An urban vertical garden built from hundreds of recycled soda bottles
March 4, 2013 11:08 AM   Subscribe

This beautiful vertical garden made out of hundreds of recycled soda bottles was built for the Rodriguez family by the Brazilian design firm Rosenbaum. The bottles are suspended on the wall of a walkway outside the home and contain edible plants like lettuce and herbs so the family can grow their own organic vegetables. The garden was created as part of the TV show Lar Doce Lar (Home Sweet Home), in which producer Luciano Huck and the designers at Rosenbaum collaborated to transform the homes of several dozen poor Brazilian families. The response to the Rodriguez family's wall garden was so overwhelming that Rosenbaum eventually released the garden design plans (in Portuguese) so people could build their own. [Rosenbaum's page on the complete Rodriguez family home makeover (in Portuguese).]
posted by hurdy gurdy girl (36 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
I would make these. Good project for Scouts, too. I wonder if they started these from seeds?
posted by wenestvedt at 11:34 AM on March 4, 2013


Soda bottle actually make really handy little propagators if you cut them the same way as in the Rodriguez pics, but leave the flap on.

Also good for tomatoes with the top cut off (you basically have the root going down the entire length of the bottle, as that's how tomatoes like to roll).

I keep meaning to get around to building myself a nice spiral grown-up-persons-soda bottle planter with the bottles done similar to in this instructable

Wenestvedt: Lettuce grows really well from seed in the bottles as shown, or you can even grow it hydroponically if you cut the top off, and invert it in the container (but that's actually more hassle than just using compost).

Don't think I'd fancy watering their setup, though. Not without some sort of Heath Robinson contraption involving perforated PVC tubes, or some sort of cascade...
posted by titus-g at 11:46 AM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Watering is exactly what I thought of too, but for two other reasons:

1. Those bottles don't offer enough drainage. Easy to fix with another little hole or two, but...

2. When the brown water drains out of the bottles, it will drip along the walls or onto the little grey/white ledge and make a mess. This setup would be great against a brown backdrop, but I'd bet you just about anything that if the TV crew set this up with pre-started plants from flats (which is what it looks like, given the pretty uniform growth of everything), it looked like a little bit of a disaster after a few weeks.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:51 AM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Interesting? Yes. Beautiful? Nope.
posted by Faintdreams at 11:53 AM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Needs to be self-watering or sub-irrigated. This design changed my (gardening) life.
posted by anthill at 12:00 PM on March 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wonder if you could hang them where the bottles were stacked one on top of the other, so that water would filter down through each planter. The opening for the plant could be angled outward slightly to give each plant room to grow and receive light.
posted by orme at 12:02 PM on March 4, 2013


That last link is really worth checking out. The Rodriguez family was living in a one room shack with a dirt front yard that was pretty much open to the street. The TV show and Rosenbaum basically built them a new house (or heavily renovated the old shack to the point where it pretty much is a new building), and the difference between before and after is just incredible. The garden might not drain that well, but holy cow - having a separate kitchen and bathroom, plus separate beds and a beautiful patio to sell icy treats in, must be like winning the lottery.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:03 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The wires used to suspend the bottles go through the bottle skin, so any drainage would drip down the wires.
I agree those plants didn't grow there, however. Look at how loosely packed an friable the soil is. Now way it has been watered for a couple of months of growth.
posted by bystander at 12:07 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It would be possible if you were watering very attentively (the lettuces I had growing in a similar bottle didn't have any drainage at all (I'd originally planned to cut the bottle open and plant them on) but was on the shelf in the greenhouse so I watered it when needed, without drenching the soil). With that many containers you'd (or possibly the gardener) would be at it all day to do it that accurately, though.

The brown drips on white could be solved with a small bed along the ledge.

I did wonder if they had some sort of drip feed (e.g. from a solar still) down the guy lines, but couldn't see anything about it.

My current herb/salad plans involve a load of (deepish) rain gutters in the porch, angled with a sand/gravel base layer for drainage, and possibly a perforated hose just under the soil level.

