Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
June, 2001
Regional Report

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A long-dreamed-of rustic cedar arch has materialized in my new front yard and now awaits flowering vines.

Artful Arches

In 1940, in The Book of Garden Improvements, Walter Brett wrote, "There is hardly a garden, small or large, where one or two arches would be out of place...[or that would not] take on additional charm were arches to be installed." I believe this still holds true today. Among the simplest of garden structures, the garden arch provides big impact as a symbolic doorway into a garden, a frame to a pathway, or a means of emphasizing a focal point.

Different Arches

Styles of arches run the gamut from rustic to refined. Arches can be made from painted or stained wood, rough-cut trees, metal, brick, stone, or plastic. The top can be a half circle, slightly curved, flat, or pointed. The beauty of arches is that you don't have to spend lots of money to make one. Anyone with basic carpenter skills can design and make an arch. Plus, dozens of varieties are available to purchase.

Ideal Arches

Arches are usually at least 7 feet tall at the highest point, with the sides 1 to 4 feet deep. If you already own an arch that's too low, consider putting it on brick or stone footings. An arch's opening should be at least 3 feet wide--4 to 6 feet is ideal.

The legs on an arch must be securely anchored in the ground so that the arch doesn't topple over in the first windstorm, potentially harming people and plants. Wooden arches often have the four corner posts buried 18 to 24 inches deep and cemented in. Use either treated lumber or a rot-resistant wood such as cedar, locust, or redwood for the posts. Metal arches may have only a foot or so buried or have steel hairpins anchoring them.

Arch Locations

In choosing where to put an arch, remember that it will be a focal point and should have a logical purpose--it should not just be plopped in the middle of the yard. Consider an arch at the beginning of a path or to mark a transition from one part of the garden to another, such as between the front and backyards or between lawn and woodland. An arch placed against a closed wood fence or masonry wall lends emphasis to a focal point such as a fountain, sculpture, or bench that lies beneath it.

Plants for Arches

Almost any climbing or vining plant can be grown on an arch, except for the most rampant ones such as wisteria and trumpet vine. Clematis and roses are usually among the first choices. To avoid thorns, consider the thornless climbing rose 'Zephirine Drouhin'. Nothing is more glorious than walking in the garden early in the day under an arch of morning glories. For sensuous delight in the evening, consider planting moonvine. Tropical mandevillas quickly cover an arch with their bright pink flowers. Scarlet runner beans or pole beans add an edible effect to an arch planting.

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