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Arbors In The Garden-Part 2

Arbors In The Garden-Part 2

– Posted in: Garden Design

In compiling this second batch of photos of arbors in my garden, I was struck by the realization that I am addicted to arbors. I don’t know precisely when this addiction began but my hunch is that it started taking shape on my first visit to Rosemary Verey’s Barnsley House, with its long laburnum arbor walkway dotted with large alliums. Or it could have transpired at Sissinghurst’s white garden with its imposing, centerpiece pergola covered with blankets of intoxicating white roses or at any other number of English gardens whose gaudy and extravagant pergolas swathed in luxurious plant material beckoned to all of my most primitive of impulses.

For me, there is something so secretive and mysterious about imposing arbors, where one can just nestle in under them for protection, privacy and a sense of safety. They are reminiscent of the humongous willow tree I used to sit under for hours as a child. It was a place to dream, to imagine and to experience solitude.  The first arbor that I had built on my property was made out of pressure treated wood and is abutting the French doors of my living room leading out to the side yard. At the time (20 plus years ago), I thought it was a pretty elegant structure.

In recent years, it has become known as the “leaning arbor of Fran’s.” It is being pushed to one side by the deep, overgrown, throbbing wisteria roots. Carpenters have tried bracing this structure in the hope of making it more upright but to no avail. To succeed at that, they would have to take down large pieces of my dear wisteria: I am not yet ready to do that. Each spring when that cherished and unruly vine blooms, it is worth any trouble that it may cause the remainder of the year. So, this leaning arbor, made of what is now considered ‘contaminated’ pressure treated wood, still stands: to give me the sensory delight I so yearn for each spring, with a return visit (if I’m lucky) in the fall.

Birth was given to the arbors on the second level of my back garden due to my desire to add more height to what had evolved into an extremely geometrical garden. Rather than having David Robinson (see my earlier article on arbors) build the more conventional triangular ones, I suggested that we create square ones. I did a sketch, David and I discussed dimensions and voila. On the photos below, you can see the close up shot of a single rose in late spring working its way up one of these arbors. I’ve also chosen a photo of how an arbor can act as an architectural feature in concert with surrounding plantings, much like placing a stunning urn or ceramic jar in a garden. And finally, I’ve included a third photo (at beginning of article) as a perspective of the design element these arbors add to the overall garden. This second tiered garden is diagonally one level above the cutting garden which has three of the David Robinson arbors in a small area. So, when looking at the garden from the terrace or when walking from one level to the next, the square shaped arbors help in unifying the garden.

I’ve spoken before about the transformation of my front yard from a conventional one to a rambling English styled garden. What I did not discuss in that article though was the placement of the arbors. First, the David Robinson large arbor shown below acts as an unspoken entryway to the left front hand side of the garden. You see, my home sits on an incredibly steep sloping lot on a cul-de-sac. There is no access to the front yard (or house) accept through the driveway or front walkway (which abuts the driveway). It was a financial decision not to design steps from the front curb up to the front door. By building this imposing arbor, I was hoping to not only soften the ‘harshness’ of the front yard area but to also beckon a visitor to enter and see the garden from another perspective. The arbor also sits next to ‘open space’ which gives my compressed property (in a cookie cutter development) a transitory illusion of openness. The arbor leads the eye to an unspoken path up to the third level of my backyard garden or else one can either go right and visit the front walkway or make a left and head towards the woodland area. 

Another David Robinson arbor was built to cover two horrendous air conditioning units on the other end of the front walkway. Again, I made a mistake on two counts. I chose a OB (once blooming) rambler. In hindsight, as I’ve said before, I now always try to purchase a CB (continual blooming) climber. Plus using a rambler in this location was a significant misstep. I am constantly pruning, pruning, pruning! Too much plant for too small of a space.

