I like to rhyme. If I ever leave the world of landscape, it’s the rap game for me!
The dictionary definition of ‘Arbor’ is: a shady garden alcove formed by trees or climbing plants trained over a wooden framework.
I imagine some wordsmith over at Webster’s came up with that definition a long time ago. I think maybe it’s time for an updated version, because arbors today can do more.
Traditional wood arbors with climbing vines still have their place- we love them, and incorporate them often into our designs. But that definition reminds me of an English country garden, with bountiful roses or Clematis clambering over a rustic wooden frame.
Lovely, no doubt, but arbors can serve more purposes than structures for climbing plants and providing shade, and there is an arbor for any garden style. Japanese gardens can incorporate unique shapes like curved rafters or circular framework. Modern arbors can use sleek metals instead of wood, creating a contemporary and low maintenance focal point. Eclectic gardens may incorporate arbors made of multiple materials with bright colors or found items worked into the structure.
Besides style indicators, arbors have other uses. They can indicate a point of egress, so they are perfect to delineate private and public spaces, or entries that separate outdoor rooms.
Mounted on walls or columns, they are particularly impressive.
Gates can be hung from arbor posts to provide a pause in movement through a space or to dress-up a simple entryway. We also love them as locations to hang swings, hammocks, or built-in benches, so a simple structure becomes a relaxing destination point.
As climbing structures, they can support fragrant flowering vines, or provide a structure for fruits or vegetables to climb. Arbor posts and framework can be used to display hanging plants or string lights, creating beautiful, functional outdoor rooms. And speaking of rooms, larger arbors with multiple posts can completely cover dining areas, pools or spas, or patios, providing a sense of privacy. With careful orientation to the sun, or close spacing of the ‘purlins’ (horizontal slats that rest on the rafters or joists) arbors can provide significant shade, with or without vines covering them.
They can be cantilevered over windows to increase shade indoors, and increase pizzazz outdoors. (Yup, just used the word pizzazz in a blog post. This is Pam writing, in case you’re wondering). They can even have fabrics, certain plastics, metal or even green living roofs incorporated for dense cover.
Arbors made of Redwood are the most popular in our area (and our office- we even have a word to describe arbors we design with certain criteria, the Lazarbor) but do have some maintenance requirements, so plastic or metal arbors are gaining steam. Prefabricated plastic arbors can be inexpensive, but a customized arbor that reflects your personality and the style of your home can be a real showstopper, with unique details or hardware to personalize them.