Something along the lines of this but with a lot more gaffa tape and cat chaos.
posted by titus-g at 12:08 PM on March 4, 2013


This is so cool. I wonder what will happen when the plants get too big? It might be cool to experiment with plants that turn into vines and then grow into the wall with the bottles...
posted by friscofoodie at 12:11 PM on March 4, 2013


I'd be concerned about the bottles overheating and cooking the roots.
posted by merelyglib at 12:22 PM on March 4, 2013


Wish this project had been around while I was researching and writing this post.
posted by orange swan at 12:50 PM on March 4, 2013


I grow cacti and succulents as a hobby and I can tell you these projects are always shown in the 'just done' phase. The reality of UV radiation and clear plastic is that the untreated plastic will get brittle and degrade quickly particularly since the bottles are now made as thin as possible. Add holes and they are even weaker. It is difficult to even get pots that are manufactured for this purpose to survive any length of time without getting brittle and breaking.

The opacity also means that moss and algae will grow in the soil and fight the roots for nutrients and oxygen. The plants will end up being pretty weak and unhealthy.

Also the location is terrible. Unless that wall is perfectly lined up with the sun it will only get direct light for the briefest of times.

These projects always seem clever and they have heartwarming ideals behind them but they just won't end up working.

(don't even get me started on people who put desert plants in little terrariums or sell Echeveria as air plants)
posted by srboisvert at 12:51 PM on March 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


Unless that wall is perfectly lined up with the sun it will only get direct light for the briefest of times.

This.

This has been my problem with regards to most ideas like this. Even our little micromanaged, loved, supported, babied, soil-tested, ammended, double dug, fertilized, and watched-like-a-hawk-for-bugs victory garden/windowbox in front of our townhouse can't do certain crops like tomatoes or, god forbid, watermellons because it just doesn't get enough sun. Compared to the same tomato plants at my grandparents farm which are basically set out with a gallon jug half buried next to them as a watering hack and left to their own vices the yield is minuscule.

I've considered something like a heliostat or even tinfoil on the soil to reflect light upwards (which I heard also helps with aphids, and it actually may have in a few test runs I did) but just can't see either as feasible.

That's not to say I don't think they might have luck with some other crop but their yield will be directly proportional to sun exposure, it's a simple fact of the matter unless they're growing mushrooms...
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:01 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have to stand in the "yep, it looks clean and neat now, but after a day of rain that's going to be a mess, and the plastic will be dirty and start to get cloudy, and it will drip all over the floor" camp....and, where did they get the idea that a cut up 2 liter bottle falls in the "beautiful" box anyway.
posted by HuronBob at 1:15 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yep, I came in here to say no way those plants would get enough sunlight in that setup.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:16 PM on March 4, 2013


Lettuce doesn't like too much sun (even in here Scotland it's generally a spring/autumn plant), and the other herbs they have there (mint, rosemary, parsley, chives AFAICT) either prefer or tolerate shade.

Definitely going to try the foil thing for the aphids, they are the bane of my basil attempts, got a lot of survival blankets that should be perfect for it.
posted by titus-g at 1:16 PM on March 4, 2013


Yeah, I had the same thoughts. I don't see how the plants can be getting enough sunlight, and those bottles don't hold enough soil for the plants to get very large.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:17 PM on March 4, 2013


Definitely going to try the foil thing for the aphids,

I think it helped, but it didn't cure, you know you can also spray thing with moderate/high pressure water and it rips them off the leaves and kills them by ripping their little mouths off too right? I've heard that as well anyway.

they are the bane of my basil attempts,

Ditto, they leave my hot peppers alone though, go figure.

got a lot of survival blankets that should be perfect for it.

Brilliant idea, normal tinfoil (even the industrial/commercial quality stuff) was just too fragile for outside use.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:27 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The plants wouldn't get enough sunlight in that setup where I live, but the Brazilian climate would make the problems quite different. I think those plants would fry and the bottles crumble very quickly in strong tropical sunlight, so the shade is probably a plus in that situation.

