I have long fantasized having a substantial arbor dripping with roses. Ignoring the fact that there aren’t too many repeat-blooming climbers hardy enough to take my climate, I realize with dismay that my most favored place to site an arbor turns out to be on a slope every time I leave my dream world and actually go take a look. Then there is the little matter of cost, and the issue of frost heaving, and with one thing and another I’ve never installed an arbor.
Over ten years ago, however, a winter storm bent a large branch of a large box elder tree in the Secret Garden. (Click on the photo at left to enlarge it.) You can see this box elder to the right in the background in my November entry for the Design Workshop. At the time, the path didn’t run this way. It made a direct beeline from the house to a location just in the foreground and then turned left down the path that you can see in this photo. I redirected the path as a result of this branch coming down, intending that it become a natural arch framing the path and drawing you in from the entrance.
Although the branch wasn’t as broken as it is in this photo, it was apparent even at the beginning that it wouldn’t be a permanent structure, but I figured (correctly) that I’d get at least ten years out of it. I had wanted to relocate the path so that its entrance was a bit more secret, and the arch-shaped branch provided the inspiration for how to go about it.
I planted a Clematis terniflora at each of the two forked branches on the left, and had my second oldest son up on a ladder staple-gunning chicken wire (aka poultry netting) to the branch so that the clematis could climb. I chose this particular clematis because even though I hadn’t decided at that point to limit myself to native plants in the Secret Garden, I did want the vine to look natural, giving the impression it had “just grown there.”
I had all sorts of problems with that clematis. First and foremost, the vines and I disagreed on the quickest way to reach the sun. The vines did not want to clamber up the arch, but to head due southwest, which would be left as you’re viewing the arch. So I had my work cut out for me, as any gardener does when they decide to fight the natural inclinations of a plant. One year early on in this experiment, one of the vines appeared to be chewed off at deer height. Most years they died to the ground and had to climb up last year’s dead vine to get to the arch. Eventually the two vines just died out.
I didn’t bother to replace them, partly because it’s no fun fighting with a plant, and partly because by then it was clear the arch’s years were numbered. Eventually that same son got on the step ladder again and cut the branch down.
And I still dream of an arbor dripping with roses.