Using Herbs When Cooking

Using Herbs When Cooking

How many times have you walked past a house in a lovely neighbourhood, and all you could smell was the aroma of the food being cooked that almost makes you feel like asking for a seat at that dinner table. It is as if the herbs and spices they’ve used are calling you, and your stomach begins to growl.

We don’t know about you, but we always aim to fill our homes with the comforting smell of food, and we also know for sure that fresh herbs add extra love and delight to any meal.

Benefits of growing your own herbs

Fresher tastes

Fresh herbs in your garden mean meals packed with much more flavour. There is nothing that can beat the fresh taste in your infused water or the stew you plan to make for Sunday lunch.

Adds variety to your meals

Having a broad variety of fresh herbs allows you to experiment with different flavours. When you are looking at doing a leg of lamb, the best herbs would be thyme, rosemary and even a little basil. We bet you can smell it already!

Antioxidants

Herbs are a good option when looking at living a healthier lifestyle. Most herbs are packed with antioxidants that help to clean your liver.

Relieves stress

Tending to your own herb garden will help you get rid of the stress built up during the week, being one with nature and learning about the benefits the different herbs have to offer.

Start Simple

Growing herbs from Starke Ayres seeds is good for intermediate gardeners who know a little more about sowing seeds and the requirements, and there is the wide variety on offer by Starke Ayres. There is also an option to choose from Plantland’s seedling varieties, which enables you to plant a seedling that has gone through all the growing pains and is ready for you to enjoy. Herb seedlings are good to start off with if you are a beginner gardener.

Choosing the perfect pot

It helps to know where you want to plant your herbs; by your kitchen windowsill or in pots outside your kitchen, or wherever would work best for your needs and setting. Once you have the perfect spot for your herbs, you will need to pick the perfect pot. We absolutely love the Tuscan style a terracotta pit gives, or if you are more a herb-crate type of gardener, Plantland has all the styles you could dream of! If you are creative, you could always create or paint your own pots. There are endless possibilities.

Introduce herbs to your everyday lifestyle

Whether you are a beginner herb lover or an expert herb gardener, we encourage you to explore with herbs. Use them in your teas or when you cook, and you will have a whole new culinary world to escape to.

When you’re ready to buy herb plants, check Plantland’s online store where you can shop for your favourite herbs from convenience of your own home.

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Caring For Lithops: Living Stone Plants

Caring For Lithops: Living Stone Plants

On the list of plants that not only tolerate but actually prefer a little neglect, Lithops certainly feature in the top spot. These strange succulents are famous for their interesting shapes that awarded them the name Living Stone Plants. They also resemble hooves, or maybe tiny brains, depending on which variety you are dealing with.

Many gardeners find these plants confusing or difficult to care for, largely because their care is so different from other succulent plants. But once you understand their environment and needs, these little plants will become one of the lowest-maintenance (and strangest looking) plants in your succulent garden.

Light

In their natural environments – the open grasslands or rocky areas of southern Africa – lithops get plenty of direct sun throughout the day. Like other succulents, these conditions need to be replicated to ensure healthy growth. Under low light conditions, like those indoors, the compact leaves will stretch towards the nearest light source, known as etiolation. The leaves will also become dull and discoloured. To preserve the shape and colour, ensure your lithops gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Water

Lithops are one of the most drought-friendly plants you can buy. In their native habitats, they are used to receiving little to no water for several months due to lack of rainfall. They are able to survive this way because their impressive leaves store enough water to keep the plant alive.

To mimic these drought-like conditions, your lithops will need tiny amounts of water every couple of weeks, and only during the growing seasons of spring and autumn. In summer and winter, the plants go dormant and don’t need to be watered at all (unless the leaves start to wrinkle, indicating the leaf reservoir is running out of water). A teaspoon of water applied every two weeks is all you need to keep the leaves plump and happy.

Soil

Lithops live in sandy, rocky soil with little nutrients – what we gardeners would consider poor quality soil. The soil should be incredibly well-draining and gritty. The less water it holds, the better. Use a cactus potting mix or create your own soil mix using a combination of potting mix, pool sand, gravel, and perlite.