Am I correct in thinking that the location is Sao Paulo? A yearly rainfall of 135 cm/53 inches would reduce the need for watering quite a bit.
posted by Azara at 1:28 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most of the plants looked like lettuces and soft herbs, many of which don't require a great deal of light. Certainly, they wouldn't be growing tomatoes are melons there.

I think vertical gardens are beautiful and I think this one is quite nice too. Watering doesn't seem that problematic given the high rain fall, then you could just hose off the ground. I couldn't quite tell if the bottles were one or two liter sized but a two liter bottle is definitely big enough for a lot of herbs. I've grown herbs in the kitchen window in pretty small pots.
posted by shoesietart at 1:33 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is an awesome idea, but I'd like to see some photos of it without the plants. And maybe using old glass Coke bottles.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:38 PM on March 4, 2013


Instead of anemic greens and worrying about sunlight, it could be kind of cool to fill it with shallow-rooting and droopy ferns, put it in the shade, and have some sort of misting system - an easy way to cover an ugly wall with pretty fern fronds perhaps.
posted by Think_Long at 1:42 PM on March 4, 2013


Aside from the drainage and lighting issues, there are three more problems that would have made me toss this idea out (or at least re-engineer it):

-It looks like the bottles are threaded onto the wires through holes punched in the sides without any particular anchor. As the bottles age and they get moved around and adjusted, those holes are going to loosen and they'll all slide right down to the ground.
-Since they're embedded that way, there's no easy way to take one off for replacing the soil, washing it out, or replacing the bottle. They'll have to unthread the entire cable and all the bottles above or below.
-Tending or harvesting the plants overhead will have to be done on a ladder or chair.
posted by lostburner at 1:50 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


where did they get the idea that a cut up 2 liter bottle falls in the "beautiful" box anyway.
Well, to be fair to the designers, that was actually my own editorializing; I liked the way it looked with all the bottles on the wall and the little plants coming out of them.
The plants wouldn't get enough sunlight in that setup where I live, but the Brazilian climate would make the problems quite different. I think those plants would fry and the bottles crumble very quickly in strong tropical sunlight, so the shade is probably a plus in that situation. Am I correct in thinking that the location is Sao Paulo? A yearly rainfall of 135 cm/53 inches would reduce the need for watering quite a bit.
Yes, you're correct, the family does live in Sao Paulo. And I think as shoesietart pointed out, the plants are all shade-tolerant lettuces (e.g. mesclun) and herbs.
Those bottles don't offer enough drainage. Easy to fix with another little hole or two, but...
It looks like the bottles are threaded onto the wires through holes punched in the sides without any particular anchor. As the bottles age and they get moved around and adjusted, those holes are going to loosen and they'll all slide right down to the ground.
Re: the drainage issue and bottle slippage--in the how-to link (needs translation if you don't read Portuguese), the designers tell you to add small holes in the bottom for drainage, and show you how to anchor the bottles with either knots or washers, depending on how you're stringing them up.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:13 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


RE: UV. Spray painting the bottles with a couple coats of paint would greatly increase the UV durability of the bottles. Very light coats from a spray can. Aluminum spray paint would be best but fairly ugly. A nice white would help keep the soil cool.
posted by Mitheral at 3:24 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think manually watering or getting enough sun need be problems if it's for visual greenery - you can use plants that will thrive without much intervention. If it's to be a food garden, that's different.

Regardless, I'm much more interested in pics 3-5 years down the down the track than pics from the only-just-installed-and-everything-is-brand-new period.
posted by anonymisc at 3:44 PM on March 4, 2013


I'm in the "interesting, but yuck" camp. I continue to be mystified by the "let's take something esthetically unappealing that is better served being recycled and turn it into art/decoration/etc". It's garbage on a wall and it's going to look more like garbage the longer it's up there. It's the hip version of making a couch out of beer cans. I suppose this isn't as awful as the endless stream of "look what I turned a discarded forklift pallet into" (hint: you don't know where it's been, and you don't know what it carried, but I know it's entirely possible it's something you can't really clean out).
posted by kjs3 at 6:14 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like the idea, in many ways... but I can't get over that it mostly looks like trash nailed to the wall.
posted by _paegan_ at 6:23 PM on March 4, 2013


My feelings are a little mixed on this garden - when I first peeked in on the link earlier today, I did not like the look at all - and not to be punny, but the look has grown on me when I keep checking back in. And in the context of the overall makeover, I think it is pretty interesting. The practicality of it - well, better gardeners than I are weighing in on that.

