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Structural Elements in the Garden

March 7th, 2011

I’m currently reading Smith & Hawken Garden Structures by Linda Joan Smith and really enjoying it. This is the time of year in the north, structural elements are important in the garden. Since most plants have no leaves, there isn’t much left in the garden. If you don’t have shrubs, obelisks, fences or walls, you’re left with a flat expanse of snow.
Structural elements bring beauty and interest to the garden all year long, even when the plants are dormant. They can range from a simple path of native stone to grand fountains and everything in between.

Structural elements need not be hardscaping, they can be benches, obelisks, sculptures and even shrubs or trees. Potted plants can become structural elements in the garden if used properly and arranged in an artful manner. Of course these have to protected in cold northern climates and generally can’t be left in the garden during winter.



This is one area I really need to work on in the gardens at Chiot’s Run, my gardens are in need of more winter interest. I’ve been putting it off for a variety of reasons; time, lack of inspiration, the cost and I’ve been focusing on improving the soil above all other garden tasks. My goal this winter is to finalize a few plans for trellises, arbors, fences, walkways and other structural elements that I can incorporate over the next couple years.



If money was not an issue, I would have a big glass conservatory in my garden. A place to spend cold winter days, growing citrus trees and tropical plants. I may have a small greenhouse in my garden someday, but I’ll never have something as grand as what’s at Stan Hywet or Longwood Gardens. I’d also love to have tall stone walls surrounding a perennial garden with a reflecting pool, like this one at Stan Hywet.

If money weren’t an issue, what kind of structural element would you incorporate into your garden?

14 Comments to “Structural Elements in the Garden”
  1. Emily Jenkins on March 7, 2011 at 9:10 am

    To be unrealistic, I would love to have a small traditional glass greenhouse. There is one near us at an old closed down prison and every time we drive by I get irritable butterflies in my stomach, watching it deteriorate more and more each passing winter. It is kind of nice to see the rogue plants inside it grow up and out of the many broken panes in the roof each spring, though.

    More realistically it is my dream to at some point have a small outdoor living space lined with espaliered fruit trees (primarily pear) and fitted with an antique bed, wash stand and table/chairs. If I can find a reasonably priced iron bed frame this spring I’ll be putting together a rough version of this space this summer, without the (expense of) pear trees.

    I know, living in a northern climate, this is kind of a silly element to the winter garden, but my plan is to convert it to a living space for birds in the winter, putting a bird bath in the wash stand, and setting it up with several bird feeders.
    Emily Jenkins´s last post ..Wooden Seed Flats

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    • Susy on March 7, 2011 at 9:16 am

      I too dream of having espaliered fruit trees, they’re so classic and interesting!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  2. Daedre Craig on March 7, 2011 at 9:42 am

    I would definitely get a heated greenhouse. I’m studying greenhouse floriculture, so that would be appropriate. I could run experiments at home!
    Daedre Craig´s last post ..Refrigerator Pickles

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  3. Nebraska Dave on March 7, 2011 at 10:14 am

    I would build a structure over my backyard patio and grow clematis to cover it over. With a wood fired brick barbeque that would second as a place to smoke meats with indirect heat and a place to bake outside breads and pizzas, the patio would be complete. Once the structure would be covered with vines and folage I might even be tempted to sleep outside in nice weather. With patio furniture, it would be a sanctuary place to relax and read blogs or watch my favorite TV show on the Internet. Someday I’ll start building it but for now I’ll have to be satisfied with cheaper garden beds.

    Have a great day of dreaming.

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  4. marcyincny on March 7, 2011 at 10:26 am

    I don’t know but it would have to be tall. Most of our features including the low stonewalls are buried again this morning by another 2 feet+ of snow and those that remain visible only serve to demonstrate how much snow is out there adding to my despair. I’ve had enough.
    marcyincny´s last post ..Best Game Ever

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  5. Melisa on March 7, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I would have a sunken greenhouse like the one I saw in Scotland a few years back – It was one of the most beautiful romantic places I’ve ever been. Only the beautiful top pointed roof was visible above ground. There were beautiful ferns and greenery all inside it!

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    • Susy on March 8, 2011 at 7:51 am

      Sounds wonderful!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  6. Sincerely, Emily on March 7, 2011 at 11:59 am

    I have always wanted a real windmill! I think it would be fun to have in the back yard. Then have a nice colorful flowing vine climb on it. I like stone walls and we have a small one we made using stone from the property. A pergola over the deck would be nice – again, something climbing on it to give more shade in the hot summer months. And a few arbors or trellises with a bench or two to add interest around the yard and gardens. Many of the things I might be able to do myself, just need the time. Emily
    Sincerely, Emily´s last post ..My version of “fried rice”

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  7. Candie on March 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    I would LOVE a large arbor connected to a rustic outdoor kitchen. My Baba had an out door kitchen so she would not heat the house by cook in the summer and it was one of her favorite places to be.

    Reply to Candie's comment

  8. Morgan G on March 7, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    This was really fun to think about! I’d love a big, strong living wall element – for aesthetics, of course, but also for increasing our production area. We have zero property line which means we live thisclose to our neighbor, their home casts shadows in our yard, really limiting our sunny spaces.
    Morgan G´s last post ..Fast Company “Gets” Backyard Skills

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  9. Kathi on March 7, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    A grape arbor and an outdoor pizza oven!

    Reply to Kathi's comment

    • Susy on March 8, 2011 at 7:50 am

      I’ve been contemplating building a mud oven, I would love to make wood fired bread and pizza.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  10. Marlyn on March 8, 2011 at 3:11 am

    I too would love to have a living wall. I have a vision of a rock wall/waterfall with mosses and ferns.

    In my climate, my winter garden is not barren. I have been watching my onions and garlic grow since Fall (and clipping and eating their tops). I’ve been harvesting kale and chard and lettuce. My strawberry plants even flowered all winter (but didn’t fruit). My lemon is loaded with fruit. I have carrots to be pulled. I should have peas but that crop failed me. But I still dream of a greenhouse — year round tomatoes, tropical fruits…

    This week my husband will cut me some 6′ lengths of 3-5″ oak branches which I will drill and plant with shitake plugs. We’ll then stand those upright in one of our lower terraced beds (that gets too little sun for much). I think that will be an interesting structural element as well as a tasty addition to our gardens!

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  11. Marie on March 8, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    I would like a pergola over our patio and a brick fireplace/oven.

    We regraded our back yard and also added a patio and so last year was one of the first that it was usable – it was so wet before. So little by little I’ve been trying to spruce the backyard up. I don’t have any “gardens,” just a lot of wooded areas – I want to tame them a little. And I need to add small garden structures here and there for interest.

    I like the photo of the red pyramid-things. It’s got me wondering if I can scavenge wood from the scrap pile at work and make something like that for my veggie garden.

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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