And finally, my decision to use a series of (3) Smith and Hawken’s metal arbors. I think when I purchased these they were called Giverny or Monet. Why change styles rather than have David continue with what he had done in the rest of the garden? Because I wanted the arbors NOT to be eye catching in this instance. Rather, my hope was for the climbing roses to take center stage as one is walking down this garden pathway. Am I happy with the result? Absolutely. These arbors are easy to maintain, are non-intrusive and they let the roses be the stars of this 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.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at

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Fran Sorin
17 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Valerie January 24, 2008, 11:01 am

I’ve been wrestling with how to keep deer out of a portion of my yard without making the area look like a prison enclosure. Arbors should do the trick.

Thank you for the inspiration!

Am so sorry for my delayed response. I’m quite sure that I responded to your post a few days ago but must have deleted unknowingly. Anyway, yes, arbors can be a wonderful way of keeping the deer from traipsing through your yard without closing out views beyond. thanks for your thoughts. fran

Pam/Digging January 24, 2008, 3:19 pm

Delightful! I would sure love to walk under those rose arbors in mid-summer. Or do your roses bloom best in spring and fall, as in Austin?

My roses do bloom best in spring with some intermittent blooming in the summer and into the fall. I am quite sure that we get nothing close to the type of fall bloom that you get in Austin. Fran

Frances January 24, 2008, 4:32 pm

Fran, your garden is my dream garden with arbors abounding and roses dripping. I like that you have chosen both the wooden and metal arbors. And we won’t even talk about that wisteria. I thought the photo was from one of the famous English gardens you spoke of. Stupendous!

Thanks for your sweet words. As any of us gardeners know, we grab those moments when the garden literally can take our breath away (they are all too rare, at least for me)….when the roses and wisteria are in full bloom, I do grab those moments…and take deep, sweet breaths….feeling like I’m in paradise! Fran

Crafty Gardener January 24, 2008, 5:50 pm

I love all the arbours. I only have a couple in my garden but I would love to have more.
Hey crafty gardener-
Thanks for stopping by. Even though my garden seems ‘chock full’ of arbors, I think I could still find a few more spots that could benefit from these terrific structures. Fran

Stuart January 24, 2008, 5:52 pm

I love the rustic nature of these arbors. No dressed timber. No lick of paint. Just the colonial roughness that goes so well with the gardens they inhabit.


Shucks….you’re making me blush…although I do agree that the rustic nature of these structures as well as their simplicity and strength is what makes them so special. And it’s all thanks to David Robinson….their creator!! Thanks for stopping by! Fran

Mr. McGregor's Daughter January 24, 2008, 5:53 pm

Too beautiful! I want more arbors. I can understand you not wanting to take on that Wisteria. I’m hoping my future brother-in-law, who’s a carpenter, will build me a pergola for the Wisteria I have been longing for.

Mr. McGregor’s Daughter,
Do whatever you have to do to convince your brother-in-law that he needs to build you a new arbor for your dreamed of wisteria. Just be sure that the arbor is sturdily built….as you see with mine, what looked strong, just wasn’t enough. Fran

Lisa at Greenbow January 24, 2008, 7:38 pm

That wisteria is something of dreams. I bet the smell is as rapturous as the blooms. No wonder you would hate to move it to revamp its arbor.

All of your arbors are gorgeous. They make me want to come over and walk through your garden. I love to walk through arbors because they make me feel like a little girl again. I feel small when I can walk under a rose bush blooming. They make you feel like you are entering a special place.

