Vines and other climbing plants add new definition to your garden landscape. In addition to height, they contribute color, texture and new qualities of light and shade. Several permanent types of garden structures are specifically designed to support and show off climbing plants, and temporary structures are easy to build for annual flowering or fruiting vines. Enjoy the distinctive flower and leaf colors and textures that can only be enjoyed by planting climbers.
A basic trellis is a structure of criss-crossed strips of wood, metal or resin. Trellis patterns range from a simple wooden grid to ornate free-standing wrought-iron panels. Shapes include fans, tall rectangles, narrow strips and folding squares or diamonds. Many trellises can be hung or leaned close to or directly on a wall. Mounting a trellis on brackets that leave space between the frame and the wall make maintenance of both the wall and the vines it holds easier than flat placement. You can avoid trellis-maintenance issues by choosing weatherproof resin. Prefabricated trellises are generally 4 to 8 feet in height, with a width of 2 to 4 feet. Braces and cross-pieces are usually 1 foot or less apart, providing ample holds for twining climbers. Often made of wood lathe or other lightweight materials, trellises offer good support for light- to medium-weight climbing plants like clematis (Clematis spp.), varieties of which are hardy in United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 11. A leaning trellis is useful for annual vines like black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata), then stored at the end of the growing season (see References 1, 2 and 4).
Like a trellis, an arbor is structured to support climbers but its design is oriented toward gardeners and garden visitors as well. Whether rectangular or arched, arbors are usually both tall and wide enough to accommodate one or more persons standing underneath. Enhance your garden entrance with an arbor over a gate. Create a summer focal point by decking an arbor with a large and spectacular climber. Most often made from wood, arbors can be designed to hold medium-weight to heavy vines and middle-sized to large climbers. Choose an arbor to display a climbing rose (Rosa spp.), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 10. The long canes of "New Dawn" (Rosa "New Dawn") or "Joseph's Coat" (Rosa "Joseph's Coat") bring a long-lasting cloud of color to your June garden. If your climate permits, a grape arbor adds a fruit crop and can attract wildlife to your yard; purpleleaf grape (Vitis vinifera "Purpurea"), hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9, combines spectacular fall foliage with small edible grapes (see References 3, 5 and 6, Resource 1).
Unlike other structures, a pergola is constructed more with the intent of shading people in the garden than with supporting plants. That said, a pergola, which is often a story high and porch-, patio- or even larger-sized, can create the feel of a garden room when covered with climbers. A pergola can support the heavier, woodier climbers like American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9, which can climb up to 30 feet. When choosing a vine for a pergola, you may wish to choose one that is evergreen in your growing zone, although winter-bare stems can also be attractive (see References 3 and 6, Resource 2).
Some climbing plants need only a season of support. A tepee of 4 8-foot garden stakes bound with twine lets you add vining cucumbers or pole beans to your vegetable garden. Use garden stakes and plastic or nylon netting to support a spring crop of peas or sweet peas. Cage tomato vines or let them stretch across loosely-rolled chicken wire to keep fruits off the ground. Temporary structures can range from an elegant folding wood garden obelisk to a climbing frame handmade from dead branches. Whatever their construction, they let climbing plants take advantage of light, air circulation and elevation from possible rot or disease. Bought or built, garden structures can create a healthier, more attractive garden.