Garden Arbor & Trellis Guide
For a garden to "work" visually, it needs to have more than just complementary flower colors and interesting foliage for when plants aren't in bloom. Also important is vertical interest – a feature or features that draw your eye up, causing you to scan and process the whole of the garden as a tapestry.
Arbors, trellises, and obelisks are all effective and affordable means of drawing the eye up and giving the garden a third dimension – height. But which do you choose? It depends on what you're trying to accomplish, the style of your house, and the kind of gardens you like. Here’s some more information to help you decide what will work best for you and your garden.
Arbors, Trellises And Obelisks: What’s The Difference?
Although all three are intended to show off an array of flora and are capable of drawing the eye up and creating a focal point, arbors, trellises and obelisks are distinct structures that have distinct functions in a garden.
A trellis is a flat latticework used to support climbing plants or vines. It can be a simple panel attached or propped against the side of a building, or a freestanding structure in your yard or garden. Trellises can be almost any size – some are even small enough to use in a container to support an ivy geranium or other climbing plant.
Trellises are most useful for providing a framework on which to create interest, particularly up against boring, undifferentiated walls. They can also be used to divide a garden into separate and distinct garden “rooms,” essentially forming living walls.
An arbor usually incorporates a trellis into its structure, creating a tunnel-like passageway of climbing plants. Arbors have a continuous run of latticework from one side of the “tunnel” to the other, often in an arched shape. Arbors are a wonderful way to show off your favorite blooms, and when covered with a sheaf of roses, morning glories or other blossoms, make a visually stunning addition to your outdoor space.
An arbor can be used to create a transition between areas in a larger garden—separating a kitchen garden from a cutting garden, for example—or can be used to create a sense of drama right at the entrance of any garden.
Obelisks are tall, tapering, four-sided or spherical towers, which usually end in a pyramid shape at the top. Like arbors, their sides incorporate a trellis on which climbing plants can grow; they can also be used to suspend hanging potted plants.
An obelisk’s primary function is to draw the eye. At the center of a wheel-shaped herb garden, toward the back of a border that's overly two-dimensional, or at the end of long path, an obelisk can grab your attention and hold it. With the right “clothing,” it can be a real showstopper.
Materials and Style
Trellises, arbors and obelisks can serve both decorative and functional purposes. Stylistically, there’s a spectrum ranging from casual to formal. Choose a material and design that will blend in gracefully with the look and style of your house and garden.
Perfect for classic English-style gardens or sleek, contemporary outdoor spaces, steel structures come in a variety of styles from simple to ornate. Steel has the advantage of strength, value and flexibility of design and, like vinyl, is capable of supporting fast-growing, heavy perennials. Steel structures win the vote for formality, but they do require a bit more care than vinyl structures – although they come with a durable powder coat finish, they will need to be touched up with paint over the years to maintain an even finish and prevent rusting.
Wooden trellises, arbors and obelisks will weather naturally to blend in with and complement a more rustic, natural setting. Woods like cedar, eucalyptus, fir and cypress are durable and if left unpainted will weather to a natural grey color. Because wood isn’t as sturdy as vinyl or metal and it requires more maintenance than those materials, it’s best to use it for supporting lighter, annual climbing plants such as Morning Glories or Moonflowers.
Vinyl structures are durable and require no maintenance while having the look of classic painted wood. This allows them to be used in both formal and informal or more rustic settings. Their durability enables them to last for many years and makes them ideal for supporting perennial climbing plants like wisteria or roses.
Whatever’s right for you and whatever you choose, the added vertical interest you bring to your garden is sure to raise it to a new level.
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