Temperature

Like true South Africans, lithops cannot stand the cold. When left outdoors in temperatures lower than 10 degrees for extended periods of time, the leaves will begin to die off. If they face any frost, the cell walls of the plant leaves rupture, causing any exposed sections to rot. It is incredibly difficult to save a lithops damaged by the cold, so it’s best to avoid this problem and bring them inside if cold weather is forecast.

Lithops Quick Facts:

  • Lithops will flower after 3 to 5 years, once per season. These flowers produce seed pods that explode outwards when exposed to moisture, spreading new seeds around the plant.
  • Don’t be alarmed if your leaves appear to be splitting – new leaf pairs emerge from the centre of the plant, drawing moisture from the previous leaf pair until they die off.
  • It is best not to fertilize your lithops, as it is very easy to overfertilize and cause damage to the plant. If the plant is not flowering, you can use a heavily diluted cactus fertilizer, but do so sparingly.
  • Lithops leaves are fused and directly connected to the roots. Most of the leaf is buried under the soil to protect it from predators and the sun, blending in with the surrounding rocks so well that they are often difficult to spot in the wild. The tops of the leaves are translucent to allow more light to reach the parts of the plant underground.
Homegrown Food – Caring For Our Bodies With Plants

Homegrown Food – Caring For Our Bodies With Plants

The title of this article reminds us of a short children’s book by Lizzy Rockwell. The first few lines of the book say, ‘I am a plant eater. Plants reach out for the sun; they grow in the ground. I eat different parts from different plants, sometimes I eat the leaves, other times the roots, bulbs, stems and flowers too.’ We love this little story because it teaches children, while they are still young, that homegrown food that grows from the ground is nutritious.

We know now that eating is learnt behaviour; children watch us like we did our parents. Let’s go back a million years, to when humans were learning to understand the plants around them.

The history of plant food and homegrown food

According to scienceabc.com, ‘Our early ancestors were far more connected to the earth than most modern humans, and had to have a deep understanding of the plants and ecosystems where they lived. Their learned behaviour came from observing the generations that came before and absorbing that knowledge.’

‘Once humans became largely agricultural-based and narrowed their diets down to staple foods, much of the knowledge of wild plants was lost, or faded, but dietary traditions and regional standards persisted, based on what could best be cultivated in the area. Similarly, during the age of exploration, many legendary explorers and their crews became sick and died, often after eating the native plants. Without the regional knowledge or a local guide, they lacked the ‘learned behaviour’ that would keep them safe in that area.”

Store-bought veggies or homegrown food

Now that we have learnt this eating behaviour from our ancestors, we know which plants are safe to eat and which aren’t. The next step is to speak of growing our own food. A sustainable garden has become very trendy over the past few years, and even some well-known celebrities have shown that following a plant-based diet can be good for your well-being. 

Yes, it is easier and more convenient to buy our veggies and fruits from our local stores, but homegrown food produces much tastier food that stays fresher for longer, and can be pesticide and chemical free (if you make an effort to make it so). Growing your own food is organic, healthy and even a solution to health, environmental and economic problems.

So the next time you buy your fresh produce, think of all the fun you could have had enjoying the outdoors and growing your own.

Veggies to plant

Crop pairing

A fabulous veggie gardening trick is to grow compatible plants together. You can think of this as growing your garden in layers, with plants growing upwards, ground dwellers and also climbers. Great pairings include:

  • Corn, beans and squashes;
  • Tomatoes, basil and onions;
  • Leafy lettuce, peas and brassicas (broccoli, cabbage).

Cut-and-regrow vegetables

Some vegetables and herbs regrow after you harvest them, producing new leaves in place of the ones you cut off. These plants include well-known favourites such as beetroot, coriander, kale, mustard, parsley, rocket, basil and spinach.

Rotating planting

This concept involves the rotation of crops in a space, and replanting new seasonal crops. This rotation method helps you to make the same garden space productive all year round, filled with fresh vegetables each season.

Planting and harvesting homegrown food

Since plants are so generous, we could learn from them to give freely by also planting plants that other living creatures can enjoy. If we follow this concept we will help to keep the circle of life going!

