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Master gardener presenting class on 'Vertical Gardening' in Jefferson Hills

| Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Master gardener Karel Ulizio stands in front of a Gunnera tinctoria, a Chilean rhubarb, growing on Bainbridge Island off the coast of Seattle. The leaves of the plant had been spray painted silver for a party that was held on the site.

Plants can cover acres, tumble out of baskets or scramble up the side of a building.

Vertical gardening is yet another way to keep green thumbs happy. Master Gardener Karel Ulizio will demonstrate this unusual style, which can produce “living” walls, vined tuteurs and pergolas, and decorative wall pockets to lift foliage to eye level and beyond. This technique is helps to maximize space.

Ulizio will make her presentation in the community room of the Jefferson Hills Municipal Center from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. today, Thursday. She'll bring two portable vertical gardens with her to illustrate her talk.

“In urban spaces, this has its advantages,” the Indiana Township resident said.

It could be as simple as a covered trellis to block out a neighbor's garbage cans or growing plants to hide a fence that's not so pretty or planting beans on a metal teepee, she said. Roses tracing a hedgerow add a bit of charm to brick walls and sidewalks.

Her connections to green things started as her family moved from place to place as a result of her father's military career. The family lived in Virginia, Florida and South Carolina before taking up permanent residence in New Kensington.

“He would schlep the houseplants from place to place,” she said, “and wherever we were, we'd plant a garden.”

In college, where she majored in political science, she read about plants, made notecards as study aids and her interest grew. Today, at her home on 3 acres near Hartwood Acres, she cultivates an herb garden and meadows. She also has a pond on her property. She is converting her husband's love of lawns to being more comfortable with a variety of vegetation.

She credits Patrick Blanc with promoting an interest in vertical gardening. Among his many installations in Europe, one of his grandest is the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. While the inside is full of art collections, the outside is a three-story tumble of green.

But on a smaller scale, a 14-inch by 14-inch “living” wall planter filled with coco fiber, fastened to a house's shingles, can be the nesting place for coleus, dragonwing begonia and succulents all summer long. The planter can brighten a corner and keep a patio table for refreshments.

Having completed her Masters Gardener training in 2012, Ulizio, 60, is pleased to share what she has learned with audiences large and small. Touring famous gardens, such as Longwood, near Philadelphia, helps to add to her knowledge. But she has been surprised at how much she didn't know.

“I have been humbled by the vastness of knowledge,” she said. “If you're not learning, why are you here?'

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or

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