Going Up

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Courtyard arbor early July 05

When my current house was built in 2001, it thrilled me to no end. I loved it for what it was, as well as for what it represented: the dream house (or rather, the dream log cabin) I’d had in mind since high school. Even I had to admit, though, that it looked rather awkward, plunked square in the middle of a 4-acre field and sitting a good deal higher than I expected it to. So, the next challenge became trying to find a way to help tie it into the site. Adding the split-rail fence helped some, and then the barn added a bit of balance, but the whole effect still lacked a certain something. Placing a pair of arbors between the house and barn turned out to be a good solution.

Courtyard small arbor 05Deciding on what kind of arbor was fairly simple: I wanted wood, so it could be stained to match the house, barn, and fences, and I wanted something log-like but milled, again to echo the house. I ended up choosing Tahawus Cedar Log Arbors (wow, they were a lot cheaper back then): one adjustable size and one fixed-size style that they call a garden pergola. (I suppose it could be used for a pergola, if you buy the extension kits too, but the main structure is definitely an arbor.) Mom did most of the “easy assembly,” which she reported wasn’t quite so easy, then we installed and stained both. Then, the fun part: deciding what to grow on them.

Fallopia ‘Lemon Lace’ Panicum ‘Shenandoah’ and Persicaria polymorpha early July 05The first year, I tried hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab, or Lablab purpureus, or whatever it’s called now) on the big arbor, and it did all right, but the vines seemed to have trouble wrapping around the thick log posts, so I had to help them hold on with some tying. The next year, I planted two ‘Lemon Lace’ silver fleece vines (Fallopia baldschuanica, as of a few minutes ago, but the name will probably change again by the time I post this). They’ve taken several years to really get established, but I’m pleased with the look of their chartreuse leaves and reddish stems.

For the smaller arbor, I planted a small piece of golden hops (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’) that I’d saved from my previous garden. That beautiful beast certainly isn’t shy about grabbing on and climbing for all it’s worth. It’s kind of a pain to have to clip and unwind the dead vines every winter (the plant dies back to the ground each year), but it’s worth the trouble for its bright yellow new foliage.

Ipomoea ‘Mt Fuji’ early July 05

Fallopia ‘Lemon Lace’ and Dolichos with Muhlenbergia capillaris mid Oct 05Over the past few years, I’ve been experimenting with combining annual vines with the two perennials, and that’s worked out quite well, because the annuals can cling to the arbor, or the other vine, or both. Variegated ‘Mt. Fuji’ morning glories (Ipomoea), as shown above, now come up on their own, and I keep my fingers crossed each year that they’ll be this color. I also tried the hyacinth bean again on the larger arbor, and it looked great with the chartreuse ‘Lemon Lace’ vine.

Ipomoea ‘Clarke’s Heavenly Blue’ on side arbor Sept 9 07Last year, I decided I wanted to add a few arbors on the other side of the house, but something less heavy-looking, easier to put together, and less expensive. I finally decided on two Arch Arbors from Jackson and Perkins, 8 feet high and 5 feet wide, made of 3/4-inch metal tubing with a deep green finish. Whoever designed these and wrote the instructions deserves a raise: All the pieces were clearly labeled, the instructions were excellent, and Mom and I had them both put together in about 15 minutes. The one over the side gate ended up being cloaked in ‘Clarke’s Heavenly Blue’ morning glory from a 10-cent seed packet, and the entrance to the orchard supported ‘Red Noodle’ beans. These twining vines had no trouble wrapping themselves around the slender tubing and made a splendid show.

Side garden with arbor Sept 27 07

Now, the next hard decision: What do I grow on these two arbors this year? I’m considering currant tomatoes and maybe malabar spinach (Basella alba) on the orchard arbor. For the side gate, I’m thinking white cup-and-saucer vine (Cobaea scandens), or maybe a combination of two vines—white, perhaps, or blue, light yellow, or other pastels. Suggestions are welcome!

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Kathy January 5, 2008, 6:10 pm

What kind of footings did you use with your arbors, or do you not worry about them getting heaved out of the ground by frost? How deep into the ground do you set the uprights?