For more info and assistance on vegetables and fruits visit Plantland

homegrown food
Winter Herbs To Grow Right Now

Winter Herbs To Grow Right Now

Herbs are the quickest, simplest, and tastiest way to elevate your dinners from ordinary to mind-blowing. They are even more vital in winter when hearty roasts and homey veggies need a sprig of rosemary or a topping of parsley to bring a meal together. Unfortunately, as gardeners know, there are few plants that grow well in areas with cold South African winters, but luckily, there are several herbs on that list. While they won’t grow exceptionally quickly, and you may have to watch how much you harvest, these herbs are ready to withstand winter weather and keep your kitchen stocked all season long.

Thyme

Thyme is a kitchen classic and an essential part of any herb garden. Its pleasant savoury flavour is ideal for soups, roasts, or vegetables. We even added some thyme to our cupcakes to balance the sweetness and sour lemon in this video:

There are many thyme fragrances to choose from, including lemon-scented thyme which is ideal for winter cold-fighting teas. As a Mediterranean plant, it thrives in full sun and high heat, but will hold out over winter with some protection from frost. Place a frost cover over the plant in extremely cold weather so you can continue sneakily harvesting under the blanket over winter. Be sure not to harvest more than one-third of the plant and it will be sure to grow back come springtime.

Sage

Drought and frost resistant, sage is the ideal cold-hardy herb. In fact, sage thrives in a range of conditions, including in poor soil. Grow it in a full sun position almost anywhere in your garden and it will be happy. Plus, you’ll be happy to have a consistent supply of sage in your kitchen. The fresh fragrance is ideal for chicken stuffing or pasta sauces. Any sore throats from winter ailments can also be kept at bay with a sage tea – steep some dried leaves in boiling water, add a pinch of salt, and gargle every few hours.

Mint

Mint is known for being aggressive. With the right care, it will continue that trend – even in cold weather. While the tops will eventually die back in very cold weather, in most regions of South Africa it will hold out and you can continue your harvest all year long. Mint is a great addition to the classic cold-fighting drink, hot toddy. Alternatively, throw a few leaves in some boiling water on their own for a refreshing, garden-brewed tea.

Rosemary

Like thyme, rosemary is a winter kitchen staple. Its savoury aroma is synonymous with cold weather – just the sight of rosemary is likely to trigger memories of traditional winter roasts and flickering fires. Rosemary can withstand cold weather with some protection provided, as long as it remains in a full-sun position throughout the day. While frost-hardy, it doesn’t grow as vigorously in winter as it does in spring. A light hand in harvesting is essential to keep the plant healthy until growing starts up again.

Stock your kitchen cabinets (and your medicine cabinets) with these essential winter herbs harvested straight from your garden. They are sure to make the cold, gloomy winter months in the garden far more bearable.

Putting Soil First – How To Clean It Up

Putting Soil First – How To Clean It Up

A potato farmer from Harrismith is changing the way we look at soil.

Potatoes – just add butter and you have the perfect side dish, whether they are boiled, mashed or fried. We all eat potatoes, and in most households no meal is complete without this starchy tuberous crop. But, and here’s cause for concern, do you know where your humble potato comes from, and what it contains? Has it been grown in clean soil? After all, we are always told that we are what we eat.

James Leslie, a progressive farmer from Harrismith in the Free State, knew where his potatoes were coming from and where they were going, and decided to make what some farmers might call a radical change to his approach to farming.

James’s company, Sesisonke Farming, was founded in 2005, and the name is particularly apt. ‘Sonke’ means ‘all of us’ in Zulu, a description that encompasses who the company is and why they are doing what they are doing. So what are they doing? Essentially, Sesisonke Farming is trying to grow cleaner food using cleaner soil, which obviously benefits all of us.

James started questioning their methods of farming after taking his young son to the fields with him one morning. As children do, he was playing in the soil and eating it, and James had to stop him because of the poisons in the soil from the pest control products he was using at the time. When the soil is poisonous it’s time for change. It was then that James decided to plant in virgin soil (virgin soil is soil that has never been cultivated before). As you’d expect, he was apprehensive about his yield, especially relative to the yield from his conventionally farmed lands.

But after harvesting and finding that the ‘virgin soil’ potato yield was higher than the previously planted fields, James knew the future was in balanced soil. He started to learn, discovering that soil health is not just about adding nutrients but feeding living organisms such as bacteria and fungi living within it. According to this new theory, soil should be seen as a functional whole, an ecosystem. After returning from a seminar hosted by Graeme Sait, a world leader in the knowledge of healthy soil and the direct impact it has on our health and planet, James started implementing the principles to attain a healthy crop while building soil health.