Your kind words make me smile. And yes, as you know, wisteria is one heck of an intoxicating vine. Sometimes, I just get up close and gaze at the beauty of each bloom. And I totally agree with your thoughts that walking through an arbor makes you feel like a little girl again. Well put! Fran

Curtis January 24, 2008, 9:52 pm

I don’t see how you manage the time for such a beautiful garden. Your arbors are awesome! I want one. 🙂

You’re too nice! You know, even if I had a small city garden, I know that I would need at least one arbor. They are a necessity for me, like a cup of coffee in the morning! fran

jodi January 24, 2008, 11:16 pm

MMMM, these are so lovely, I’m almost speechless. I can imagine flopping down on the ground under the arbours and just basking in the rapturous plant growth. What a lovely place you have.

thanks for your kind words. i do take the time to pull up a bench and sit under the wisteria arbor to read and have a cup of coffee or tea…when there aren’t too many bees around. and when the wisteria and roses are in bloom, i feel like i am in paradise. fran

Karen Arms January 25, 2008, 8:23 am

I, too, love arbors, but I have to be careful not to block our view of the marsh. (And there was a great blue heron in the pond this morning, cheeky devil.) However, yours are so lovely that I think I will at least buy a couple of shortish pillar frames from Jackson and Perkins for my roses, so how they look, and move on to arbors if they look OK

This is a good point. There is a difference between feeling ‘nestled’ vs. feeling ‘closed in’. You do want to be careful not to block out any of your ‘wanted’ views. I think starting with some pillar frames from Jackson and Perkins for your roses is a good idea. Fran

Dee/reddirtramblings January 25, 2008, 5:50 pm

Arbors are wonderful and an integral part of my landscape. In fact, it seems like a bunch of us wrote about arbors this month. Yours are beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

I got onto your blog to check out your post on arbors. Kudos to you. The cascading roses on them add such a lush element to your landscape. And love your blog. Fran

kate January 25, 2008, 6:09 pm

I love the way the arbours fit into the landscape so perfectly. The Wisteria must be a sight to behold in spring.

I find myself in such an ‘anticipatory state’ the few days prior to when the blossoms are ready to furl themselves open. Once they explode, even the first few, the ‘wild rumpus’ has started and I’m in heaven! fran

Mark January 26, 2008, 11:06 am

Beautiful garden pictures , I particually like the wisteria picture and long for that time of the year when they come out again.

Cheers Mark

Thanks for stopping by……….there is something very special about ‘longing’ for that time of year……the yearning for the scents of visual delights of these magnificent blooms makes them so cherished where they arrive~ fran

Benjamin January 26, 2008, 2:45 pm

Well, that settles it. After seeing your pics and watching Atonement last night (stunning aristocratic landscape in 1930s), it’s clear I need to do one of several things, maybe all: 1) Move to England; 2) Get rich fast; 3) Have a much much larger yard; 4) Stop planning so much–the best gardens do what they want how they want, and nature takes care of the show.

I concur totally that the gardens/landscaping in Atonement were breathtaking. For more visual inspiration, in case you haven’t already seen these movies, you might want to check out: Enchanted April, Room With A View and Howards End. What can I say….like you, I’m a sucker for these visual delights….talk about dripping with sensuality…..and my hunch is that you have the ability to create whatever your heart desires on your own plot of land. An old teacher of mine once told me to stop thinking so much and just let the passion ooze out of me……i don’t think this is bad advice. From what I can see on your blog, you’re on your way. Let it rip!! Fran

Dave January 27, 2008, 11:03 am

To say anything else would just be repeating what the others have already said. Sometimes though things are worth repeating. The arbors look great! They add that vertical element to your gardens and just let nature flow through. You are definitely showing me some good ideas for my landscape!

Am so happy that you like the arbors and am thrilled that this month’s design workshop is offering you some worthwhile ideas for your landscape. Thanks for adding your comments. fran

Ken Schill from Sweden January 29, 2008, 2:39 am

I must have pergolas at my garden.
I live on a field in the south west hightlands in Sweden.
So I use the pergolas to get the plant up from the ground and make some shelter.
Regards Ken
Welcome from Sweden. So great to ‘hear’ your voice. Will get onto your blog to check it out! Thanks for stopping by. Fran

Frances January 30, 2008, 5:28 pm

This may be the final post of this topic? See “Fairy Gazebo” at Faire Garden. Thanks.

Trust you to come up with a different spin on the subject, Frances! Here’s a direct link to your post.

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