Sunday, October 11, 2015

Trellises, Arbors, Fences and the Art of Thinking Up

Why are you wasting all that vertical space in your garden?

Horace Greeley famously said "go west young man".  Had he been a gardener he might have said: "go up young man" instead.

One great way to add growing space and additional interest to the garden is to just to start thinking vertical.  Particularly if you have a small garden like mine.  Every inch counts.  Why not expand upward where the real estate is free? Who doesn’t like free?Everyone first thinks of walls and fences.  A clinging vice like climbing hydrangea or a rose can transform a wall into a backdrop of beauty and lift the eye out of the flat plane of the garden  Get some stuff going on your walls and fences.  The space is too valuable to waste.  I'm currently testing a new evergreen climber from China called hydrangea integrifolia 'Taiping Shan' recently introduced from Monrovia.  It's a Zone 7 plant so I have it on a south wall,  (If you don't know Monrovia you should check them out at  While they only sell wholesale their site has a great plant search engine with images and lots of cultural information. They have also introduced a new function allowing consumers to order a plant and have it delivered to their local nursery for purchase.  That's a real boon to gardeners looking to snag a rare or unusual plant.)


If your garden doesn’t have built-in bones like strategically located walls and attractive fences then the best alternative is trellises, arbors and other clever vertical structures to add that element quickly and cheaply.   There’s that word again.  There’s nothing wrong with using inexpensive materials so long as they blend and are natural.A great cheap vertical is the simple bamboo tripod.   When I was a kid growing up in the green hills of North Missouri a spring ritual was a trip to the nearby Thompson Fork of the Grand River.  Along the bank grew large stands of river willow.  My father and I would cut saplings with a hand hatchet or a machete, which we called a corn knife.  Tripods for growing pole beans were easily put together by selecting three saplings of the same length then binding the top with twine.  Voila. Well, we didn’t much say voila in the green hills of North Missouri but there you are.

It’s just as easy with bamboo.   Bind the top with wire then just splay out the three legs.   If you don’t have an inconsiderate neighbor with a large patch of invasive bamboo eating the entire block then bundles of bamboo are easy to obtain online.   Check out A.M Leonard (  They sell first cut bamboo, which is much stronger and lasts longer than regular bamboo.  A lot of bamboo sold in hardware and big box stores is brittle and cheap. Think about investing in something a little bit better so you can reuse it for several years.  That’s particularly important if you plan to run something other than an annual (think morning glory) up the trellis.  You don’t want your trellis falling apart just as your prize clematis comes into bloom. By the way, bamboo looks terrific with a coat of dark green paint.  Spray paint gives the best result. It also stains surprisingly well.

When I need something a little more formal but still simple I always select the fleur de lis trellis by Achla Designs.  It’s adequately tall, made of quality powdercoated iron and has a simple fleur de lis finial at the top.  It has four legs for stability and inserts into the soil easily. ACHLA DESIGNS has a big product line so there are other trellises, outdoor lights and a range of other garden products.  I stick with the simple pieces but they do produce some funky stuff if you want to add something a touch more whimsical.   You can check out their various offerings at (Minuteman International). Alas, the don’t sell directly to the public, only through retailers, but the fleur de lis trellis is easy to obtain from places likes The Home Depot,, and   Just Bing it and choose the retailer you trust most.  You can even sometimes find them at Sears and Walmart.  This is a great trellis.  Trust me.  No one will know where you bought it.  Unless you’re like me and like to brag about such things.


I recently worked on a large project that required both screening and some element of security. The answer turned out to be the Freedom Fence.  Yes, I know.  The name’s an oxymoron.  Talk to the marketing department. 

Freedom Fence is a modular system constructed in aluminum so it’s light and easy to work with.  It can be quickly cut to fit unlike cast iron.  The powder-coated finish is attractive and from any distance the effect just as good as wrought iron.As I said, it’s a modular system with panels, posts and gates in a selection of style.  We selected the simplest style to match an existing fence on the property.  There are a number of local fence companies that use the name Freedom.  The materials used on this site all came from Lowe’s, the Never Stop Improving one.  And they came by UPS so I didn’t have to waste half a day driving around.Above is the basic unit.  To this we added a simple cap posts that were part of the system and a gate in the middle.  The units fit together since the posts have precut slots for the horizontal bars to slide into. No drilling, pounding or smashed thumbs.  You will need to sink the posts and get them level if you want a good result.The overall design goal was to provide a frame for espaliered manhattan euonymus and common boxwood to be trimmed in upright rectangles placed in front of the posts.  

The space in front of the trellis is being transitioned into a white woodland garden.   At first glance it might seem a bit of a mismatch but the final effect will be homey.  It will look like the back boundary of a formal garden meeting the woods and all madam will have to do is pass through the gate to change worlds.  Pop out the gate and have a few words with the garde-chasse before a light lunch in the conservatory.  That type of thing.  Not my idea of a fun life but to each his own said the farmer’s wife as she kissed the cow. Since the gate needs to swing open (and thus will have nothing growing on it) a large planter was placed behind it as a visual backstop.  The planter was built on site by Tony of the building staff.  He’s a talented carpenter and got this project just exactly right.

There’s a bit of growth that needs to take place on the site but in a couple of year’s time this will be a real showplace.  The secondary slate walk was added to connect the gate to the main path.  By the way, the slate was a lucky find.  It’s the famous liscanner stone from the Cliffs of Moher.   I lucked into it through carpenter and craftsman Dennis Burren of Dennis Burren Enterprises.  He brought a pallet of it over with him when he moved to New York from Ireland.  I used more average pieces for this outdoor application but the samples he showed me for interior use were truly amazing, crazed with prehistoric giant worm tracks formed millions of years ago when the cliffs were yet a big pile of gurgling mud. I couldn’t afford those pieces for this project but if I were redoing a covered patio they would be in my cart faster than you can say Cliffs of Moher. 

Notice the nice match to the existing iron railings at the front of the property. Trimming the tall boxwoods into tall rectangles will deepen the match by mirroring the brick posts.   The biggest compliment I got on the project was that no one noticed it.  The building is eighty years old.  It looks like it’s always been there.  That is total success.

 Copyright  2015. For permissions please contact

No comments:

Post a Comment