Gardens Outdoor Fine Woodworking

Gardens Outdoor Fine Woodworking


Vine fever caught me early. My garden dreams were draped and swagged in clematis, roses, and honeysuckle. Out in the garden, I crammed vines onto every inch of the fence and over every available structure, whether shrub, picket, or trellis. Still, it was clear that the extravagant roses and muscular wisteria I craved would overwhelm any ordinary garden structure. These thoughts continued to bubble along in my subconscious until a trip to England provided an unexpected piece of inspiration.

While visiting the charming garden adjacent to a small Somerset nursery, I was struck by the beauty and utility of a simple wooden arbor through which the garden path passed. Its rustic good looks complemented the whole garden, and the billowing roses appeared sublimely content. Happily, Bruce, my spouse, and chief garden engineer was with me and took pictures of the structure, including the construction details.

Getting the posts right is essential

Once home, we saw that the obvious place to build our own arbor was along the east boundary of our property. There, it would complete the circle of our backyard design, adding privacy. The spot we chose is unusual in that it occupies slightly sloping ground. Books advised us that the arbor location needed to be level, but because level does not exist on our two acres, we decided to position the arbor where we thought it would look at the home and hoped for the best.

We took careful measurements, purchased lumber and hardware (see the materials list on p. 36), and rented a gas-powered auger. We decided to use pressure-treated lumber for the arbor because of its weather resistance. Cedar or redwood would have been good-looking and durable enough but also considerably more expensive.

Crossbeams create a sense of enclosure

A total of 19 crossbeams span the top of the arbor. They are 13-ft. lengths of 2x6s, with both ends cut at 45° angles. One beam is situated over each pair of posts, and in each interval between the posts, two more beams are equally spaced. To secure the crossbeams, we mounted vertical 2×2 braces, cut to 10-in. lengths, onto the backside of each post.

More braces were added to the front of the facing for the beams running in between the posts. The braces were positioned, their bottoms flush with the bottom of the facing, and fastened with two 21⁄2-in.-long and-in.-diameter lag screws. Then we placed the crossbeams against the braces, securing them with two-in.-long screws

Look to the site for inspiration

The narrow pergola shown here consists of four posts supporting a canopy of purlins and joists. With its solid joinery and thick timbers, you could make this pergola with a much bigger footprint. Using the basic tunnel shape as a starting point, I looked to the house for inspiration because my goal was to integrate the pergola’s design with the site. I wanted to mimic the brackets that support the gable eaves on the main house, so I used 6x6s chamfered to a point and notched over the posts. The corbels beneath these

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