Nothing beats a trellis for quickly adding the dimension of height in a garden. In eight or 10 weeks, with a trellis in a large container, you can grow morning glories 6 feet high. Or, in just one growing season, you can train a fast-growing climbing rose at least halfway up a trellis, and maybe over the top. A trellis or arbor allows you to look directly into the beauty of climbing roses or other bloomers and puts the blossoms where you can easily enjoy their fragrance, as well.
Pat Ley, whose garden in Los Altos Hills currently features a 30-foot tall century plant, has created an entire wall of trelliswork for her morning glories.
On the back of her house, where there is just a narrow roof overhang, she angled trelliswork, one square wide, out from the edge of the roof and connected it to full panels of trellis installed in the narrow planting border below. Her husband thought she was crazy to chop up large pieces of trellis for her scheme, but the resulting wall of morning glories proves she knew what she was doing.
I bought a small arbor in pieces about two years ago. My husband put it together, and I painted it white. (Now I wish I'd painted it dark green, because the white calls too much attention to itself.) Then a brick mason sank the main supports into cement at the same time he built a path underneath the arbor, leading from the front rose garden to the back of the house. On both sides of the arbor we planted 10-gallon pomegranate bushes and on one side, very close, a "Mermaid" rose, notorious for its speedy growth, gorgeous single yellow/white blossoms, and huge thorns - a very controversial rose, but I love it. You've seen it blooming along Los Altos and Magdalena Avenues and at various places in Los Altos Hills, but probably didn't recognize it as a rose, because of the open, single blooms. Unattended, it can grow to be 30 feet wide and cover an entire rooftop, causing a lot of damage. But my Mermaid, so far, is under control and has started down the other side of the arbor. I keep pinching off the ends of the pomegranate branches, urging them into nice big bushes, and, overall, the new garden feature is starting to look like I hoped - a good backdrop for the old shrub roses in front of it.
If you already have a climbing rose or other plant growing on a trellis against your house, you can buy an arbor and train the plant to grow over it, in the opposite direction, away from the house. Friends did this a few months ago with a gorgeous "Joseph's Coat" rose. They bought a huge metal arbor to arch over the gate and path leading into their pool area. Then they gently loosened the rose from its wall trellis and flipped the branches onto the new arbor. Now there will be enough support for three times as many rose branches and blossoms, and visitors pass through a dramatic and welcoming bower.
Ready-made trelliswork, unfortunately, can be very poorly built, made with stapled fastenings, rather than nails. It really makes sense to add your own small nails for strengthening, before you invest the time and energy involved in training a plant on it. You don't want your creation to fall apart in just a few years. Likewise, especially if you plan to grow a heavy plant like a climbing rose on a trellis or arbor, it's worth the effort to imbed the legs in concrete, so the weight of the plant doesn't eventually tip it over.
Carolyn Barnes writes on homes and gardens for the Town Crier.