Home & Garden

Gardening: Trellises that blend into the landscape – and sometimes shine

Trellises made of bamboo are in a garden designed by Ellen Ecker Ogden. Horizontal bands of woven flexible twigs are decorative, stabilize the structures and provide a ladder for plants to climb.
Trellises made of bamboo are in a garden designed by Ellen Ecker Ogden. Horizontal bands of woven flexible twigs are decorative, stabilize the structures and provide a ladder for plants to climb. Ellen Ecker Ogden

The natural geometry of up, down and level seems like a good framework with which to approach spring garden chores. Plants are sending their stems upward, and a long list of them will succumb to gravity without a human assist.

Our household boasts a large collection of metal plant supports, including peony rings and the galvanized steel pipes we use to trellis vining crops such as tomatoes and beans. The bean vines wrap themselves around the strings on their own, but with the tomato vines, which are not twining, plastic clips that encircle both vine and string help support the plants, especially when weighed down by heavy fruits. Plastic clips are useful for keeping fruit-laden tomato stems from collapsing, but apart from that, the plants’ upward urge takes charge.

For those who find the gleam of a steel bar intrusive, there are materials that blend in better with their surroundings. My husband has built trellises from straight young saplings, cut from the woods. He’d buy copper, T-shaped plumbing connectors and whittle the ends of the saplings so that they could be inserted tightly into the three openings of the T.

Tall pea vines can be supported on similar trellises, though we provide plastic or nylon netting rather then strings. We have sometimes gone the natural route and used pea brush instead. My father taught me how to cut twiggy birch branches and stick them in the ground for the peas to climb.

Consider bamboo

One of the most versatile and popular natural supports is bamboo. Bamboo plants, of which there are many species worldwide, are evergreen perennial grasses. Depending on the type, they may be grown for edible shoots, cellulose fiber for the production of rayon, and material so strong it is used for ladders, bridges, tall buildings, swords – and bamboo canes for staking plants.

Those bamboo canes are often dyed an ugly green, but ones with the natural tan color of cured bamboo can be found. They come in many sizes. In the vegetable garden, you might use a single short one to stake a pepper plant, or a row of tall ones, each holding up a pole bean. I’ve often made pole-bean tepees, in which three or four poles were joined at the top. Sometimes I’ve run horizontal poles along the tops of tepees in a row, for more stability.

Poles with a diameter of more than an inch are harder to find than skinny ones, but I’ve seen them as wide as five inches. I once made a two-tiered rail fence out of big, fat ones and trained grape vines along it.

Bamboo poles that remain stuck in the ground will ultimately rot at the bottom, so they are usually stored over the winter under cover. My motley collection includes many sizes, so I can always find some that are just the right length for the job. The color has faded from any dyed ones, another plus.

If you liked playing with Tinkertoys as a kid, you will have fun with bamboo pole structures. The triangulation principle gives extra strength to the tepee form, but boxlike structures can be made to work, too. Poles can be lashed together using sturdy twine or with attachment gizmos such as Garden Cane Connects, sold by Gardener’s Supply Co. and accommodating of any angle.

Some people become artists at creating bamboo supports. Check out a short YouTube video, “Bamboo Plant Support Structures,” from the University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center.

In the video, a gardener named Joel Warren ties poles together with an elegant “basic Japanese knot” worthy of a Zen master.