In the last few years, we as consumers have been made aware of words like organic, sustainable, wholesome, nonchemical and natural. The perception is that a farmer has to go to great lengths to attain these labels, but even if they do, do we as consumers even understand these global demands?

clean soil

When he delved deeper, James was surprised as to the lack of knowledge available on how soil functions in a healthy environment. He did, however, bump into likeminded people during his research, like those at Madumbi Sustainable Agriculture. They found a common purpose to challenge and change traditional ways of practising agriculture and revolutionise the farming industry with the goal being to produce nutritious, uncompromised food for the nation.

By focusing on conditioning and building the soil over more than a decade, James now plants in a humus-rich biosystem. This results in softer, more fertile soil, and softer soil equates to less tilling. Less tilling means that the microbes don’t get disturbed and destroyed, and microbes add to the health of crops. Healthy crops are in turn less prone to disease, and that means less chemical applications are required.

“Over the past two decades, human health care has evolved from reactively reaching for medication and anti-biotics to proactively improving overall health, wellness and fitness. It’s time to do the same in your garden.”

To further build the soil, James plants as many cover crops as possible, after harvesting his main crop. These crops are then incorporated into the soil as green manures adding valuable organic matter into the cycle. Keeping living roots in the soil guarantees that the microbes are fed, and by bringing animals to eat these green crops he ensures that the fodder is recycled and the nutrients are put back in the soil by the excrement of the grazing feeders

clean soil

On my visit to James, he explained the life of soil so well. He said, “It’s like looking at the ocean’s surface. All you see is blue and waves, but once you go to an aquarium and submerge yourself you realise the enormity of life below the surface. It is the same with soil – under a microscope you can see the millions of functioning microorganisms that inhabit that space below the surface. They all have a role to play.”

Every time James plants a crop, every hectare is planted with compost, to boost the levels of organic matter or humus (partially decomposed organic matter). The humus retains moisture and keeps soil temperatures moderate. This is also big-scale worm farming, as James uses vermitea (worm ‘wee’) as an additional fertiliser. Thanks to these practices, James has maintained a steady yield even through Harrismith’s drier years, mostly due to his healthy soil and its humus content.

By understanding what the soil needs to function as an ecological community and the impact good soil has on food production, James and the Sesisonke team, with the help of Madumbi, have guaranteed good health, for the soil and for you.

Root to Stem: How To Garden With Less Waste

Root to Stem: How To Garden With Less Waste

Thrifty gardeners like to use every part of the vegetable. Why throw away luscious beetroot tops, colourful Swiss chard stems or crunchy broccoli stalks? If you use what everyone else tosses away, then you are a ‘root-to-stem’ gardener. This is the latest trend in a world that’s conscious of waste and the rising cost of food.

Creative gardeners and cooks are taking this trend even further with recipes for carrot-top pesto, radish greens chimichurri and roasted cauliflower steaks.

It has also been discovered that the parts we throw away (hopefully on the compost heap) are just as rich in nutrients, if not richer, than the parts we eat, such as broccoli stems, beetroot leaves and more. There are plenty of summer veggies that can be eaten root-to-stem. Here are our suggestions:

Swiss chard: ‘Bright Lights’ varieties with colourful stems offer the most options. Chopped small, they can be added to soups and stews, sautéed with onions, peppers and other veggies in stir-fries, or steamed and added to pasta, quiche and other baked dishes. Those with the large white rib can be steamed and served with hollandaise sauce, as an asparagus substitute.

baby marrow

Growing tips: In summer, Swiss chard grows better in partial shade. Water regularly and feed monthly with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser to boost leaf production. Harvest 2 – 3 outer stems at a time from each plant.

Summer squashes like baby marrows and patty pans, as well as winter squashes (pumpkins and butternut), produce edible flowers, and the young leaves can be eaten like spinach, often referred to by people in rural areas as marog.

patty pans root-to-stem

Cook the leaves as soon as possible after picking because they wilt quickly. Wash well and shred. Sauté an onion and some garlic and add the leaves. Add some water or stock and some chopped tomatoes and potatoes and stew until the vegetables are very tender. The ‘hairiness’ of the leaves diminishes with cooking.

