A small project at the northern tip of Elliotborough shows how a little design flair can bear multiple fruits -- and vegetables.
This "vertical garden" at 134 Line St. includes a stretch of bins, sheds and cabling along 100 feet where a public park and community garden abut the Crosstown Expressway.
It was designed and built by eight architecture and landscape architecture students at the Clemson Architecture Center-Charleston.
The clients -- the 3-year-old Elliotborough Community Garden and the Charleston Parks Conservancy -- had a list of what they hoped this project could be.
Some things were practical and easy, such as creating lockable storage sheds for garden tools and improving the composting.
The greatest challenge, however, was designing a vertical garden that not only supports assorted plants but also screens Crosstown traffic whizzing by.
The resulting design includes treated wooden supports angled at nearly 90 degrees and linked together with metal cables. These cables not only provide lateral support to the wooden beams jutting into the air, but they also support several dozen potted plants.
Some additional beams support a walking platform of metal grates so the fence can reach up to 9 feet in the air and average-sized gardeners can still reach the highest plants.
Sallie Hambright, adjunct lecturer and Gaffney architect who oversaw the Clemson project, says the cabling system was true invention here.
"There were a couple of days where all of us were sitting around, looking at each other and saying, 'Is this going to work?'" she says. "That was the biggest challenge because that was the biggest opportunity for failure."
John Moore, a structural engineer with 4SE Inc., looked at them and provided feedback.
Hambright says the plants on the wall can grow 2.8 times more than what can be grown on a flat plot. But its value isn't really about maximizing yield.
"A vertical urban garden is not so much about feeding people. It's not going to produce that much food," she says. "It's really more about an educational aspect to it. In a city, people don't see how vegetables are grown very often."
The wall is almost 90 degrees, though the potted plants nestled in the cables are tilted at what seems to be more of a 70-degree angle.
Clemson architecture student Max Streeter says the idea was to maximize growing space while building something that still would work.
"If it was completely vertical, the plants would fall out of their pots," he says. "I think that (angle of the pots) creates an interesting kind of texture to the wall."
Not only does the vertical garden screen the new city park from the highway, but its potted plants are colored -- as are the storage sheds -- to provide more visual interest for motorists on the Crosstown.
Streeter says building the design was challenging because of large rocks and tree stumps uncovered while digging the foundation. "The construction process was a real fun time, but it was a lot of work, too," he says.
Claire Xidis, an Elliotborough resident who manages the garden, says she hopes a second phase of the project eventually will be built just to the east. "I love what it's done aesthetically, but it's also extremely practical for us," she says.
Clemson Architecture Center-Charleston director Ray Huff, whose childhood home was torn down during the Crosstown's construction, says he hopes the work will highlight the possibilities of a community garden, while healing a long-standing scar.
"The Crosstown is such an unfortunate situation in the city," he says. "It's here now, so the question is: How do we make it better?"
Robert Behre may be reached at 937-5771 or by fax at 937-5579. His email address is email@example.com, and his mailing address is 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403.