The green arbors came with built-in pointy feet, so they’re just pushed into the ground about 8 inches, and then they’re fastened to the existing fence posts. The cedar arbors are sitting right on the ground, but they too are bolted to the existing fence posts, so I don’t need to worry about them moving either. I’m not sure how one would stabilize them without having already-set posts on hand.

Frances January 5, 2008, 7:10 pm

Love your arbors! That last photo showing all those blue flowers and grasses is breathtaking. Are the conditions such that you could grow some clematis varieties?

Thanks, Frances! Yes, I can grow clematis, but the green arbors are readily accessible to deer, so I was thinking that annual vines are a better choice, being that they’re vigorous enough to outgrow feeding damage. But maybe a clematis *and* an annual vine would work….

Pam/Digging January 5, 2008, 8:20 pm

That last photo is stunning. Your arbors are a beautiful addition to your garden. I hesitate to even call them an addition because I sense that they are integral to the garden’s structure. Nice job.

How kind of you, Pam. I appreciate the comment!

Angela (Cottage Magpie) January 6, 2008, 1:31 am

I’m in the middle of deciding on arbors for my new-to-me house, so this workshop couldn’t be more timely. I prefer wood arbors, but not the struggle of getting the plants to love them (winding, as you mentioned), so I’ve enjoyed reading about yours. And your photos are stunning. I particularly like the middle one with the (I think) hyacinth bean and ‘Lemon Lace’ vine? Beautiful!
~Angela 🙂

Hi Angela! The thinner the posts and cross-pieces, the easier it is for the vines to grab hold on their own. But you could adapt almost any kind of arbor by adding strings, or black plastic mesh, or wire mesh painted to match the color the the arbor. In fact, I wish had done the wire mesh on my big arbor, so the ‘Lemon Lace’ would have wrapped around that instead of the arbor itself. Restaining the arbor without staining the vine stems is going to be a tedious task! Robin at Bumblebee used white plastic chains to help direct the wisteria growing on her white arbor; you can see what she’s done here.

Karen Arms January 6, 2008, 10:18 am

Repainting/staining a pergola has become a major problem for me. I wish I had gone with treated lumber and stained it dark brown. I saved a few bucks by using mostly untreated lumber, and painted it yellow to match the house. It looked gorgeous initially, but now it is becoming coated with black mold (as everything always is eventually in this climate) and needs a paint job. Which will be a pain since it is covered with woody vines. I don’t want to chop them to the ground and have to retrain them up the posts, but perhaps I shall have to. Or maybe I’ll just paint the plants as well….

I empathize, Karen. Why don’t we think of how much work we’re creating for ourselves *before* we do these things? Ah, well, it’s worth it, for the most part. And it’s made me much more appreciative of annual vines!

Dave January 6, 2008, 11:03 am

Those are very nice elements around your house Nan! I like how well they blend in with the house. The morning glories grow very readily around here in the wild so I may adapt some of them when I get around to my building my arbor. Have you thought about Thunbergia alata? I think I’ve seen some white colored flower variations in the Black-eyed Susan vines that might work well.

Good thought, Dave. I was just writing about Thunbergia alata ‘Albo-maculata’ (bright white with a black center) for another arbor-related post, and it could work for this spot. T&M used to sell the seed, but I see they don’t offer it this year, so I’ll have to hunt for it.

Lisa at Greenbow January 6, 2008, 7:17 pm

Nan, I just love your arbors. The log ones compliment your house so well. I think it was good that you varied your arbors with metal just to give a different feel to areas. One would get tired of too much sameness.

Do you ever have trouble with morning glories reseeding themselves all over the place? I think they are beautiful but I just dread the little pop-up plants all over.

Maybe a honeysuckle would look nice on one of your arbors. There are so many different types out there to use.

I usually get only a few volunteers of the variegated morning glories each year and wish I’d get more. But I’m a little nervous about what’s going to pop up around the arbor that had ‘Clarke’s Heavenly Blue’ last year, because there were so very many flowers and seedpods. Deciding what *I* want to grow there may be a moot point. I do appreciate the suggestion, though!