Growing tips: Plant in full sun, in well-composted soil that drains well. Allow enough space for plants to grow (overcrowding may cause fungal disease). Water at the base of the plant and avoid wetting the leaves.

Sowing Seeds the Right Way – How To Successfully Sow Seeds

Sowing Seeds the Right Way – How To Successfully Sow Seeds

I often think back to my school days and the excitement around the classroom when it was that time of the year to learn about sowing seeds. How we would take a peek at our beans every morning, waiting for that tell-tale sign of life. It is the one thing we all have in common, those lessons with our beans. Seeing the roots shoot and not long after, the leaves starting to form. Some of us even went on to plant our little seedlings and in return get to harvest from our plants.

It is spring and the season for growing. If your primary school days were the last time you sowed a seed, now is the perfect time to get back on that wagon. We all have packets of seed that we have collected. The rule is to remember that even nature has an expiry date. Seeds do not last forever and should they have been left to the elements, it would be better to start afresh. There is a very specific way for seed storage, usually a cool, dark, dry place will do. No worries, there are an abundance of seeds to for you to choose from right here

The next rule is to sow what you will use, some seed packets have hundreds of seeds in them. Should you be sowing all the seed in your packet, a nightmare awaits when you have to prick them out and transplant into your ornamental garden or veggie garden. Unless you are growing microgreens, do not sow all the seeds and be mindful to count them out.

There are two ways of sowing seeds, into containers or directly into the soil (in situ). Usually bigger seeds like beans and pumpkin seeds or even radishes are sown where you want them to come up. Onions and turnips are also sown in situ. Preparing your soil for in situ will only take a moment, and going to that extra bit of effort will surely reward you as your crops grow. Rake your soil level and remove any clumps of soil and stones. Make sure that the soil is free of weeds. Weeds will take up water and nutrients that are meant for your little seedlings. We all know that weeds grow very quickly and can get out of hand if not kept in check. You want to provide the best possible location to sow your seeds. Well drained soil and loads of compost and lastly loads of sunlight. Mark out the area where you want to plant and keep in mind the size of the actual plant when fully grown. A good tool to use for helping create straight lines is a Post and Line.

sowing seeds

How deep do you plant your seeds? The general rule of thumb is that planting depth is the height of the seed. Lightly cover and firmly press down soil. Now label! Otherwise you will have no idea what you have sown. Water well and make sure that the water spray is not forceful as you will unearth all your seeds.

sowing seeds

Sowing seeds in trays is one of my favourite things. I can better control their needs and move them should they not get enough light to germinate. This way of sowing only takes a couple of minutes but your preparation beforehand will add to the success of germination. Make sure that your seedling trays and tools are clean.  You can read up on the whole process in this blog.

You are welcome to share your experiences of seed sowing with me on my Facebook page.

Happy seed sowing!

Anyone Can Grow a Garden – Herb Gardening

Anyone Can Grow a Garden – Herb Gardening

In our eagerness to grow our own vegetables, we often forget that most vegetables and herbs need at least six hours of sunlight to grow and produce fruit efficiently. This is a challenge when you live in a built-up urban area, complexes or in small apartments. But knowing which herbs and vegetables to plant and harnessing the sunlight energy that is available to you, you are able to grow your own. You might not end up with the vegetable garden that your gran had, but there is always hope. Nevertheless, its all about clever planning and knowing your surrounds. Where does the sun come up? Do you get afternoon rays hitting a particular wall? Do you have space for a nifty trellis to grow some patio variety vegetables? Many new patio varieties were bred especially for you, the small space gardener.

herb gardening

But before we get to the vegetables and that perfect salad bowl…Herbs have long been banished to the corner of the garden, and I have no idea why. We were taught that specific plants should go into allocated areas of the garden. Herbs come in a variety of colours, purposes and beautiful textures, as long as my arm! Why not plant up a pot or an old bucket with these beauties. You can have a pot for braai, a pot for salads and a pot to add flavour to your stir fries. These do not need to take up a lot of space in your garden or on your balcony. Take a look at this handy zinc bucket for herbs. As long as you remember, good afternoon sun and a warm wall could be sufficient to grow herbs. Surround your seating area with textures and aromas and be inspired to try them in the kitchen. Sage, thyme and rosemary for braai. Rocket, parsley and mint for the freshest salads and Vietnamese coriander, chives and fennel for those Asian stir fries. Add some flowers to your pots, nasturtiums and pansy flowers are edible. The good news is, to give any dish a bit of flair, you can grow microgreens! Jam-packed full of goodness and so easy to grow. Read my blog on microgreens to show you how to grow these little guys. You could even go all-out and install a square metre garden.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, try different spots and see how your plants do. They will be quick to tell you that they are not happy – lanky growth and fewer flowers are usually the first signs. These signs are messages to cut your losses and try again. The following edibles can grow in your garden or on your balcony or patio, with less than 6 hours of sun…yes there is hope for you the avid gardener!

