Tips For Growing & Automating Your Own Vertical Indoor Garden

As the last gasps of summer exhaled collar-loosening heat onto LA, it became apparent I needed to get away 120 miles south to temperate San Diego for a weekend getaway (summer here unofficially continues well throughout October). It was while waiting for our hotel room in San Diego that I noticed an impressive vertical indoor garden in the lobby that at first glance seemed composed of fake plants, so vibrant green was the color. I was able to get a few details about the setup and tips for how to make your own vertical garden at home for indoor or outdoor use.

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My dream: a smartphone/tablet app controlled and maintained garden. We're slowly getting there...

The Westin Gaslamp Quarter's tastefully renovated lobby introduces a deceptively simple large vertical garden immediately upon entering. In reality, what looks merely decorative is a carefully planned and balanced system of water, nutrients, power system, pumping, and of course plant-friendly lighting.

It's a garden with a lot of technology behind its relaxing green facade. Westin contracted Ambius, an interior landscaping specialist, to install the whole wall; hidden from view is a structural system supporting a water tank, a UV filter so grey water could be used, and a network of piping only visible when you stick your nose closer (which I did).

Upon asking for more details about this impressive tech+indoor garden, specifically what goes into maintaining such a setup, Westin gave me this laundry list of daily/weekly maintenance procedures:

  • Inspect plants for overall health and moisture levels.
  • Trim and clean of all foliage as necessary.
  • Inspect plants for pests or disease.
  • Inspect water level in the holding tank and replenish as necessary.
  • Remove of any debris from the holding tank as necessary.
  • Inspect pumps and timers and clean filters.
  • Apply fertilizer through the irrigation system as necessary.
  • Replace any failed plants or irrigation components.

The Westin's setup seems less about gardening and more akin to the complex iPad controlled aquarium setup we recently profiled. Westin's Vice President of Design, Erin Hoover, provided a few additional pointers for a DIY version, noting the obvious (pick a spot for your setup with sufficient, but appropriate sunlight or lighting according to your plants) as well as more detailed tips ("'For easy maintenance, choose durable plants that have shallow roots and do not require a lot of water. Examples include moss, flowering vine-plants, vegetables like lettuce and fruit such as strawberries"). But getting something as impressively set up as the Westin's polished vertical garden is going to take a little more work and research … and some downsizing in size and expectations as a beginner.


There are a few companies offering plans for DIY self watering vertical gardening systems, but they're not quite as polished as the Westin's system and may require some additional planning/ingenuity for covering up the pipe and pump system.

Realistically, your best bet for an affordable and smart indoor (or backyard) vertical garden would likely be using vertical mount plant pouches. Wooly Pockets, partnered with a soil monitoring device+app like the Koubachi wi-fi plant sensor> or the EasyBloom 1000, only leaves the act of watering to you (ironically, a great deal of people kill their plants from too much watering, not too little). If you're especially geeky and industrious, there are a few Arduino automated watering systems (growduino) people have pieced together, with moisture, temperature, humidity, and light sensors, but I'll file this under "expert mode".

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Laptop Magazine recently shared this preview of the Kabouchi app from CeBit, offering hope for all of us brown thumbed gardeners out there.

Ironically, one ongoing trend in the hospitality sector is infusing public areas with "signature scents". The Westin Gaslamp's lobby was infused with a pleasant, if not somewhat strong, white tea scent… which quickly sent my better half's allergy-sensitive nose into annoyed mode. Only while sitting right next to the vertical garden, where the plants were doing their darn best to filter the interior air, was Emily able to find a safe-zone from the scent-ual atmosphere, illustrating how effective indoor plants can be at improving air quality (here are the 13 Top Air Purifying House Plants, just in case you're curious).

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Perhaps your first vertical wall might just be a salvaged wooden pallet setup or one made from a salvaged wood deck/door. If you're not the DIY type, there are these expensive ($1,100 and up), but beautiful, plug-in, self circulating, all-in-one systems, like these from Plants On Walls, complete with timer, water tank, and pump.

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But after reading up about vertical gardens, and the care and expertise involved, I think my best bet will be start off small, manageably small, and just add a plant watering reminder app (or any reminder app will actually do just fine too).

*Special thanks to Erin Colnon and Erin Hoover for additional details

(Images: Westin/Starwood Hotels, Woolly Pocket Garden Company, Kabouchi, Life On The Balcony)