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Arbor days The old-fashioned landscaping structure is being rediscovered by a new generation of gardeners "Vertical gardening basically completes the garden." -- Glenn C. Robertson

For a truly successful garden -- one that's upwardly mobile, we could say -- gardeners are adding arbors.

Though they've been used for eons, people are appreciating, more and more, just what they can do for the landscape. These devices are great multitaskers, it turns out.

They add texture and layering. They bring viewers face-to-face with flowers. They add a romantic look when covered with old-fashioned vines. They divide space, setting off concrete from contemplation, for example. They define property lines. They connect, block unsightly views, set off secret spaces. They soften architectural details and detract from negative space, say a large first floor wall that looks barren.

Best of all, they give gardeners another chance to get some plants into the garden when all the ground space has been filled.

In Linda Howard's Snyder garden, a large arbor frames a front yard entrance, especially when it's abloom with New Dawn, a climbing pink rose bush. Howard began getting serious about gardening approximately 10 years ago, she said. Since then, she's amended the soil, tracked sunlight and shade to make sure plants were in the right location and spent a fair amount of time dividing and moving so that the garden has contrast, color, texture and movement.

When she realized it lacked verticality, she had an arbor installed, and it's one of the fuss-free elements in her perfectly kept garden.

"I'm a Type A personality," she said. "I admit it."

The three arbors in the back yard of Linda and Brian Blyth's Town of Tonawanda home are fully at work already, holding up clematis, porcelain vine, a Concord grape vine and sweet peas, a plant Linda Blyth particularly enjoys.

"They are the old-fashioned ones with the great smell," she said. "You walk through and put your nose right in."

Another arbor, which is about 9-feet high with an arched top, provides a convenient spot for the Blyths to pass seeds and plants to a neighboring gardener.

This is a familiar gardening site for Linda, whose grandparents owned the house and gave her a plot of her own when she was a child. But gardening styles have changed dramatically since the time she started playing in the dirt under her grandfather's supervision.

"He had everything in the garden squared off," she said. "My grandfather had a grape arbor and the arbor just said 'I'm holding up plants.' "

When the Blyths redid the arbor, they set it at an angle and then had to train the grapevine to grow the opposite way.

"It fought us for a while," she said.

Sometimes, she said, a vine needs intervention to get started in the desired direction. "We had to convince the porcelain vine that it wants to be here," she said, pointing out ties that will hold it in place until it takes hold.

With the help of the arbors, which Brian built, and other skyward reaching structures, the Blyths provide delights at every turn in their 400-foot-deep lot. It is artfully filled with every annual, perennial, vegetable and exotic that can be grown in this climate. And there are whimsical surprises -- a zinc watering can, tipped on its side, is planted with a sweet potato vine.

"Everything that sits still for too long gets a plant in it," he sad.

One arborlike structure, set on a wooden walkway, is attached to a potting shed and oversees a frog-filled pond, where dragonflies flit, one serendipitously landing on a dragonfly garden ornament.

Unlike many things in the garden, these arbors stay put, looking more and more at home with each passing year.

Bridget Humann, whose arbor is on the current cover of People Places Plants, a northeast gardening magazine, to advertise the Buffalo Garden Walk, uses her arbor to create a welcoming stance.

When they moved into their corner house, there was a fence around the perimeter, she said. "But when the kids and dogs learned to jump over it, we knew we wanted to change it," she said.

They didn't want the replacement fence, which went along the side of the house, to look as if it was meant to exclude their neighbor, so they incorporated lattice and the arbor into the fence plan.

"It provides an entrance to our outside room rather than just having the flat side of the fence," she said. "It makes it more graceful and inviting."

Even more so after their son, Alec, planted a climbing rose and a trumpet honeysuckle on the arbor which features an arched top, finials and a place to hang wrought iron candle holders the Humanns use when they are entertaining.

Asked if arbors are being rediscovered, Glenn C. Robertson of the English Gardeners had a one word answer: "Absolutely."

And for lots of reasons, he said.

For one thing, a new garden gains immediate interest, while waiting for plants, trees and shrubs fill in, when an arbor is incorporated into the design.

By adding a quick growing vine such as Silver Lace, a homeowner can get nearly instant gratification, he said.

"It gives off a pleasing fragrance and it flowers later in the season," said Robertson, project supervisor. "So you get to enjoy it that year."

Another "trick" he uses is to commingle sequential bloomers such as Wisteria, clematis and hops, so that there's always something flowering.

"As gardeners keep evolving, they are always looking for new and better ways to complement their gardens," said Robertson.

"Vertical gardening basically completes the garden. We're trying to get away from the old landscape style gardening with foundation plantings that stay there for 30 years."

Experts say that arbors should match the architecture of the house. A cottage-style house and garden calls for an arched top, while a contemporary house needs a geometric style and an urban garden could include an arbor of bentwood.

Even lead pipe can create a successful arbor, according to one inveterate gardener.

Spending time in a homemade arbor constructed of lead pipe remains her fondest childhood memory, Maryann Jumper said.

Years ago, when Jumper visited her grandmother in Pennsylvania, her favorite activity was to lie in a hammock shaded by the thick leaves of an overhead grapevine.

"It was huge, probably about 15 feet by 15 feet," said Jumper, who maintains her own clematis and rose-covered arbors in the Town of Tonawanda.

"In the summer, I'd be out on the hammock, right next to an old well. When it got too hot, I could pump some ice cold water."

As a final bonus: In the fall, they picked Concord grapes off the arbor to make jelly.


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