Upright plants and structures are like exclamation points in the garden, giving it a shot of vitality. Here are some suggestions for adding vertical elements to your garden.
Think of a pergola as a destination point in the garden. It looks picturesque from a distance and draws your eye toward it. Pergolas and gazebos, similar structures, often have seating inside, so they’re almost like mini-retreats.
Some pergolas are expansive buildings, but a structure with only a small bench offers the same benefits.
The pergola is a substantial piece of vertical architecture in the garden. Soften its base with plants that have mounded forms, such as hardy geraniums and landscape roses, so the structure doesn’t look like it’s been dropped in the middle of nowhere from a spaceship. Plants anchor the vertical structure to the landscape and give it a permanent appearance.
If you don’t have room in the garden for a pergola, create a vertical look with an arch. They’re decorative, but also useful—they signal that you’re leaving one place and going into another. Place an arch at the beginning or end of a path, or between the lawn and the vegetable garden, to provide a transition from one area to the other.
Often attached to arches, pergolas, or gazebos, trellises provide support for vines and climbers like clematis, honeysuckle, or climbing roses. They transform the structure into a leafy bower that engages your senses of sight and smell—and touch, too, if a tendril or shoot happens to hang down into the space.
Obelisks and tuteurs
A mixed border that’s full of low shrubs and perennials is the perfect place to incorporate an obelisk or tuteur made from metal, copper, bamboo, stone, or wood.. Because these vertical structures are relatively small, you can plunge them into the soil fairly easily without disturbing the plants. (Just be careful not to stab a dormant bulb.) Plants will accommodate their new neighbor by growing around, against, and through the openwork of the piece.
Tuteurs and obelisks often have decorative finials at the top for an added touch of class.
They have lattice sides to help support vines such as the variegated ‘Jewel of Africa’ climbing nasturtium. They also make perfect cages for short clematis such as ‘Alionushka’ (6 feet tall) and ‘Hagley Hybrid’ (8 feet tall). Choose an obelisk or tuteur that’s at least 4 feet tall for best effect in the border.
These smaller vertical structures make excellent accents within a garden. Their upright shapes interrupt the eye. As we scan soft, mounding forms of plants, they instantly draw our attention. If your border is large enough, try grouping three obelisks or tuteurs, much as you would use a drift of several of the same plant.
Many narrow forms of trees, shrubs, and perennials provide the same vertical look as structures. Placed on its own, a single narrow plant looks like an exclamation point in a design and is effective as a corner anchor of a planting combination. Two plants give a formal appearance, as when they flank a doorway, and three or five create a pleasing collection.
Marty Wingate is co-author of The Big Book of Northwest Perennials (Sasquatch Books, 2005) and Big Ideas for Northwest Small Gardens (Sasquatch Books, 2003). She lives in Seattle, Washington.