Celery, coriander, fennel, oregano, rocket and parsley to mention but a few. Chives and leeks will survive too.

Lettuce, kale, cabbage and many oriental green varieties like pak choi and tatsoi. Spinach will grow in dappled light in hot areas (remember that afternoon sun against the wall?)

herb gardening

You can train your fruits and vegetables to grow upwards using a trellis, as long as the plant receives sun, the roots can be shaded. Look out for those special patio varieties.

Start planning your spring garden now, sow your seeds and enjoy the fruits of your labour!

If you have a wall, you can have a garden – How To Make a Vertical Garden

If you have a wall, you can have a garden – How To Make a Vertical Garden

Vertical gardens have certainly come a long way in the last couple of years. Few realise that the concept of vertical gardens have been with us for centuries. Climbing roses on trellis work, romanticising the idea of creating a covered wall in a secluded spot. Fairy tales speak of princes climbing vines to the top of a tower to rescue the princess in distress.

vertical gardens

The benefits, however, of these beautiful vertical gardens are endless, and with today’s small-space living and the approach to green or living walls, technology has not disappointed. Modular vertical gardens are here to stay. Whether in office blocks or shopping complexes, these new modular packs can be easily installed in your own home for you to enjoy. No longer do you need a ton of knowledge or a professional to install. You can do it yourself with these flat packs delivered to your doorstep. What’s more… these systems are designed to be used indoors or outdoors!

But before we get to the nitty-gritty… Ask yourself why you should not have a vertical garden in your home? The advantage to your health and wellbeing is incalculable. From an aesthetics point of view, living art is simply beautiful. It has also been proven that people have a connection to plants and that plants have a great influence on our moods. Plants improve the quality of our air, acting as natural filters in purifying the air around us. You will save a ton of floorspace in creating a vertical garden and these living walls absorb sound thereby reducing the noise in your home (ask any mother of a teenager about the importance of noise reduction).

vertical gardens

The biggest failure where vertical gardens are concerned is that people forget about the plants’ very specific needs. Plants, whether planted horizontally or vertically, still require particular conditions to grow in. If you have plants that grow in full sun, you cannot plant them inside, and if you have an edible vertical garden in mind – remember that vegetables and herbs still need at least five hours of sun. Planning is key to the success of your vertical garden. Don’t be dismayed though, should you want to plant a her or salad-greens garden in your home, these modular gardens allow for easy rotation of plants. The unique hexagon pots pop off and the plants can be easily replaced. This hexagon design was taken from the wisdom of bees – they certainly know how to optimally use space! And this particular hexagon design, which is duplicated in the pot system, allows for every millimetre to be used while allowing a beautiful compact display of plants. One of the added benefits of these modular vertical gardens is that it is a soil-based system which substantially reduces maintenance. Soil can store water for a longer period of time, and with the added benefit of an installed irrigation system, used water can be collected into tanks and redistributed. If this all sounds like too much for you, it gets better. The vertical garden can be connected to a central server and web-based management platform, which lets customers remotely manage gardens. You can change your irrigation timing, adjust settings and set up alerts. Now you can go on holiday with an easy heart!

Not only are these gardens cost effective, the tank components and pots are made from recycled materials. Standard sizes are available, or modular vertical gardens can be customised to your specific needs. We also have our landscaping team that can advise on what the best plants would be for your wall, creating a unique piece of living art for your home. Need help with maintenance? If you live in the Pietermaritzburg or Durban area, our team can assist with installation and maintenance. Should you want to use your own landscaper, we will supply you with a detailed installation manual.

vertical gardens

All that is left for you now is to find that wall and enjoy all the benefits of your vertical garden.