Maximising space no. 1: grow climbers

How to get higher yields from less space: the first post in a new mini series

Runner beans: productive and ornamental © Vertical Veg 2011

Whilst planning your 2011 container garden you are probably thinking about how to get the most out of your space. One way of doing this is to grow climbing varieties. This is because you’ll get a bigger plant in the same amount of horizontal space. By growing up the plant also gets more light, aiding growth and ripening. They can look impressive, too – you may find yourself chatting to neighbours intrigued by your towering plants.  Good climbers to grow in (fairly big) pots include:

ŸTromboncino squash –  conventional courgettes are reluctant to climb so you could try this instead. It’s been recommended to me by Alex Mitchell (author of forthcoming book, the Edible Balcony) and I’ll be trying it for the first time in 2011. It’s supposed to be a vigorous climber with fruits similar to courgettes.

Vine tomatoes – will give a higher yield over a longer season than bush tomatoes. Remember to take out the side shoots, stake and feed well with comfrey juice or organic tomato feed when the plant starts to fruit. And keep your fingers crossed about the blight!

ŸWinter squash – vigorous climbers, can grow 16foot or more. Need a big pot. Mulch with manure if you can find a local supply. Red Kuri looks impressive and tastes good.

Runner bean – highly productive climber, and will crop over a long season. Looks beautiful too! Likes to be kept well watered.

French beans, climbing varieties – easy to grow, and crops over several weeks. Try ‘Cherokee trail of tears’ for taste and high yields (available at

ŸMange tout – sow in Feb for an early crop in June or July – delicious and expensive to buy in the shops.

Fat Baby Achocha – vigorous, productive climber that is easy to grow. Produces alien-like spiky fruit that taste a cross between cucumber, lemon and green peppers.

I haven’t listed peas or broad beans as in my experience these yield poorly in containers. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve grown these crops productively in containers – particularly if you’re happy to offer tips on how to do it!!

Any suggestions to add to this list? Please email me or leave your comments below.

11 comments… add one

  • Hi…all good advice. Some of you might be interested in a product I have invented for vertical growing which you can see on Facebook (whirligro). its aimed at potted plants like everything leafy…spinach, rocket, mizuna, pak choi etc and herbs like parsley. Combine that with some of the excellent suggestions mentioned on this page, you’ll be rocking. Sorry for the shameless self advertising but what the heck…

    • Hi Iain, your product looks more suited to the leafy crops you mention (pak choi, rocket etc). The climbers mentioned in this post all need plenty of soil to grow in, and I don’t think they would be very easy to grow successfully in your product.

  • Really enjoy your blog posts
    I really enjoy using nasturtium flowers and peppery leaves in salads & the variety I have climbs & romps up to 6 ft

  • Hi Mark, Just stumbled upon your blog and you are doing what I love talking about- vertical veg! Here in Dubai, many people live in apartments with balconies and I have recently started a blog at to encourage people to grow food in containers. We have just got into out growing season here and i have some fabulous stuff coming along. When I lived in London, I never dared to garden! Anyways, please drop by on the blog and share your thoughts…keep the brilliant posts coming!

  • hello mark you’re doing a great job !

  • I forgot to mention chilacayote (Cucurbita ficifolia)aka sharks fin melon/ Malabar Gourd – the most rampant squash you can grow in our climate – it will literally climb trees. Young fruits are quite tasty, very sweet and like achocha are good for controlling blood sugar spikes. mature fruits are very attractive and look great hanging high up, although they probably constitute a bit of health hazard!

    • Ah, the dangers of falling fruit. There’s a case near here where someone is suing the council because a pear (a huge pear) fell on their head!

      Chilacoyote (what a name, I love it already) is new to me – and it sounds great. I’ll check it out.

      And thanks for the feedback on Tromboncino – I’m looking forward to trying it this year and will post some pics up here when I do.

  • Tromboncino is a good climbing squash. It’s a moschata and tastes good eaten young and although you could leave the fruits to mature (looks like a curly butternut and tastes fine)this is not usually done. You’d certainly want a strong trellis if you do keep some fruits to maturity. Plenty of sun, water and food will see it right. Nice to see someone doing some systematic investigation into the yields that can be obtained from balcony gardens.

  • Great tips! I wish I could grow more climbers, but is hard when you move around houses a lot

    • Nice to hear from you in Japan Fer! You could maybe try runner beans or climbing French beans? They look great and start producing beans in just 10 – 12 weeks – and then keep going for several weeks!

  • Great post Mark, thanks. I’m looking for something to grow up a shaded wall in the garden, this is really useful.

    I grew one crop of late peas last year in containers as I’d never managed to get anything decent straight in to the ground. They were really good, until the weather killed them off.

    I mixed multipurpose compost with some normal soil and a bit of my own compost. Will be experimenting growing them like this again during the summer, so will let you know how I get on.

    Look forward to part 2.


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