Building an Arbor in Your Garden
Thinking about building an arbor in your garden this year but wondering if it will be worth the effort? An arbor can make a great addition to a yard or garden, whether by simply defining the entrance or providing a cool shady spot to sit out of the sun so you can enjoy spring and summer weather without sweltering in direct sunlight. An arbor can also provide privacy allowing you to enjoy your yard without being under the eyes of neighbors in overlooking houses of buildings.
The terms arbor and pergola are often used interchangeably, and while both are structures made from posts supporting beams or lattice, a pergola is always freestanding while an arbor may be connected to a building. Whatever you want to call it (and we'll use arbor here), an arbor can be as simple as two posts holding crosspieces covered with boards (see below) or as intricate and detailed as your imagination (and your skill level) will allow. Since there are no real rules about what an arbor has to look like or how big it is, you can design your arbor to suit your own tastes, or find plans at home stores or on the web (try Googling a phrase “building an arbor”).
Another option, particularly if your tastes run to complicated but your skills say ‘keep it simple’ is a building from a kit also available from home stores or online. You can get arbor kits of wood, metal or long lasting vinyl with all the pieces precut so after you do some basic preparation, all you need to do is follow the instructions and fasten them together.
Before you start to build your arbor, consider...
Arbors, like any permanent structure, may require building permission. Check with your local homeowners association and or building department to make sure you comply with any regulations regarding building a permanent structure in your yard.
If you’re going to be digging holes for the support structure of your arbor, contact your local utilities (phone, power, cable, water, and gas) to mark their lines before you start to dig. If you live in an area where the ground freezes in winter you’ll need to dig down at least 3’ or to the frost line in your area so your posts won’t shift or heave.
When deciding on the style and design of your arbor, think about the structure and shape of your finished project. You don’t want your arbor to be too tall and skinny or alternatively too short and squat. If your arbor is going over an entrance, ensure it’s wide enough to allow for passage of things like wheelbarrows. If it’s to provide shade for a small table and chairs, be sure it’s high and wide enough to allow people to stand easily under it and also allow for air movement.
If you’re planning on building a wood structure, you may be able to save yourself some money by checking what available at a discount lumber dealer. You’ll likely need to spend some extra time choosing your lumber, but you could end cutting your lumber costs in half. Another way to minimize your material cost is to use pressure treated lumber (particularly if you plan on painting your arbor) rather than more expensive redwood or cedar.
Building a simple arbor
Here’s a description of how you can go about building a simple arbor that ends up about 7 feet high, 6 feet long and 2 feet wide. This design could be easily adapted to provide an entrance to your yard or create a shady spot over a garden bench or some chairs and a table.
In this plan, the posts are placed into holes filled with concrete so you should figure on this project taking a couple of weekends, one to dig the holes and install the posts and the next weekend to actually build the structure.
Dig 2 post holes about 5 feet apart (be sure to dig down as far as the frost line in your area). Set the 4 x 4 posts in the holes and add the posthole concrete and water.
Use your level to ensure the posts are plumb and brace them in position, then allow the concrete to set up.
While you’re waiting for the concrete to dry you can cut the 2 x 2’s and 2 x 6’s to length and paint them. . (You can also add decorative scroll cuts or cut the ends of these longer pieces on an angle to provide a visual element to your arbor).
Next weekend, cut the posts off level with each other (around 7’ high).
Fasten two pieces of the short 2 x 6 to each post.
Attach the 6’ long 2 x 6’s to the outside edges of the short 2 x 6’s so they run the length of the arbor. Ensure the overhang is the same on each side.
Install 2 x 2’s across the top of the structure (across the long 2 x 6’s). Be sure the overhang on each side and the spacing between these short pieces is the same before you fasten them down.
Now, all that’s left to do is fill the nail or screw holes and touch up the paint and plant any decorative vines or shrubs around the posts.