Going Up

– Posted in: Garden Design

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 (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 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!

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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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