Trellises give gardeners a chance to move up in the world -- up against a wall, up out of crowded flower beds and into the sunlight. Wherever you place a trellis, it gives the garden a lift.
Gardeners are always running out of space, and trellises and arbors (or pergolas) artfully add extra square feet for climbing and clambering plants. Flowering vines put a new dimension in a garden by bringing it up to eye level.
Various forms and interpretations of trellises have been at home in gardens for centuries. The late Rosemary Verey, the English plantswoman and author, wrote that trellises were depicted in wall paintings in Pompeii and could be found among the illustrations in medieval manuscripts.
Elaborate treillage, or trellis work, was a gardener's art by the 16th century. Catherine de Medici's gardener, Pierre Le Notre, created elaborate trellis-work arbors and pavilions in the Tuileries, in Paris, for his royal patron. His materials were willow canes and sturdy shoots from nut trees. The same materials can be used today to make treillage of nearly any size or style.
In Renaissance gardens, treillage was often inspired by classic architecture and was built with great attention to detail. These grand structures still suggest ideas appropriate for modern gardens, but trellises need not be overbearing or formal. Rustic twig trellises, arbors made with cedar posts, and perfectly modern plant supports of gleaming copper or steel may be appropriate for your garden.
Trellises and other such supports for climbing plants can be used to define boundaries, to screen private seating areas or to cast shade. An arbor, like a gateway of flowers and foliage, may mark a garden entrance or frame a view across an expanse of lawn. Free-standing pergolas are usually large enough to shelter a table and chairs in the dappled light under a roof of greenery. The style you choose could echo details of your home's design, extending the architecture visually into the garden, or it might be something completely different, sending a subtle signal that the garden is a place apart.
The material you choose should suit the plants you intend to grow. For permanent plantings, such as wisteria, climbing hydrangea, grapes or trumpet vine, a sturdy structure with substantial posts and cross pieces is necessary. More delicate climbers can make their way up lightweight trellises, but remember that a trellis covered with plants must also withstand wind, so anchor it securely in the ground. One way to do this is to bolt the legs of a trellis or arbor to cedar or redwood posts (which resist rot) sunk several feet into the ground.
These days, adding a trellis or another structure for climbing plants doesn't need to involve calling a garden designer or a carpenter. Making your own trellis can be simple, using tomato stakes or 1-by-2 lumber from a builder's supply shop. All you need are upright supports and cross pieces to give roses, clematis, morning glories or other vines something to climb on. Easy designs and plans are available in books and on the Internet. Trellises, Arbors and Pergolas (Better Homes and Gardens, $20) has more than 20 plans using bamboo, willow, lumber, lattice panels, copper tubing and iron bars.
Garden shops and mail-order specialists sell a great variety of trellises of all styles and materials, including weatherproof plastic, ready to set up in the garden. This year Smith & Hawken (www.smithandhawken.com) introduced a new line of handsome steel garden structures that includes an arbor, a pergola, a free-standing trellis and a three-part landscaping screen. Jackson & Perkins (www.jacksonandperkins. com) sells a fancy "umbrella arch" inspired by trellises in Monet's garden, Giverny; Gardeners Eden (www.gardenerseden.com) offers metal obelisks, designed in Italy, that will fit right in a large flower pot. Rustic pieces are harder to find: Crafts fairs and farmers' markets are often a great source of bent-willow trellises.
Trelliswork of any kind may take a season or two to settle into the garden. Enjoy the new architectural accent unadorned, or plant annual vines (morning glory, moonvine, hyacinth bean, scarlet runner bean or gourds). They'll shoot up your new structure in the course of a summer, while you wait for roses, clematis or other permanent plants to take their places. Before you know it, your new structure will be covered with blooms, and you'll be looking for another place in the garden that needs a lift.
Valley View Farms
11035 York Road
743 W. Central Ave.
Watson's Garden Center
1620 York Road
Smith & Hawken
Jackson & Perkins