Thursday, July 23, 2009

Garden Entrances (part 1)

Garden entryways are important for a number of reasons: entryways contribute to the overall structure of the garden and are the first indicator of the garden style; an entryway transitions between the inside of the house and the outside, or transitions between the public grounds and private grounds or between garden rooms.

Entryways may act as room dividers. For example, an opening in a low hedge to separate a kitchen garden from the flower cutting garden, or an expanse of lawn separating the natural (e.g., wildlife) area from the formal (e.g., dining) area. Other entryways may separate sports courts, sunbathing, shady relaxation, and child play areas, etc.

Entryways may be supplanted by transition areas, in an open garden. Expanses of lawn, low fences, and planting separations (use of borders, berms, shrubs or trees) can also act as transition features.

The construction looks fancy, but isn't. In fact, it is quite simple, the hardest part is digging the six post holes so that they align properly.

Construction details follow:

I first dug post holes for the four outside posts and measured the distances between and across from each other before leveling and backfilling with dirt. Next, I placed the intermediate posts between the outside posts and leveled them. I did not pay particular attention to the height of each post because I would deal with that detail later, but each post was sunk approximately 24 inches into the ground.

The posts line up in a row on both sides of the entry arbor.

With the posts (pressure-treated 4 by 4's) aligned in a row and across from one another, I measured their overall out-of-ground lengths and cut another 8-footer to add another 18 inches to the shortest post. This additional piece placed at the top of this post put the total height at 7+ feet. I scabbed a length of scrap to both the post and post extension to temporarily hold the two together.

Post with extension and scab board holding it together.

I did the same for the opposite post, but used my level and measured and cut the extension piece to ensure that the tip tops were level to each other. I continued this process for the other outside posts and their extensions and then measured and cut lengths for the intermediate posts extensions ensuring that they, too, were level with the outside posts. All posts and extensions were temporarily scabbed together and held vertical with scrap wood.

I trimmed the outside main beams (2 by 8's) to match the grape arbor cuts and mounted these beams to each set of three in-line posts. I used three inch decking screws for fastening the beams to the post extensions. Once the outside beams were fastened in place, I attached the inside 2 by 8 main beams in similar fashion ensuring that the ends of all the beams aligned with their post mates.

I then cut both 2 by 4 and 2 by 6 "brackets" to cover the splice points between the posts and their extensions. Each beam bracket extended from the bottom of each beam to approximately 4 to 5 inches below the splice point. These were the 2 by 6's. Again, I used my level to ensure that the bottoms all matched up. I used three inch decking screws for fastening.

Two by sixes "support" the main beams.

With the splices covered, I removed the temporary scab blocks and finished the remaining sides of each post using 2 by 4 brackets to extend to the top of each post and align with the 2 by 6 brackets on the other sides of each post. The only tricky measuring was where the 2 by 4 brackets extended to the top of the beam instead of the bottom of the beam. Each 2 by 4 bracket was individually measured and cut so it met at the same point below the top of the post. This was to ensure that the "top beams" would meet at the tops of these brackets.

Two by fours meet at the top of the post and "support" the ceiling boards.

The top beams consist of untrimmed 2 by 4 by 8-foot long pressure-treated boards lying atop the main beams and these were fastened (in pairs) to both sides of each of the six post tops for a total of six. An additional two sets of pairs were placed between the posts to achieve a fuller look to the "ceiling." These additional pairs will be fastened to scrap 4 by 4 stubs cut to a length long enough to also five surface area to fasten them to the main beams.

The completed Garden Entrance is shown below.

Entry view.

Side view.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Raised Garden Bed and Rock Wall

Sometimes, one project begets another. I like that, actually, because it keeps the creative juices flowing and presents its own sets of challenges. I had several problems to solve.

Problem 1: Overestimating material requirements. My pond project left me with a substantial pile (2 feet wide, 8 feet long, and 1 foot high) of leftover gravel and rocks (up to 4 inches in diameter). I needed a place to temporarily store this excess rock. (It was crowding our driveway, where we parked four cars.)

I decided the 30-inch wide bare earth strip between the south fence and the sport court could serve as a temporary storage area.

Problem 2: Too much mulch. I already had a large mulch pile that I'd moved close to the north side fence. I'd subsequently covered it over with garden soil and planted potatoes in it. I needed space for the gravel and rock, so I expanded the large mulch pile with excavated dirt from alongside the sport court.

I created a 3-foot tall 8-foot diameter green mound
where the worms could play and my potatoes could grow.

Problem 3: Bishop's weed (aka goutweed) takeover. Ev
er make a gardening mistake? I thought Bishop's weed was pretty--and because it was free, (came through a back fence) I'd allowed that weed to take over a 30-inch wide strip of bare earth next to our sport court. Only later, did I learn the name of the plant. Note: Be suspicious of anything with 'weed' as part of its name.

In the process of uprooting the Bishop's weed a year later, I harvested a couple of huge black plastic bags of the stuff. Don't even consider using it as mulch--takes too long to break down--put it in the trash! I dug deeply enough to completely remove all traces of its invasive roots.

I did move the excavated dirt from the 30-inch-wide strip over to the growing mulch pile and dumped my rock and gravel into the excavated strip beside the sport court. Temporary rock storage problem solved.

Rock and gravel is temporarily stored next to sport court (the dirt mound at bottom right was contributed by Mr. Mole)

A year later, I harvested the potatoes growing in the m
ulch pile, but the tall earth/mulch pile was an unsightly mound in winter. I needed to spread it around a bit. That's when I first contemplated a permanent raised bed.