But I have no equivocation whatsoever on the Lar Doce Lar project, that is one fascinating link, I have been happily clicking through all the makeovers, and I am really loving it. The designers did such fun things with color, recycled materials, small spaces, and tiny urban garden areas - creating some really appealing living spaces. Very fun link, it's very appealing to see the "befores" and imagine the impact of the "afters" on the lives of the residents.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:31 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


...oops, meant to link to this makeover of some type of collective - about halfway down, there is another vertical bottle garden, the backdrop is bright yellow - I think I prefer this execution, although I still have doubts about the longevity.

Every link that I click on that page opens to some fascinating rehabs. Thanks for the post, hurdy gurdy girl.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:40 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been intrigued by vertical gardens for a while now, and I like the idea of this one. But because of the watering challenges people above pointed out, I don't think something like that would work here in Australia. Even really large potted plants dry out so so quickly outside in summer. Even in the shade. With little bottles like that the soil would turn to dust and the roots would fry. It probably works for them because of shade and large rainfall.

I planted a little (raised) herb garden today, which I have high-ish hopes for, but the variation in soil quality, shade/sun and shelteredness around the rest of my garden has taught me that I can never really know what's going to happen until six months in. The tomatoes I planted in what should be the perfect place are short and spindly and producing maybe six or seven tomatoes at a time each. (I discovered recently - I think from a metafilter comment - that it might be because of eucalyptus leaves that fall onto that soil and raise the acidity too high.) The ones that spontaneously generated (thanks to compost, I think) in the raspberry patch, and should by rights be strangled by the roots of everything else in that rather over-full bed, shaded too much by the enormous raspberry plants, and keeled over by total neglect are producing more tomatoes daily than I and all my friends can eat.

Stupid gardens.
posted by lollusc at 8:35 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, also the one set-up I tried where cascading watering should have meant I could water the top of a stand and have it trickle down to the plants underneath led to mould growth on the lower plants. I wonder whether this vertical set-up might have the same problem, especially if it's in the shade.
posted by lollusc at 8:36 PM on March 4, 2013


tomato plants at my grandparents farm which are basically set out with a gallon jug half buried next to them as a watering hack

I'd like to hear more about this, or see a photo if possible. I have trouble visualising this sort of thing sometimes.

I'm so used to living in a drought that it didn't even occur to me that the FPP garden might be watered by actual rainfall! I like the look, although I'm always a bit wary of "upcycling" products that really ought to be recycled (or not used at all, but let's be realistic).
posted by harriet vane at 12:23 AM on March 5, 2013


I think the garden idea is dumber than dirt, but I sure love the pergola with the patio, and the inside is very nice.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:55 AM on March 5, 2013


harriet vane: This is one example of the buried water jug system. There's quite a lot of variation in terms of which way up the bottle goes, and how deep... One nice variant, that I can't find now, used a gallon+ jug, mostly above the surface and painted black (with the plant and jug in a DIY poly tent), as a watering heatsink to keep the temp up a bit in the early season nights.

It would be nice to see how the Sao Paolo one does turn out a few months down the line. I do actually really like the look of it, and suspect the plants they've chosen will grow OK in the bottles (having done much the same accidentally myself) for a while at least.

Long term, thought, it is going to require a lot of upkeep to keep the plants growing, and a lot more to keep it looking pretty. As an example, another thing I started out doing was growing individual onion plants each in a halved (vertically) PET bottle, which does work fine, it's just a heck of a lot more kerfuffle (ongoing and initially) than just buying some el-cheapo meter square polythene planters.
posted by titus-g at 3:34 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


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