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Awesome arbors Give your gardens a new dimension, ? and a splash of color all summer

At some point in their planting endeavors, many gardeners know they need to grow up. It's time for a garden arbor, they decide.

Whether it's a simple archway or a more elaborate arbor – perhaps with a bench – these and other garden structures get them thinking vertically.

Many times, they don't stop at one.

At the Lewiston home of Mary Alice and Ross Eckert, those entering an exterior door to the dining room walk under a white cedar arbor covered with decades-old purple wisteria. Another white cedar arbor leads to a garden planted in memory of their late mothers. A third, this one black wrought iron, frames the first-floor guest suite and delights overnight houseguests with its sweeping arch of clematis. There's a fourth white one at an entrance to the garden, flanked by white fencing.

As any gardener knows – and visitors quickly learn – these structures do much more than support climbing plants and vines.

"They give you a very welcoming entrance to the next set of gardens. They're not quite garden art, but they provide a different structure within the garden. It's like architecture," said Mary Alice Eckert, who is preparing her gardens for viewing during this weekend's Lewiston GardenFest (see Garden Notes below for details.)

In the Parkside neighborhood, gardener Patricia Lang considers the wrought iron arbor in front of her Victorian home "the entrance to the front porch." It's a year-round arbor, with purple and pink clematis in bloom during the summer and berry-producing holly continuing to thrive in the winter, said Lang, whose garden will be featured in Sunday's 15th annual Parkside Garden Tour. Other arbors are found in the back, including one crafted by her husband, Thomas, from an old oak headboard. The front-yard arbor is bolted down; the three in the back are cemented in.

With garden tour season upon us, thousands of visitors will be seeing these and many other arbors and gardening structures. (Note: The National Garden Festival kicks off Saturday with five weeks of tours and many other events.)

Many simply will enjoy entering a garden through a canopy of clematis, climbing roses, porcelain vine, honeysuckle, trumpet vine, sweet peas or other flowering vines or foliage. Others will ask for pointers on getting vertical in their own yards, from placement ideas to plant selection and care.

Eckert, for one, offered this tip: She combines three different varieties of clematis on just one arbor – in different colors and with different bloom times for continuous color throughout the season. She has one clematis that blooms in early May. Another, her Clematis ‘Nelly Moser,' blooms in early August.

And in Hamburg, gardener/artist Vicki Warhol's arbor leads to a brick courtyard, pond, perennial gardens and series of other garden "rooms."

As with other well-placed arbors, it added a whole new dimension.

"I decided I needed an entrance to the garden," said Warhol, whose garden is included in this year's Open Gardens schedule; see www.nationalgardenfestival for details.

Not that arbors and their plantings are without work. One gardener said she recently cut back the clematis growing on her arbor because it had become so wild and twisted.

And at the home of Nick Franko and Don Verity in East Amherst, their 12-year-old Clematis'Madame Julia Correvon' bloomed early this year but, come fall, Verity will – as he does every year – cut it back to about 2 feet.

It all takes patience. While some gardeners described their climbers as "happy," others said they have a mind of their own. It may take several years for the plants to reach the top, and they may need some guidance.

As with any plant, the site, soil, sun exposure and care also all come into play (be sure to read tags, research, ask questions). Before buying any climbing plant, be sure the size and strength of the arbor or other structure you also are choosing will support it as it continues to grow in the coming years.

Local gardeners said they found their arbors and other structures at nurseries, garden supply stores, online and in catalogs such as Plow & Hearth. They're available in cedar, eucalyptus, iron, vinyl, powder-covered steel and other materials. Styles can (and should) reflect that of the house and garden, from Victorian to contemporary. Depending on material, size and craftsmanship, you can spend less than $100 to up to $300 or more.

Or you can make your own. Lowe's, for one, offers instructions online on how to build a swing arbor from lumber and a sheet of lattice for growing plants but also for sitting and relaxing.

The retailer also promises the project requires only minimal carpentry skills and tools, so "you can build it without making your green thumb black and blue."