But where do you begin?
Adding structure to your outdoor landscape and garden spaces may seem a little overwhelming, but with a basic understanding of garden elements, as well as some easy tips, you’ll soon be ready to create great spaces for the perfect spring gathering or summer staycation.
Understanding Garden Structures
Before you begin planning your garden additions, take a look at the different types of garden structures and how they work in the landscape. Often, terms like “trellis” and “arbor” are used interchangeably—and incorrectly, as they’re actually different elements. It helps to know the correct meaning of each term when planning your garden additions:
- Trellis: A flat section of latticework used to support vining plants, both ornamental and edible. Typically, trellises are composed of weather-resistant wood, food-grade polymer, or metal, such as copper, steel, or wrought iron. A tuteur (French for “trainer”) is a 3-dimensional, pyramid-shaped trellis, while an obelisk usually is rectangular in form.
- Arbor: A garden structure where a small framework supports climbing plants. Two parallel trellises or a series of columns or posts serve as the sides, supporting horizontal beams for the roof—which in turn support spaced rafters, giving the structure an open feel. Arbors often serve as a passageway, helping to direct the flow of foot traffic along a garden path.
- Garden Gate: Typically attached to an arbor or fence, a garden gate helps protect flower and vegetable beds from pets (and some wildlife), while also defining a garden “room,” an inviting space separate from the main garden. Place a gate where you need garden access, to frame a view, or to make a design statement. An open garden gate welcomes visitors to your garden sanctum.
- Pergola: A freestanding structure with an open roof supported by columns or posts. Pergolas covered by vining plants provide filtered, cooling shade for outdoor living spaces.
- Patio Cover: An attached structure with a solid roof that provides shade and rain protection for patios and decks. Patio covers extend living spaces and create some protection from the elements, although they are usually open on three sides.
- Gazebo: A freestanding structure, traditionally comprised of six or eight open sides, with a solid, pitched roof. A gazebo can serve as an outdoor room, providing a perfect place to read, dine, or work. (However, with its open sides, you may get wet during strong rainstorms!)
- Greenhouse: A completely enclosed structure similar to a garden shed—but with glass or polycarbonate windows or walls to provide natural light for plants. Greenhouses range from simple, inexpensive DIY projects to pricey, glass conservatories. If you adore starting seeds and propagating plants—or if you want to protect tropical plants from cold weather—a heated greenhouse makes a great investment.
(Shown: Jardin Rose Arch/Gardener’s Supply Company)
A pathway arch offers a lovely garden accent, but don’t forget to beautify the entryway into your home! An arch covered in flowering vines near the front door creates a stunning welcome for visitors—and a lovely, fragrant view each time you open the door.
Check with your Homeowners’ Association before constructing any freestanding garden structures, like gazebos or greenhouses, and make sure to secure building permits, if necessary.
Choosing Structures for Your Garden
Before you begin shopping for structural elements for your garden, consider your outdoor space goals. Do you want to create additional destinations in your backyard for entertaining or relaxing? Do you crave a privacy screen? Do you hope to draw visitors’ eyes to key focal points in the landscape? Or are you simply looking to add elegant, colorful supports for vining veggies? (After all, 2021 is the National Garden Bureau’s Year of the Garden Bean! Add a colorful tuteur or pretty trellis to support your favorite pole beans, like Seychelles or Kentucky Blue.)
Formal or Informal?
Once you consider your garden goals, think about structural style. Whether you prefer a formal or informal look, it helps to coordinate your garden’s design with your home and site. While it doesn’t necessarily need to be identical, a consistent theme, whether contemporary or traditional, whimsical or practical, helps to avoid a jumbled, discombobulated feel between garden spaces and your home.
Also, think about how you want the garden to flow. While pathways naturally lead visitors throughout the garden, arbors help define spaces by creating structure and framing views, while giving the garden a cohesive ambiance. Much like how gates invite visitors into a garden room, arbors beautifully highlight a garden space, creating a welcoming view that leads visitors to explore. A bridge placed over a stream, for instance, encourages visitors to journey further into the garden.
(Shown: Achla Country Garden Gate/Gardener’s Supply Company)
Garden gates offer an excellent definition for outdoor spaces. Whether your goal is to create a welcoming garden room or simply keep Fiddo out of your vegetable beds, garden gates provide both a bit of security from unwanted visitors, as well as a gracious invitation for friends. Open the gate, and enjoy company in your outdoor gathering space.
Sketch your garden and house onto a piece of graph paper. Include the current permanent components, like garden sheds, ponds, and swimming pools, as well as pathways. Does the garden “flow” into each distinct area, or does it need a refresh? Consider where arbors, gazebos, or other structural elements might enhance the garden’s flow and purpose.
Entertaining in the Garden
As traditional dinner parties and cocktail hours shift to small, intimate gatherings in open air spaces, garden structures like pergolas, patio covers, and gazebos provide perfect gathering spots for social distancing with friends. While these garden structures involve a bit more of an investment than an arbor, they also serve as delightful destinations in your backyard, adding space to relax with friends or hide away with a good book.
Likewise, a statement bench tucked into a beautiful corner of the garden allows you to enjoy a quiet conversation with a friend—or a peaceful place to watch pollinators play. Place a bench in a shady space to stay cool during hot summer days, but choose a location with a lovely view.
Consider creating a pretty path that winds through the garden to lead to your gazebo or pergola. Plant flowering perennials or shrubs along the path to enjoy a botanical journey to your outdoor destination. Grasses add movement, enhancing the flow of your garden path.
Enjoying Your Garden Space
No matter what garden structures you choose, remember that the ultimate goal is to design a garden that gives you pleasure. Select designs that complement your home and outdoor space, but only add elements that you love. Create spaces that you’ll find most enjoyable this spring, summer, and fall—whether it’s adding a gazebo for entertaining, a bench for reflection, or an arbor to designate a garden room. By adding the garden structures you relish, your garden will boast good bones—and look fabulous–all year long. Enjoy!
“This post is provided as an educational/inspirational service of the National Garden Bureau and our members. Please credit and link to National Garden Bureau when using all or parts of this article.”