Saturday, July 22, 2017  

Garden Arbors
A Garden's Portico  

More often than not, the air these days is warm enough to step outside in your pajamas and slippers. The ground is cool, probably muddy. Trees and flowers are burgeoning. Some have been untended, yet are stoically blossoming; others respond to a green thumb and display the brilliance of careful grooming. The coffee is bubbling, and perhaps the babies too, but a silent yet persistent force calls, urging you to stay, browse and ruminate. Life is barely springing up, yet the shroud of the mysterious new life spreads deep and wide. What is involved in the mystery? Songs and books have been written about the secrets of a garden. The only true conclusion: the mystery exists.

From a simple backyard row of daffodils to the glamorously sculpted gardens of Versailles, we have attempted to tame, sculpt and enhance the mystery of a garden. This season, why not invest in a grand entrance, your garden’s own magnificent portico, an arbor welcoming all to enter and enjoy its secrets? An arbor typically frames the entrance to a garden, but imports more than a romantic ambiance and decorative twist. Arbors, combined with luscious creepers or climbers, provide a shady overhead and a perfect resting place in a garden or yard. In a new garden, an arbor supplies shade faster than a young tree. And because the plants spread vertically on an arbor, it can maximize space for smaller gardens.

A myriad of choices in arbor design and material are available to suit classic, contemporary, naturalistic or romantic preferences. If your building tools have been in hibernation all winter with no plans for waking up, pre-fabricated arbors are available in gardening and house/home stores or online. An arched arbor, appropriately named, boasts an arch on top. A gabled arbor rises to a point on top, slightly reminiscent of the roofs in Marie-Antoinette’s village on the grounds of Versailles. A gothic arbor, usually crafted of metal, is formed by two curved pieces joining at a pointed center to form a small pinnacle. Copper, iron, steel, vinyl and wood are common materials for arbors. The size and type of trellis you choose for an arbor depend largely on what you hope to grow. Some additional amenities to be included on an arbor: a bench, a swing, a gate, or side boxes for planting. Prices range from $150 to close to a grand, depending on the material and size of the arbor.

For the do-it-yourselfer, building an arbor is a relatively simple project and can cost you under $100. Of course, you’ll need to have some interesting things in your tool shed like a wheel barrow, handsaw, carpenter’s level and a drill. But if you’re willing to sift through leftover pressure-treated lumber pieces to find what you need, you can really cut costs. Detailed instructions and plans for arbors are located on the web; try a Google® search for “building arbor.” Check with your local lawn/garden store for magazines or brochures for arbor building plans and tips as well. Or wake up early, down a few cups of strong java, and design your own on a paper napkin. Who knows what mystifying design
will evolve?

The most exciting part about arbor creation is choosing with what you will adorn it. The location and construction of your arbor plays a significant role in this decision. Some vines prefer full shade, others prefer full sun. Vine plants are generally subdivided into climbers and creepers. Some climbers will “climb” by their own initiative while others need some nursing to move along a trellis. Additionally, climbers may be “twining” vines, such as the wisteria, and will twine their way around a support. Some climbers use tendrils to secure their hold. Heavier vines will overwhelm a light structure, and lighter, slow-growing vines provide limited shade. Vines may grow in such abundance as to quickly cover your entire arbor, and if you paid a pretty penny for the design, or if it is the pride and joy of new builder, covering the arbor with foliage could be pitiable.

Next, consider if you will plant perennials or annuals, or perhaps a marriage of the two. Annual vines are fast-growing, and deliver a wealth of flowers. Annuals that are happy growing in this region are the fabulous smelling sweet peas (which need support), nasturtiums (the climbing varieties), and the black-eyed Susan vine. The black-eyed Susan vine, native to Africa and Asia, sports 1 _ inch yellow blooms with five petals and a contrasting eye. It will flower mostly in spring and fall. A lovely annual is the Cypress vine, a chip off the common morning glory block. It flowers cardinal red, tubular blossoms, a favorite with butterflies and hummingbirds, and remains open all day. In full sun, try the cup and saucer vine, which blooms in mid-summer, beginning as creamy blossoms and ending in vibrant purple. Just remember all these beauties will fade away with the arrival of Jack Frost.

Perennials afford a nice escape from the effort of replanting. Fragrant perennials such as the honeysuckle and wisteria are obvious pleasers. The evergreen wisteria blossoms dark reddish-purple, fragrant, pea-like blooms in tight, grapelike clusters. Beware of the Chinese wisteria, which can be invasive. The American wisteria is native to the southeastern U.S., producing small but dense clusters of blue-purple (yet unscented) flowers. An old faithful climber is the clematis, sometimes called the “Queen of Vines.” One of the most remarkable is the Armand clematis, discovered in China but named after a French missionary, Armand David. The glossy, evergreen foliage is complemented by 2.5 inch white, fragrant flowers. Blooming in spring, the plant reaches 20 feet or more in height. Another fragrant favorite is the Carolina jessamine, a gorgeous yellow climber with tubular blossoms, in bloom from December to March.

Contrasting the girl-next-door looks of the jessamine is the passionflower. This exotic bloom varies in color but is known around the world as a symbol of the crucifixion of Christ. The stamens resemble a cross, five blood-colored anthers at the center are the five wounds of Christ, and the fringed petals suggest the crown of thorns.

Speaking of thorns, perhaps a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but it surely would remain one of the most gorgeous options for an arbor. Climbing roses, though perhaps work intensive, are a stunning sight, and the names of climbing roses are almost as fascinating as their blooms. Consider the Abraham Darby, an Apricot-pink English rose, with heavily fragrant, big cupped, nodding flowers; the Altissimo, a bright red, lightly fragranced, healthy climber; or the Madame Alfred Carrière, a blush white noisette, with abundant and headily fragranced flowers. Over 70 varieties of climbing roses exist. A spring fling courtship with these roses is not recommended. Choose wisely, based on the size, shade tolerance and aesthetics of the rose, as you may invest a few years of cultivating the climber before it maturely covers an arbor.

Whichever of the limitless combina-tions of arbor design you choose, one constant remains. Throughout its creation and maintenance, an arbor grants an irresistible reason to repose in your garden. The mysteries of the garden may never be fully solved, but with your artful arbor, they can be fully introduced.