Bending a garden to your will

Add creative touches to rebar to make a sculpture where plants can grow

October 15, 2005|By TONY KIENITZ | TONY KIENITZ,LOS ANGELES TIMES

The truth is, nature is terribly misbehaved. Look at it, random and rude. Nature doesn't queue up. It squeezes in, crowds out.

Enter the gardener. He attempts to create Euclidean order out of the persistent chaos.

Where shall the twain meet? Rebar. The word is a contraction for "concrete reinforcement bar," but these lengths of raw metal can serve as the basis for garden sculpture, combining architectural order with nature's whimsy.

What sets rebar apart from materials such as bamboo and redwood are flexibility and durability. You can bend it (the thinner variety) by hand any old way, and it lasts for years. Plants cling to its ridges. With rebar, you can cheaply and quickly construct a trellis, a tunnel - or a tuteur.

Now you may wonder, what is a tuteur? It's a high-class name for a tepee. On a four-legged, 8-foot rebar tuteur you can grow sweet peas, cucumber, pandorea and beans - at the same time.

Almost any plant that vines its way into existence can be harbored on rebar.

As rugged and coarse as rebar appears, it also can be a beautiful sculptural component of your garden. I spark to the look of rust and entropy that comes to rebar soon after it is installed, but others may appreciate a fresher and cleaner presentation.

If your tastes run that direction, then spray your masterpiece with a standard metal paint. Go crazy and paint it bubble-gum pink. Go classic Baltimore and put lawn flamingos around its base.

Follow the accompanying directions. After securing the pieces of rebar together with copper wire, twist the ends of the wire into tendrils. Wrap pieces of sand-washed glass into these little coils, or add stones you've collected - little bits of randomness to a well-structured addition to the garden.

Tony Kienitz is author of "The Year I Ate My Yard." He wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.

Materials and tools

Four 10-foot-long pieces of 3/8 -inch rebar (thicker rods can't be bent by hand). These will be your corner stakes.

Two 6-foot-long pieces of 3/8 -inch rebar. These will be the spirals in the center of the tuteur.

Twenty feet of 12- or 14-gauge copper wire (available at hardware stores) cut into eight 1-foot pieces and one 12-foot piece.

Wire cutters

Pliers

Heavy-duty gloves

Stepladder

Rebar `tuteur': step by step

Building a tuteur out of rebar is relatively easy, inexpensive and quick. Materials should cost about $20. Construction will require only some basic equipment, elbow grease and imagination. Here's how to do it:

1. Bend the 6-foot pieces of rebar into spiral cones about 8-12 inches in diameter. The process is simple but requires something strong to leverage the rebar against. You could try wrapping it around a tree or rent a rebar bender.

2. Stand one cone on the ground (your lawn, if possible), spiral pointing up.

3. Poke the four 10-foot pieces into the ground (about a foot deep) around the perimeter of the spiral, at the points of a square.

4. Lift the spiral so the top is about 4 feet off the ground. Take a 1-foot piece of wire and, with your fingers, twist-tie the spiral to one of the 10-foot uprights. Repeat with the three other uprights.

5. When you like the way the spiral looks, tighten the wires with the pliers.

6. Tie the second spiral in the same manner, above the first spiral. (You'll want the smallest coils of the spiral to face each other.)

7. Take the remaining 12 feet of wire, climb your stepladder and pull the tuteur's four uprights together. Wrap the wire neatly around the uprights where they converge at the top.

8. Pull your creation out of the sod. Slip it into the soil wherever you want in your yard or garden. Decorate it further or let nature take its course. Next spring, plant your vines underneath.

[TONY KIENITZ]

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