering vertical garden facades, the felt Wallys are designed with a breathable industrial felt material in order to mimic the mossy substrates of biodiverse rocky outcrops found ubiquitously in the wild.
Guarantee – 6
Woolly Pockets does not offer a no-holds-barred guarantee. Given the nature of the product and its dependence on consumer maintenance, this seems fair. They are not a massive corporation with endlessly deep pockets, and the products they make require that you uphold your end of the deal as a consumer.
They do offer a full refund or exchange within 30 days of shipment if the product is in the original condition.
Consumer reviews and forums suggest that they will exchange a legitimately flawed item for the same product.
Sustainability – 7
Being made out of recycled plastic the Woolly Pocket is fairly sustainable in its production, but that’s not all there is to sustainability. Is the use of the product sustainable? E.g. is it a sustainable way of producing food for the long term? It could be, but obviously it can’t be compared to just sticking a seed in the ground.
Self-Reliance – 2
For those of us interested in efficiency, food security and self-reliance, there is a strong case for growing vertically. Just like urban planners seek density to minimize urban sprawl, vertical food gardening efforts seek to maximize production in minimal square footage. Despite modern enthusiasm for high design vertical gardening products, the origins of capitalizing on space, light, and air date back to long before Elle Décor or DIY YouTube demos.
Innovations in treillage and espaliering fruit-bearing trees, shrubs, and woody vines on walls developed from ancient gardening practices. Such customs emerged because running grape vines along stakes and wires maximized the southern exposure, air circulation and streamlined labor when the fruit came in. Elevating plants also shrinks the universe of pests able to wind up on your produce. Long before Dwell Outdoor and LEED certifications enlisted ecological arguments to advocate for vertical gardens, farmers were getting plants off the ground and on walls.
I think it’s worth looking into the basic principles food gardeners have known for ages to assess the value of any vertical gardening product. When planning a garden, abiding by the “proper plant and proper placement” adage increases horticultural success, so product selection requires similar consideration. Often in agricultural production, you’re walking a very fine line between working with and against nature. During a hot humid summer or a cold rainy spring, it can feel like the odds are weighted more to the working against category (for an engaging narrative, read Michael Pollan’s Second Nature).
Usually shallowly rooted plants and plants that yield well without getting enormous are good candidates for containers (heirloom tomatoes, for instance, are just too greedy to thrive in a small volume of soil, let alone an elevated pocket). I’m intrigued with the idea of planting beans up high to hang for ease of harvest, and experimenting with a Woolly Pocket would be a great way to do so; nevertheless, old bamboo poles work just fine. I’ve planted eggplant in window boxes among flowering ornamentals, and it was both lovely and functional. Such uses for the Woolly pocket are excellent—but necessary they are not.
The skeptic in me wonders whether Woolly Pocket is more fetishy than functional. It’s like being a gear-head for exercise equipment. If you’re in relatively good health and not trying to compete for a top prize in the Boston marathon, then the right pair of running shoes is probably enough to get your 10-20 miles in for the week. So mounting an old box for a window planter may be enough for you to get the benefits of an elevated planting.
Proponents of Woolly pockets and their ilk tout the space efficiency, use of gray water, and insulation benefits on the sides of buildings. These efforts are praiseworthy, but I’m not convinced such ecological rationale aren’t retrofitted to a charming design trend. And I’m not romanced by the idea of school children interacting with yet another manufactured product instead of learning about simple food and environmental science.
Ask any home farmer who is actually producing significant crops if they would use this. They would probably say they’d do it for fun and novelty and for a select few plants that really thrive with added air circulation, but insistence on food-production advantages is likely to receive an eye-roll.
Value – 6
They aren’t the cheapest products available, but given their ethically-sourced and locally manufactured materials, they are a better value than many of the available products on the market, especially for the layman. Part of what you’re purchasing is ease of use and their design trialing.
Each pocket costs incrementally less as you increase to the Wally Three, Five or multiples thereof, with the Wally Reimagined 12-pack kit (including the irrigation, timer, and 12 wall planters and hardware for $400) or the Wally Five three-pack kit (comprising15 total pockets, irrigation and hardware for around $500) being the best value per square foot of planting space.
You can get them all on the Woolly Pocket website or on Amazon (search for Woolly Pocket).
There is then a psychological quotient to incorporate into your own cost-benefit analysis of purchasing such garden products. A garden formed with aesthetics in mind is one that calls upon our better selves to be tended and harvested. It’s much easier to let your cabbage bolt if it’s in an ugly 15 gallon plastic pot than if you’ve invested in a grid of well-designed vertical garden pockets.
Will it be the right instrument for you to commit to the constant care and tending of your food-supply? For some, that quotient is larger when fueled by the satisfaction of making your own rustic vertical garden, for others, it’s planting directly in no-till rows and using found objects and bottle trees as artistic supports for butternut squash, for others, it’s having the best Instagram garden…whatever gets you there within your budgetary and self-sufficiency grasp is the garden for you.
Excitement – 7
Being captivated with the style and appearance of something isn’t a wholly frivolous aspect if it’s what gets you out gardening. If appearance, brand ethic, and material selection are part of the value for you, then the expense of the pockets, over and above using a mounted pallet or galvanized tubs, may be worth it. If you have plenty of space and sun and air, then a Woolly Pocket may create more problems than it solves.
The bottom line is that unless you really love the idea, have uber-limited space or light, or specific problems with animals and rot usurping your crops, investing in such a system doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. I’m not saying you shouldn’t love the idea. And I’m not swearing off of them myself; in fact, I’m waiting for the right spot to try the Wally Reimagined.