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Arbor Wisteria

Photo: Victoria Peckham

Arbors are a beautiful addition to any landscape design. They function as a verticle garden, shade, or a lovely enclosed seating area that is perfect for lazy afternoons, or beautiful cool nights.

The right type of material and the best techniques used to create a tasteful and decorative garden arbor can make it look like a work of art that will add visual dimension to any outdoor living space.

Garden arbor elements

There are several different elements to a garden arbors that can be considered. The following is a list of the different options to consider when putting your plan together:

  • Some arbors have benches or shelving incorporated into their design. These can be added after the fact, or are part of the core design during the initial construction.
  • Some have a completely open top that  allows light to come in, filtered through the plants that are growing around it. Others are roofed.
  • Some are wide, designed to cover a single seating area
  • Gates that serve as a means of tastefully zoning or transitioning  an outdoor space
  • Some are long, and cover the length of a garden path
  • Some feature square roofs, or roofs at ninety degree angles.
  • Some arbors feature arches, often marking the beginning of garden paths, the entrance ways between hedgerows, or into secreted garden spaces separate from lawns, decks, or patio spaces.

To get the arbor that best fits your home, take the time to investigate the different looks so that you can find the right style before you begin your project.

Styles of garden arbors

There are many different shapes of arbors to consider when constructing one of your own. There are modern styles that are blocky and square, and there are French garden inspired looks with rounded corners, arches, and elegant lines. When getting ready to build one of your own, it is important to conceptualize the design, then create a blueprint.

Garden arbor with gate

Photo: hello-julie

Even when you decide to buy one and build it from a kit, thinking about the shape of your arbor is important when you apply it to the space you have in mind as the location of your arbor.

This serves two purposes:
  • Provides an idea of how much material is needed
  • Provides a supplies list of tools and accessories that will be used to complete the project
  • Outlines the aesthetic of the arbor you’ve chosen

Approaches to choosing a garden arbor or pergola

One popular approach to a garden arbor is to design it so that it is integrated with your choice of foliage, usually a hedge or a creeping vine species native to your area. The completed structure of your arbor fades into the background, but still supports the weight of the plants that are growing on top of it. This approach requires a practical design feature when you reach the planning and production stage.

Another approach of course is a free standing arbor that is a little less integrated with foliage, yet still complements the flowers, vines, and hedges that characterize your property. They also provide a shady seating area under which you can place patio furniture, or barbeques. These structures are referred to as pergolas, and range in square footage from a coverage of a single bench, to that of an entire patio area.

Pergola with patio furniture

Photo: Field Outdoor Spaces

These structures are particularly useful in the summer time, particularly in open areas that see a lot of sun.

Type of plants for garden arbors

Some of the best plants for this type of project include creeping roses, wisteria, jasmine and ivy. These are quick growing climbing plants that are beautiful and will fill out the arbor in one season. Another popular choice for an arbor or a pergola is grapes, which is a robust plant that is easier to grow than you might think, climate dependent of course.

Take a look at this list of climbing plants that are great choices to turn to when you’re thinking about incorporating an arbor or pergola into your garden. It’s often a good idea to choose native plants, as they are easy to tend, and require fewer resources to sustain them.

Garden arbor and pergola construction

Garden arbors and pergolas represent a range of styles and sizes, and their construction varies just as much. Some arbors and pergolas come in kit form, to be assembled on site. Some require post-holes to be dug and cement to be poured. Others come with free-standing weighted feet which require no digging. The wind speeds and weather patterns in your area should be considered when you’re buying or building any free-standing element to your property.

Find out from your local sellers which types of arbors and pergolas make the most sense for your climate, and consult any warranty information with regard to construction, and wind damage. Also, think about sun exposure, remembering that as climbing plants grow, they may shade-out other plants in your garden. So, it’s important to think strategically when it comes to where you place your arbor, or pergola.

Arbor and pergola latticework

The lattice work is what the plants will grab on to and climb during the growing season to create a natural flowery sculpture. Latticework for an arbor or pergola uses furring strips nailed onto the posts. They are attached horizontally about five inches apart, then vertically to create a the criss-cross patterning that makes up the lattice. They can also be designed in a staggered pattern.

Garden arbor lattice

Photo: Joelk75

Adding accessories

Adding benches or shelves into your arbor is a popular option. Attach the bench or shelf to the main post, making sure that the new additions are secured properly. Consider using brackets to help fasten the pieces together. Pre-fabricate the accessories before installing them.

Garden arbor and bench

Photo:Elsie esq

This is a good way to see if they are functional on their own, as opposed to hoping they will work after being nailed onto the arbor.

Garden Arbor Maintenance

Treat the wood of the arbor with a sealant before exposing it to the sun or moisture. Make sure that pruning is also an important part of your gardening to-do list, no matter which arbor or pergola option you settle on. This is not just to keep your vines and hedges looking presentable. It’s also about making sure that your arbor or pergola isn’t sagging under the weight of the surrounding foliage.

Arbors and pergolas add style and practicality

The great thing about a garden arbor or pergola is that they add both a sense of style and a level of practicality to your outdoor living spaces.  In any case, a structure like an arbor or a pergola can transform your outdoor living experience, and help to create a more lush, and more welcoming garden, front yard entrance, and backyard environment for your family and friends.

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Cate Morgan-Harlow

Cate Morgan-Harlow is an all arounder, writing about how-to, DIY, and design with gusto. She is a shadowy figure with a mysterious past.