How Arbors Help To Create A Magnificent Vertical Element

– Posted in: Garden Design

arbors in Fran Sorin garden

As my garden developed into several  different levels in a variety of garden styles, it became obvious that I needed some vertical elements not only to add height to each of the gardens but also to offer this crazy, intense ‘patch work quilt’ of a garden some cohesiveness.

I began to contemplate the type of design that would work well in the garden. Because the style of my home is vanilla and architecturally cold and flat, I was determined to create a garden that had an ‘aged’ romantic/rustic look (if that’s even possible).  I had recently renovated the inside of my home and used wood beams throughout: it seemed natural to duplicate that element in the garden.

By chance, one day while taking a brisk walk with a friend in Central Park, I came upon some wooden (cedar) arbors that I fell in love with. After a slew of phone calls, I was able to track down the creator of these structures. It was a fellow by the name of David Robinson who operated his business, Cutting Edge, in Trenton New Jersey.

 One thing led to another and after a few sketches done by my architect, David began to build some arbors for my cutting garden.  There are actually 3 arbors in this garden. The first one allows for two magnificent  Rosa ‘Constance Spry’ climbers to spill all over the place with its full pale pink blossoms in early June.  Unfortunately, when I planted these rose bushes, I wasn’t aware that there was a continually blooming one (or it wasn’t yet in existence).  I’m chalking this mistake up to experience.

 At the end of the garden, David built another arbor where a soft yellow, sweetly scented climber (I believe it is Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’) is continually in bloom until mid-fall. I love the rhythm and spacing of these 2 arbors.  In the pictures , you can see how they look bare in early spring vs. later in the season when the garden is in full bloom. I can’t imagine how the cutting garden would ‘be’ without them; one dimensional and lackluster I think.

Perpendicular to these arbors is the entryway to my garden: it is sitting right on top of the edge of the driveway. Previously, I had a carpenter build an arbor made of pressure treated wood for the entryway (which I painted a lime green color). That first arbor did the trick in that it let visitors know that they were entering the garden. And like Nan mentioned in her posts, it allowed me to experiment with some wonderful climbers. But once the other 2 arbors had been built, it became apparent that my chartreuse arbor was the ‘odd man’ out.

Before the year was out, my lime green arbor was dismantled and David built a third arbor that echoed the style of the first two. On this arbor, I have one perennial vine, Bignonia grandiflora which performs beautifully each year. Although I’ve experimented with a slew of annual vines over the years, I continue to return to the purple hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab). Somehow, the orange and purple colors with their flowers entangled from early summer throughout fall just can’t be beat. It is only when I stand gazing at the cutting garden from time to time that I fully appreciate how seamlessly they pull all of the elements of this little area together to offer a sense of completion. Over the next few days, I’ll post about the other arbors designed by David Robinson in my garden.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

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Fran Sorin
9 comments… add one

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Kim January 8, 2008, 1:45 pm

What lovely arbors, Fran! I love that you continued some of the feel of the inside of the house with the arbors on the outside… and by the pictures, aged, rustic and romantic are all words that seem to fit your garden very well.

Thanks for your very kind words. With all of the mistakes I have made and continue to make as a gardener, I am pleased that echoing the use of ‘beams’ with these cedar arbors was one of my better ideas. I have learned over the years that if you learn to feel comfortable with your ‘own style’, then you just naturally tend to repeat it whenever and wherever possible. Fran

Frances January 8, 2008, 5:34 pm

Very beautiful arbors. Can’t wait to see what else he has built for you.


Thanks for chiming in. I will pass your comments onto David. Fran

Lisa at Greenbow January 9, 2008, 4:34 am

Great arbors. Can’t wait to see more.

Thanks Lisa. Am looking forward to sharing them with you. Fran

Kris at Blithewold January 9, 2008, 8:25 am

Arbors in the cutting garden – now there’s an idea! (I’d like to borrow that thought and pass it to Bwold’s expert arbor builder…) Looks like your arbors are just the right stitching for your quilt. – What a great way to describe the garden!

And Kris-

What a great wordsmith you are…I love that phrase “stitching for your quilt”. FYI, for your arbor builder at Blithewold, David Robinson’s work has been written about in books. He has done alot of work for botanical gardens, conservancies, etc. and is pretty well known. All of his designs have a simple, rustic and yet elegant look to them. If he built me a hut with a leak proof roof on it, I would move in there!! Fran

Mr. McGregor's Daughter January 9, 2008, 5:06 pm

Lovely rustic arbors! What a great way to unify the garden & add vertical elements at the same time. One way to ease the pain of the Rose mistake would be to grow a later blooming Clematis with the Rose.

Mr. McGregor’s Daughter,

Thanks for the good idea about growing a clematis in that spot. Now I’ll have to start sifting through my catalogues to find just the right one. And how right yo uare about vertical elements….a garden looks naked without them!! Fran

jodi January 11, 2008, 9:34 pm

I like your arbours very much! Although the chartreuse one might have equally delighted me, I can see how it would have been a bit out of place here. I love the rustic look of these…in fact, I think I’ll remind my LSS that we should have one like this somewhere in the yard!


Believe it or not, it was difficult for me to ‘give up’ the chartreuse arbor. I had worked so hard to successfully incorporate that color into my garden that it was difficult to give up that color as a swap for cohesive design elements. But if you notice in one picture, I do stil have a chartreuse fence at end of cutting garden to maintain some of that sharpness of color. Thanks for your words. Fran

Heirloom Gardener January 18, 2008, 8:36 pm

I love the arbors. I live in Chatham, New Jersey. Could you tell me how to contact your arbor builder? I could use one in the entrance of the Walled Garden.


A few suggestions. David Robinson’s business is in Trenton, New Jersey. Unfortunately, I missplace his phone #. When I used him, the name of the business was The Natural Edge, but my hunch is you can locate him directly under his hame. Also, if you haven’t checked out the book ‘Rustic Garden Architecture’ by Ralph Kylloe, I heartily recommend it. It gives you a terrific overview of that world and some of the great craftspeople involved in it, including David. Good luck and let me know what happens. If you end up using David, you’ll be lucky. He happens to be a gem of a person as well as a great artisan! Fran

David Robinson February 15, 2008, 9:07 am

Fran, I came across your gardening blog I’m glad your garden is looking great. Clyde and I are very busy building woodland trails and bridges this season. Thanks for your wonderful compliments. David.

I wrote you a note at your e-mail which I hope you received. And for those of you who have asked about David Robinson, the gifted creator of my arbors, his website is: Am delighted that you were able to read all of the wonderful words about your work in my garden. Fran

Sue February 16, 2010, 2:40 am

Your arbors set off your beautiful gardens
perfectly. So many beautiful areas!
Your garden planting skills are wonderful.
Thank you for having your site open to us.

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