Friday, 16 August 2019

Easy Arbor : Simple construction for a shady place to relax


Vine fever caught me early. My garden dreams were draped and swagged in clematis, roses, and honeysuckle. Out in the garden, I crammed vines onto every inch of fence and over every available structure, whether shrub, picket, or trellis. Still, it was clear that the extravagant roses and muscular wisteria I craved would overwhelm any ordinary garden structure. These thoughts continued to bubble along in my subconscious until a trip to England provided an unexpected piece of inspiration. While visiting the charming garden adjacent to a small Somerset nursery, I was struck by the beauty and utility of a simple wooden arbor through which the garden path passed. Its rustic good looks complemented the whole garden, and the billowing roses appeared sublimely content. Happily, Bruce, my spouse and chief garden engineer, was with me and took pictures of the structure, including the construction details.

Getting the posts right is essential

Once home, we saw that the obvious place to build our own arbor was along the east boundary of our property. There, it would complete the circle of our backyard design, adding privacy. The spot we chose is unusual in that it occupies slightly sloping ground. Books advised us that the arbor location needed to be level, but because level does not exist on our two acres, we decided to position the arbor where we thought it would look at home and hoped for the best. We took careful measurements, purchased lumber and hardware (see the materials list on p. 36), and rented a gas-powered auger. We decided to use pressure-treated lumber for the arbor because of its weather resistance. Cedar or redwood would have been good looking and durable enough but also considerably more expensive. Before beginning construction, we dug 14 holes for the 10-ft. 4x4 posts in two rows of seven, to a depth of 2 ft., which is just beneath the frost line in our area. Check local codes to determine the frost line in your area and sink the posts beneath it. We used the rented power auger to save time and effort, but a muscle-powered posthole digger or shovel would have done the job. We set the posts in two rows, 11 ft. apart. As we went, we measured to make sure the top of each post was precisely 8 ft. above ground, ensuring that the arbor followed the contour of the land. The posts were spaced 8 ft. apart on center and topped with 8-ft.-long 2x4 horizontal supports. The supports were laid wide side down, meeting in the center of the tops of the posts. We tacked the supports to hold them in place and then added the facings. The facings were also 8-ft.-long 2x4s, one board for each horizontal support, placed flush with the top outside edge of the horizontal support. Once all of the supports and facings were tacked on, we secured them with 2½-in.-long and ¼-in.-diameter hex-head lag screws. The screws for the horizontal supports were countersunk because the crossbeams were placed directly on top of them.

Crossbeams create a sense of enclosure

A total of 19 crossbeams span the top of the arbor. They are 13-ft. lengths of 2x6s, with both ends cut at 45° angles. One beam is situated over each pair of posts, and in each interval between the posts, two more beams are equally spaced. To secure the crossbeams, we mounted vertical 2x2 braces, cut to 10-in. lengths, onto the back side of each post. More braces, 2x2s cut to 71⁄2-in. lengths, were added to the front of the facing for the beams running in between the posts. The braces were positioned, their bottoms flush with the bottom of the facing, and fastened with two 21⁄2-in.-long and 1⁄4-in.-diameter lag screws. Then we placed the crossbeams against the braces, securing them with two 21 ⁄2-in.-long screws through each brace and into the beam. The beams between the posts were secured further with 31⁄2-in.-long lag screws, driven through the horizontal supports and up into the beam. The final step was to close off the back and bottom end of the arbor with trelliswork. We attached two rows of 8-ft.-long 2x4 horizontal boards to the back of the posts, 40 in. apart, and fastened each with two 21⁄2-in.-long lag screws on each end. Then we added vertical 1x2 slats to form the trelliswork. The arbor was complete—an empty canvas to paint with plants. While my husband and son worked on the arbor, I prepared beds at the foot of the posts and along the full length of the arbor’s back. I amended the soil with as much organic matter as I could lay my hands on, and dug a deep hole at the base of each post for a rose. On the back side of the posts, I dug another hole for clematis. These two plants would form the backbone of my composition.

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