The wall surrounding plant cells provides protection from abiotic and biotic stresses, and support through the action of turgor pressure. However, the presence of this strong elastic wall also prevents cell movement and resists cell growth. This growth can be likened to extending a house from the inside, using extremely high pressures to push out the walls. Plants must increase cell volume in order to explore their environment, acquire nutrients and reproduce. Cell wall material must stretch and flow in a controlled manner and, concomitantly, new cell wall material must be deposited at the correct rate and site to prevent wall and cell rupture. In this review, we examine biomechanics, cell wall structure and growth regulatory networks to provide a ‘big picture’ of plant cell growth.