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 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.

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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

Fran Sorin

Fran Sorin
Fran Sorin

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