Something To Grow On

Decorative arches, tepees and trellises give support to climbing and vining plants, and add beauty to the garden.

Focus On The Garden


Without support, an eye-high pyramid of red, yellow and green nasturtiums standing like a traffic light in a riot of bush beans would just be dank, tangled clumps.

Garden supports -- arches, pergolas, trellises, tepees and more -- keep climbing and vining plants from taking over a garden. Additionally, supports raise plants closer to eye level, which shows them off, makes the vegetables easier to pick, and adds beautiful definition to a space.

Almost anything can be recruited to support climbing or vining plants. Barbara Parker, owner of Home Farm Perennials in Worton on the Eastern Shore, uses an old wooden ladder as a trellis for a honeysuckle vine, converting what would be an unruly mass into a dramatic punctuation mark.

"I'm a big believer in using what you have on hand," she says.

Parker (who views rust as a design element) also uses chicken wire, tacked up the side and onto the roof of her Kent County garden shed, to support a doll's eye vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), named for its tiny blue berries. The wire, unobtrusive in winter, disappears completely in the summer beneath the vine's lush foliage.

In simpler times, a homemade netting of string attached to stout poles or a tripod made of saplings culled from an overgrown thicket constituted the garden supports of choice. Today, garden supports have taken on designer status. Wrought iron arbors, cedar pyramids and rustic bentwood-and-grapevine obelisks vie for a gardener's attention with maintenance-free white vinyl arches and galvanized steel entryways.

A custom-made steel arch spans a gate at Parker's 19th-century farm house, separating the more formal front from the back. At the top on one end, a silhouetted goose takes flight from several cattails. On the other, a dog holds an unfortunate goose in its mouth.

As an alternative to buying ready-made or custom supports, enterprising gardeners can make their own. A few bamboo poles lashed together at the top can form an attractive and sturdy tripod for the runner beans. (Be sure to stick the poles into the ground at least 12 inches.)

In deciding on a garden support, consider not only its size and visual appeal, but its strength.

"The main thing is make them sturdy enough to support whatever you're going to put on them," says Jim Fraccaroli, proprietor of Eastern Shore Landscaping in Chestertown. "If you put a weak structure up, in two years you'll have a problem. I've seen wisteria [which can grow 25 feet a year] tear an arbor apart. You need eight by eight posts ... to support it after five years' growth."

Also consider exposure and wind direction. Wind won't affect a free-standing trellis set in a protected court, but can collapse it like a souffle in the open. One year, the pea trellis, which I inadvertently set up like a big sail -- perpendicular to the prevailing winds -- was flattened in a spring squall, ripping out half the plants along with it. I now grow the peas up the fence.

For best visual results, incorporate a support into the overall scheme.

Large supports especially -- like arbors -- are most effective as an extension of a house or patio line, at the foot of a pond, or as a physical connection between two unrelated parts of a garden.

"Don't force one of these things into a landscape," Fraccaroli cautions. "Include it as an integral part of the design but don't put it there just to put a rose over it."

The vines that twine


Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata)

Cardinal climber

Cathedral bells (Cobaea)


Love in a puff (Nigella)

Mina lobata

Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)

Morning glory (Ipomoea)

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

Scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus)

Silver vine (Actinidia polygama)

Sweet peas


beans (all climbing, nonbush varieties, including limas)



Zuchetta rampicante (long-keeping, and large summer squash)


tomatoes (while not true climbers, they benefit from being lifted up, but need to be tied)


Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)


Climbing roses (Rugosa)

Doll's eyes a k a turquoise berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata)

Honeysuckle (Lonicera 'Gold Flame')

Kiwi vine

Scarlet trumpet vine (Distictis buccinatoria)


Making your own tepee

Materials: Although not everyone has access to unwanted saplings, you can still make your own tepee. In addition to supporting the sweet peas, it doubles as a great garden hideaway for the kids.

For main supports, use long, (6-8 feet) pruned branches (denuded of shoots), bamboo, or salt-treated 2-by-2's as a last resort.

Twine, vines, willow branches or fresh-cut waterspouts (the unwanted branches that shoot skyward from some trees) can all be woven among the vertical poles as filler and climbing support for vines.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.