An arbor can take on many roles in a landscape, such as defining an entry or passageway, adding support for climbing plants, framing a garden feature and creating a shady spot to relax. Arbors often play several of these roles at once.
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Entry. Use an arbor to highlight entry points to your yard. Combining an entry gate and an arbor at the front of your home or as the entry point to your backyard is a classic look that works with any style or material.
Stand-in for a door. Equally effective is the use of an arbor to indicate transitions between different areas of your landscape, such as to separate a vegetable garden, a children’s play area of your own secret garden.
Passageway. Expand the depth of an arbor or combine several smaller arbor structures in a row to define a path or walkway. Installing a series of arbors allows you to stretch the look for some distance.
Shade structure. Arbors also can give you a shady spot to grow plants that prefer a little less sun. Set one against a fence or wall to provide filtered light and some protection for plants such as ferns, hostas and hydrangeas.
Frame. Place an arbor around a garden fountain or other landscape feature to show it off. The arbor will immediately draw the eye and give the feature even more prominence in your space.
Another option is to use an arbor to frame a part of your home. A full or partial arbor over a garage door or along a wall helps soften the look and adds a three-dimensional element.
Seating area. Rather than adding plants or a garden focal point beneath an arbor, create a seating area. A simple bench or a swing can fill the space. Another option is to make the arbor deep enough to have benches facing each other on both sides, with access through the middle.
Grapes have long been used as a topper on arbors, but consider branching out with other fruits, such as kiwis (as long as your arbor is sturdy). You can also use an arbor as a support for vegetables, such as tomatoes or pole beans. Think about being able to pluck a ripe tomato every time you enter your garden!
Many arbors, especially those purchased from a nursery or the outdoor section of a large retailer, can be assembled and set in place by a homeowner. You can set the arbor on a solid surface or place it on or slightly in the ground. For more stability, though, you’ll need to add footings or anchors to keep it in place.
Shape. Wood and wood-look arbors can vary from a simple structure of two posts with lattice between them and on top to elaborate structures with individualized design elements.
Using beams and rafters overhead is an easy way to add interest to a basic arbor design. Finishing the corners with decorative bracing or changing the supports to rounded pillars are other ways to customize your arbor design.
If you want to take your arbor design to the next level, turn the flat roof into a peak or an arch. Extending the arbor on either side or making it deeper will give it more presence in your yard.
Many metal arbors are topped with a gentle, continuous arch, which works well for almost any landscape design. Squaring off the top is another popular option. If you’re looking for a more elegant style, a gothic-inspired arch at the top might be for you. To add more interest, look for double arches that incorporate a design between the two edges.
A semicircular or full-circle metal arch is a contemporary take on a metal arbor (or version of a moon gate). Either a single- or double-arch design will create a garden focal point. A double arch has the added advantage of providing support for any number of plants.
There’s no rule that your arbor needs to be anchored directly to the ground. Create a more stately look, especially at an entrance, by installing stone, concrete or masonry pillars as the base.
Size. The size of your arbor depends on how you plan to use it.
- Height: Most arbors are 7 to 8 feet tall.
- Width: The width can vary, from 3 to 4 feet for over a gate, a bit less to show off a garden fountain, and up to 10 feet or more to stretch along a wall or create a focal point in a space. If you’re opting for a longer arbor, consider a row of connected arbors to keep the structure stable, or add supports every few feet.
- Depth: Most arbors are fairly shallow, perhaps the depth of a lattice panel, but you can adapt to fit your needs. A deeper arbor will allow you to add a seat or seats, provide the feel of a true passageway or cover a garden path or specimen plant.
Material Options for an Arbor
Wood has long been the typical material for arbors, with metal a close second. New options include wood composites and vinyl. You can also mix different materials for a custom look.
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When possible, choose locally grown and naturally rot-resistant woods, such as cedar or redwood. Other options include Southern pine, spruce and fir, although these may need to be treated to use for outdoor structures, and treated wood is not available in some areas. Teak, mahogany and ipe are tropical hardwoods that are known for their resistance to rot and weather, especially in coastal climates. They are usually more expensive than locally grown wood. Whatever your wood choice, look for sustainably harvested lumber.
Boards and posts are usually the first choices for arbors, but you can add a more informal or natural feel by using unfinished branches or tree limbs.
You’ll also want to check annually for any damage, such as broken boards or chips, and for rot. Wood can also be damaged by the humidity and moisture of plants growing on it or even by the vines themselves. Choosing a twining vine rather than one that clings or wraps around the wood can lessen the damage.
Maintenance usually consists of rinsing the composite with water and scrubbing any stubborn grime with a diluted dish soap solution. You should also check periodically for any damage and make repairs.
Metal. Metal arbors can be deceptively fragile-looking but in reality they’re very tough. You can use almost any metal to form an arbor: aluminum, stainless steel, wrought iron, weathering steel, even pipes or rebar.
Metal, except for the last two options, is usually more expensive than wood, but it’s extremely durable — a quality metal arbor lasts 20 years or more. Metal is good for harsh climates and is easy to care for.
Metal arbors can be fabricated to almost any size and shape. The metal won’t fade and generally can be cleaned periodically with water to preserve its looks.
Wrought-iron arbors are more expensive than aluminum and steel, but they add a sense of permanence and tradition to the garden. Wrought iron is highly durable, but chips will need to be sanded and refinished to prevent rust. Expect wrought iron to last for decades.
For a more casual look, pipes and rebar are inexpensive choices that add an industrial touch. On the other end of the scale, weathering steel, while one of the most expensive options, will give you a rustic-contemporary look.
Vinyl is more expensive than wood, although its life span can offset that. It’s difficult to damage, but repairs can be tricky.
Permitting and codes. While most arbors, especially those that you purchase directly, probably won’t require a permit, it’s always wise to check first. Building codes can vary widely, even in neighboring towns. Your arbor should be covered under the required permits if it’s part of a larger project.
You should also check with any homeowner association regulations regarding heights, setbacks and locations.
Project duration. Most arbors should take only a few days to build and install. This generally includes the time required for any concrete to set. A more complex design will take longer, as will an installation that involves concrete or masonry posts. If you want a custom-order metal design, you’ll need to check on the fabrication time.
This content was originally published here.