There is not nearly enough space to grow all of the food I want to grow in my garden. The few sunny spots in my shady lot are dominated by the vegetable gardens. My porch, one of those rare sunny spots, has been a home to tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, herbs, and the occasional flowering annual. So I'm always on the lookout for creative ways to make the most of the sunny space I have.
While you frequently hear advice to "grow up, not out" when trying to maximize your space, it's usually related to using hanging pots or trellising or espaliering your plants. While these are all great ideas, I especially love this idea from Cornelia at HOMEGROWN.org. She's using rain gutters, nailed to the side of her house, to grow herbs and tomato plants. While she's using the rain gutters as a type of "shelf" for holding the individual pots, I've also seen people use gutters by filling them with potting soil and planting directly in the gutter. You wouldn't be able to grow tomatoes if you were planting directly in the gutter, because the soil is too shallow, but you would be able to grow a variety of salad greens and herbs - a worthwhile project.
Using Gutters Indoors
But if you're more interested in houseplants than vegetable or herb gardening, gutters make a great addition indoors as well. Case in point is the windowsill gutter succulent garden pictured here, constructed by flickr user kalani kordus . I love the sleek look of the stainless steel gutter planted with succulents (a great look that is very low on maintenance!) While kalani kordus used new gutters for his windowsill planter, you could reuse some and give them a coat of paint in whatever color you'd like.
The succulents are a great idea, but I can also see this planted up with some ivy, pothos, or philodendron for more of a trailing, less modern look. And, if you want to plant edibles indoors, this would be the perfect windowsill herb garden.
Tips for Using Rain Gutters as Planters
What you do to prepare the gutters for planting will depend on where you're using it. If you're using it outdoors, you'll want to drill a series of holes along the bottom for drainage. Indoors, however, you wouldn't drill the holes (unless you want water all over your windowsill....) Obviously, you'll have to be a little careful about watering if you use the indoor version: just enough water to moisten the soil, but not so much that your plants are drowning due to the lack of drainage.
Next time I see one of those crews out replacing my neighbors' gutters, I think I might just drop by and ask if I can have a section of the old gutter. The side of my garage would be the perfect spot to install a vertical salad garden.