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Garden Design

The almost arbor

Tammy Schmitt

Tammy Schmitt

April 18, 2013

Fact 1: I want an arbor.
Fact 2: I do not have the space or money for an arbor.
Fact 3: I do not care. I want an arbor.

Here’s what I want:


best vine-covered arbor


Here’s what I have:


Nothing - 101


I’m not sure if pig-headed determination is a good thing or not, but I have it by the truckload. I’ve wanted to add an arbor to the garden for years but could never figure out how to install one that would fit into the tight space around my fence gates.

Problem 1: The arbor would butt-up against my neighbor’s property and potentially cause problems.
Problem 2: It needed to be tall enough that we could walk underneath without smacking our head.
Problem 3: It needed to be super cheap.

I had almost resigned myself to the reality that an arbor just wasn’t a possibility but couldn’t keep myself from  brainstorming ways to make it happen.

Brainstorm 1: I just need a tall structure that I can squeeze up against my fence.
Brainstorm 2: It can be unconventional since once it’s covered in vines no one will know what it looks like.
Brainstorm 3: I need a way to connect the pieces together.




My first thought was to use rebar since I had seen several articles describing how easy it is to construct rebar arbors. But the more I researched this, the more problematic it became.

Problem 1: Rebar rusts in about a nanosecond and I find tetanus inconvenient.
Problem 2: It comes in 20 ft long rigid poles that I can’t transport home in my medium sized car without causing several traffic accidents. Accidents are bad. Avoiding them is good.
Problem 3: I don’t like rebar.

In search of a solution, I headed to our local Lowe’s and started asking questions. The wonderful thing about having almost no product knowledge of how to use 99% of what they sell means that it was easy to envision everything they sell being used creatively. I found long, semi-rigid threaded poles in the electrical section and a smart salesman to help me. When I left I had four 20 ft long, slightly bendy poles, couplers, and some kind of V shaped joint to help hold everything together. I was happier than a kid with a cupcake.

Here’s how I put it all together.


my hardware store purchases


I bought these. You need two of the V shaped things (inside corner pull elbow) and four couplers.



Buy four long threaded rods.
They are slightly bendy allowing you to stuff them into your car without killing people. Screw the couplers onto one end. Leave the other end bare.


the elbow and the coupler


Stick the elbow piece onto the coupler and screw it tight.


insert the rod coupler into the other side of the elbow


Insert the other rod/coupler combo into the other side of the elbow joint.


Pound a hole in the ground


Pound a hole in the ground with a metal stake or anything long and pointy. Take the stake out and stick in the threaded rods. Repeat with the other rods and you’re almost done.


I used snips and heavy gauge wire


I used heavy gauge wire and wire snips I bought at the craft store to lash the pieces together.


Look at that amazing knot!

Look at that amazing knot! Woo-hoo! Navvies across the globe are jealous of my mad knot making skills! I lashed the two rods together to keep them from wobbling.

Lashes to the wire inside my fence


I also lashed them to the wire fence for greater stability.


Pathetic but effective


Pathetic but effective


Suburban Gothic the newest trend


Suburban Gothic: the newest trend


my skinny arbor just fits


The skinny threaded rods work great at making sure I keep the arbor on my property.


my new $25 arbor!


My new $25 arbor!

I’m going to cover my arbor with cypress vine and purple pole beans this summer. The threaded rods give the vines a textured surface to grab onto to, making it easier for them to cover the structure. Because these are annuals, I can just take them down in the fall and troubleshoot the arbor, if needed.


Cypress vine

Cypress vine

Purple pole bean vine

Purple pole bean vine



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helen mckerral
helen mckerral
10 years ago

Oh, I just LOVE it, Tammy! That’s my kinda solution to a problem! It will look great when it’s all covered in greenery!

I’ve been thinking of making a series of arches. What supports, what plants, hmmm, what construction skills do I have (none). Aha, what about columnar apple trees grown up and then curved at the appropriate height and then overlapped/grafted together? Bingo! Next year’s project!

Tammy Schmitt
10 years ago
Reply to  helen mckerral

I am so glad you like the arbor! I just planted some sweet peas at the base. Your apples trees sound like a cool way to add an arch to your garden.

Catherine Stewart
10 years ago

Tammy your resourcefulness and determination puts me to shame. Not only that, you actually finish the projects you start! I hope to see progress reports of your climbers. What’s the botanical name for that gorgeous cypress vine? The flower looks like a red morning glory.

Tammy Schmitt
10 years ago

I’m very sorry it has taken me so long to reply to your question. The Latin or cypress vine is Ipomoea quamoclit. It’s often confused with cardinal climber but is slightly different. I scraped the seeds a bit with a nail file and then soaked them overnight before planting them in little pots. They germinated in just a few days. I’m looking forward to seeing it grow over the arbor. 🙂

Julie Thomson
10 years ago

Ingenuity and style coupled with grit and determination will always bring results, Tammy. Look forward to seeing your arbor flourish.