Elly Phillips January 7, 2008, 7:58 am

Honeysuckle and/or trumpetvine would be great for hummingbirds! But I don’t know how they fare with deer…

Thanks for the suggestions, Elly. I have a hard time keeping honeysuckles looking good: ‘Goldflame’ always gets powdery mildew and ‘Dropmore’ gets covered with aphids every spring. But I haven’t tried trumpetvine yet.

jodi January 7, 2008, 9:14 am

What a marvelous yard and garden, Nancy. The structures really do seem to be an extension of your home, and your plant choices…well, I’m salivating. Morning glories give me fits, both because of the wind and cooler temperatures and the fact that the soil here, though clay, is rich, so that the plants tend to go leafy and not so flowery. A couple of times I’ve had success of sorts by buying a pot of well grown plants, cutting the bottom out of the pot and sinking it into the ground, but otherwise, I just admire other people’s successes.
I chuckled over your comment abut renamed plants. It just adds to our work trying to encourage people to use botanical names, when the taxonomists sit around thinking up new classificiations.

Thanks, Jodi! With variegated morning glories, at least you can enjoy the foliage, even if you don’t get many flowers. And I agree with you on the taxonomy issue: I can normally keep the previous and current names straight, but the whole Polygonum/Persicaria/Fallopia/Tovara group is so muddled in my mind that I have to look them up again every single time I write about one or another.

Kim January 8, 2008, 1:55 pm

Nan, it’s all so lovely… you do such a good job of making all of your hardscaping (arbors, pathways, fences, and all the rest) look at home in your garden–like there really was no better choice than what you decided to place there. I hope to achieve that level of artistry someday.

What a lovely comment, Kim. Thank you so much!

Layanee January 8, 2008, 5:26 pm

Nan: Wonderful arbors! The pictures are delicious! How about some birdhouse gourds on one of those arbors. I love the white flowers and the foliage is lush and sturdy enough looking to enhance the timbers of the arbor. I also love Mina lobata but I fear it is too delicate for your structures. No one mentioned roses did they? Love New Dawn and it is an easy care rose. Sturdy structures for sturdy plants! Wisteria? Could be a nightmare but oh, what a delicious fragrance!

Ooh, the birdhouse gourds are a really neat idea! I too love Mina lobata, and it could work on the metal orchard arbor. Roses are a good suggestion as well, though I already have ‘New Dawn’ trained on the porch. So many delightful possibilities….

Mr. McGregor's Daughter January 9, 2008, 4:56 pm

What an inspiration! I can only hope my arbor will someday look al beautifully clad as yours. Moonflower might be a nice annual to try, but I don’t know how tall that gets. Then there’s always Nasturtiums ala Monet’s garden arches.

Ooh, moonflower’s another good one for the large arbor. And nasturtiums could be cute for the orchard arbor. Many thanks!

Christine January 12, 2008, 8:21 pm

I planted star cypris vine last year for the first time, and loved them! Well, to be truthful, the hummimgbirds loved them, which I loved watching. It’s an annual, and like mornign glory, takes a bit to get started, but soon it was huge and full of blooms.

Great idea, Christine. That one is delicate enough to combine well with another vine, so I could have two on one arbor. Many thanks!

Curtis January 18, 2008, 9:30 am

Great looking arbors. I heard the golden hops are great for arbors and trellis’s. Looks like they are worth the trouble.

Thanks for the comment, Curtis, and welcome to GGW! The hops are very enthusiastic but are indeed worth some extra effort.

JoAnn July 10, 2008, 8:58 am

Ijust recently had an arbor built by the side of my house.
Your arbor with the morning glories are just beautiful. What kind do you recommend for the deep south.

Hi JoAnn! Congratulations on your new arbor. I’m in PA, so I have no first-hand experience with your growing conditions. You may want to check out Texas-based blogs such as Digging and Zanthan Gardens to get better information. Good luck!

Rhonda May 3, 2009, 6:02 pm

Hi, Nan

We’re moving to a house that has an old swing set in the yard. Do you think it would work if I “converted” it to a vine structure and grew morning glories and moonflowers on it?

Absolutely, Rhonda! Toss some netting over the frame, or run some strings from the frame to the ground, and I bet it would look wonderful covered in vines!

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