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Structural Elements: Arbors, Trellises and Pergolas

March 9th, 2011

Arbors, trellises, and pergolas add great structure to the garden because they add a vertical element that is often lacking, especially in vegetables gardens. They are especially helpful in the winter garden when covered in dormant vines, or when cleaned of plant material and simply left to preserve the garden’s shape while the plants take a long winter nap.

Arbors and trellis help train plants by providing support for vines and climbers. They help keep these plants within their boundaries, which can be important for vines that like to ramble far and wide. We can use them to keep the clematis climbing the porch post, keep the cucumbers up off the ground, or to support the weight of juicy red tomatoes.

Since they allow us to grow upward, they allow for better use of space, particularly in small gardens. A tomato takes up much less space if trained up a support than if left to sprawl along the ground.

As with all garden features, arbors and trellises can be made of a wide variety of materials from crisp wood painted white, to saplings cleared from another part of the garden. They also come in all shapes and sizes from grand structures spanning hundreds of feet, a few stick of bamboo thrust into the garden to support a few peas.

I love arbors and trellises. Perhaps it’s because I have a fondness for flowering vines, or maybe I just love the beauty they add to the garden. Sadly I have no arbors in my garden and only one trellis. A couple years ago Mr Chiots built me this nice large cedar trellis on our garage wall. It’s planted with hops and clematis and occasionally a few sweet peas. I don’t have a photo of it, but you can see it here behind the hydrangeas and here’s a young clematis vine that’s growing on it.

I have a particulary fondness for arbors and trellises made of found materials like saplings and small trees. I was especially impressed by these when I visited the vegetable garden at Monticello.

I’m hoping that I can build a few small trellises for my garden this summer. They won’t be anything grand, although I do dream of having a nice arbor over my garage door draped in grape vines and a few beautiful old fashioned climbing roses scampering up my front porch posts. Vertical elements is something I need to work on my garden! If I had to choose a favorite climbing plant it would probably be the hydrangea vine. I have a few starts I got from my mom’s neighbor this past year, they take a while to get established but I can’t wait!

Do you have arbors and trellises in your garden? What’s your favorite climbing plant?

12 Comments to “Structural Elements: Arbors, Trellises and Pergolas”
  1. Kelly on March 9, 2011 at 10:36 am

    I’m very fond of Morning Glories. They’re so easy (and deer proof) and pretty (and deer proof). I’d love climbing roses but so would our resident pests. We have a large arbour over one of our garden beds that I train Morning Glories up the posts and cucumber vines up some angled side bits with tomatoes strung up vertically in the middle.
    This year hubby is going to finish a gate arbour for me that I can overwhelm with something flowery. I love hard structures.

    Reply to Kelly's comment

  2. Susan on March 9, 2011 at 11:16 am

    What an inspirational post! You have no idea how you have just helped me realize how to creatively tackle a few gardening problems I have. Thank you!

    Reply to Susan's comment

    • Susy on March 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm

      So glad, I find it inspirational to look through gardening books and to tour places like Longwood, Monticello and botanical gardens.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  3. amy on March 9, 2011 at 11:55 am

    I think my favorite is a combo of multi-colored morning glories together with hyacinth bean. I like the way the foliage and vine color of the hyacinth bean contrast with the morning glories….I also adore love in a puff….They are so delicate and fragile and after the growing season is over and they have dried they make wonderful natural Christmas ornamentation for an outdoor Christmas tree or indoor for that matter. I have my late grandmother’s fan trellis. I also have various and asundry other structures most constructed from natural materials but a few others such as old rocking chairs without bottoms or old garden gates make useful trellises as well. I remember seeing an old tree once used as a trellis for a climbing rose. It was magnificent. The rose hung off the branches. That has always stuck in my mind as something I would want to do. Now that we have our home I think I may give it a go:) Have a blessed day.

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  4. Amy on March 9, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    I have a large half-circle arbor in front of the house made out of bent metal hogwire fencing. It’s very sturdy but in the wrong place. I plan to move it this year, once I figure out where to move the grapes, wisteria and hops that grow up three of its four corners. (There’s also a Cecile d’ Brunier climbing rose that, while lovely, grows way to big for the space and is being removed.)

    We install bean poles every summer to grow our green beans, usually in two 25′ wide rows, each row supported by wire woven between the tops and bottoms of the poles. This year I think I’d like to make bean teepees out of them instead and move them to a raised bed. Last year’s beans were a bust due to our bizarre weather, and I found in a good-producing year that two 25′ rows is too many for DH and I to eat!

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  5. Joshua on March 9, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    I love your photos of the trellises and such at Monticello. I was driving near my house the other day, and I saw a place where the county (I assume) had cut a BUNCH of saplings out of a big runoff ditch. There was between eight and twelve usable foot of trunk on them, before they go too thin and floppy to use. They were just laying in neat rows and piles on the edge of the ditch, hundreds of them. I’m not sure how or why, but most had even been limbed, although there were a few stragglers left to clean. I went by and picked up about thirty of them before I ran out of time, and I hope to go back and get some more before the chipper guy comes by to clean them up. I never would have thought of using them this way if not for your photos of Monticello.

    Reply to Joshua's comment

    • Susy on March 9, 2011 at 1:29 pm

      Isn’t it great when you can use found materials for garden projects. Perennially I think found local natural materials look right at home in the garden.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  6. Daedre Craig on March 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    I grow a lot of hard shelled gourds. I’d love to install a huge trellis to grow them on, but that would be a lot of work (and my soil is rock hard).

    Reply to Daedre Craig's comment

  7. Jennifer Krieger on March 9, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Hi to Ohio – I lived in Columbus and Cleveland Heights before my husband dragged me out to LA.
    Where morning glories TAKE OVER if you let them. And where I have finally failed to kill a wisteria which is presently blooming all over the side porch.
    Love your writing,

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  8. MAYBELLINE on March 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    An arbor, a pergola, and some trellises.
    Wisteria is the winner in my garden.

    Reply to MAYBELLINE's comment

  9. Renee on March 10, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    I was searching the web for simple-to-build vertical trellis structures so I can use my small garden space more efficiently by growing vertically.
    First, I found out that what I was looking for was called an “obelisk trellis” and cost $40-$150 each to buy, and seemed complicated and required power tools to build.

    Then, I found this simple stick-teepee idea, which I think I’m going with this year:

    Reply to Renee's comment

  10. Martha on May 21, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    A few favorite climbers … Confederate jasmine: it’s evergreen , blooms in May ( now) and smells heavenly, like vanilla.

    Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata…loves the heat, very drought tolerant, needs pruning but the gulf fritillary caterpillars it attracts prune for you. ( it’s the host plant) beautiful flowers.

    Jasmine officinalis… Soo fragrant, blooms April or May. Check hardiness.

    Evergreen clematis, fragrant, nice leaf…

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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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