Problem 4. Rotting fence boards. I knew I couldn't spread the
earth/mulch all the way to the fence, which was already rotting at the bottom from a long-term buildup of organic materials on both sides. I could solve that by purchasing new fence boards, but I had to consider how to protect the replacement fence.

My answer was both simple, economical, and involved the least labor for me: concrete building blocks.

I laid up two courses of concrete building blocks as the back wall of the new raised bed. Concrete blocks aren't pretty. However, my back-of-the-raised-bed block wall is mostly hidden from view by both the dirt in the bed and the plantings growing in the raised bed. The back-of-the-raised-bed wall is fairly close to the wooden fence, but there's still plenty of space for good air circulation at the bottom.

Concrete blocks help keep dirt in the bed and away from fence. Note air gap between fence and blocks.

I had a few large rocks leftover from the pond project and used them to start the front-of-the-raised-bed wall. My block back wall is 12 inches tall and the rock front wall is just slightly shorter.

Completed rock wall with gravel path in front.

Bug's eye view of wall and gravel path.

Problem 5: Digger dog. Our dog likes to dig (surprise, surprise). My son pointed out to me (the day after my rock wall was up) that Cookie dog had dislodged the rocks in a section of the wall. She'd dug in front of and beneath the wall rocks and undermined them. (Seems she was after an invader--a mole.)

To prevent her undermining my rock wall again, I laid down a pathway of compacted gravel in front of the new rock wall. This won't stop her from digging within the raised bed, of course, but my new rock wall is reasonably safe.

Problem 6: Mole. Since Mr. Mole travels from my yard to the neighbors yard and back, it isn't a serious problem for the moment. I'll probably have to trap it (...squish...).

Wishing Well (part 1)

A Look at the Space Between the Raised Bed and the Wood Fence.

A portion of the front of the rock wall.

End of the Rock Wall and Start of the Wishing Well.

A Peek Inside the 'Dry' Wishing Well.

Why build a wishing well? I've been asked that by several family members. I don't have a really good answer, it's just that I want to build one, I have the space for one, and I'm enchanted by the sight of them (especially since visiting Colonial Williamsburg in 1999).

There is a sense of mystery with wishing wells. Seeing one, I ask myself, is there water? Is it potable water? What's it taste like? How deep is it? I want to look inside. And, if no one is looking, maybe drop a marble or a pebble inside and count the seconds till I hear a 'plop?'

Mystery and wonder is WHY I wanted to build a backyard well. Not a real one. No hole in the ground. I only wanted to simulate a wishing well. I found plans at Buildeazy for a wooden wishing well, but it didn't appear as large, or as subtantial, or as 'real looking' as I'd like. I did like their plans for a wood bucket and windlass though (crank for bringing up the bucket and rope), and I may eventually build a similar one.

I used concrete building block material because: it is cheap, substantial, easy to use, won't blow over in a wind, and it fit in with my plan for a raised garden bed. It took three trips to The Home Depot with my Ford Explorer to bring all the needed blocks home (for the raised bed and the wishing well).

Monday, June 8, 2009

Garden Accessory Projects (part 3)


This plant container shelf system uses the strength of the fence (including fence rails and fence posts) to support gallon-sized plant containers. It has several advantages. This system foils our Northwest slugs who cannot find their way up to the plant shelving. This system does not use up any precious ground planting space. And the container plants get plenty of air circulation, thus promoting healthy living conditions.

First, I assume that all fence rails have been installed vertically (that is, the nominal 4 inch portion of the 2 by 4 rail is mounted vertically), using fence clips to attach them to the fence posts. Otherwise, you'll have to adapt to your current fence system.

The "support system" consists of several wood Rail Supports (minimum spacing of the rail supports is 3 feet apart). The Rail Supports in turn support the Shelf Brackets. The length of each rail support is determined by the spacing between the existing fence rails. Each Rail Support is notched to fit over the fence rails and end up being flush with the fence boards. The Rail Supports are fastened to the fence rails with 3-inch decking screws.

The shelf Support Brackets are scrap pieces of 2 by 4 cut to the width of the desired shelving. These are fastened to the Rail Supports with decking screws.

The "shelves" are lengths of lath loosely resting on the Support Brackets. The weight of the plant containers holds the lath strips in place. You could also use a couple of 1 by 4's, or 2 by 4's for the shelves. The Support Brackets will hold a lot of weight, so use 2 by 4's or larger stock.

Sketch of a fence 'rail support' and 'shelf bracket' to hold plant containers

The completed fence plant container shelving.

Mounting detail (a Support Bracket is mounted to a rail support)

Mounting Detail (the Support Bracket on the right is screwed to a fence post)

Rail Support board is notched and screwed to fence rails (top and bottom)


I read a book about creating items from hypertufa and decided to try my hand using this medium. I first made a hypertufa planting trough using a cheapo styrofoam cooler for my mold. (The cooler wasn't being used because the lid got crushed. I like to recycle quasi-useful stuff.) I also had some left-over galvanized hardware cloth (1/2-inch by 1/2-inch spacings) that I used as reinforcement. Before applying the 'tufa' mixture to the upside down cooler, I punched two large drainage holes in the styrofoam bottom and made sure there were holes in the hardware cloth at those points. The main advantage of hypertufa is it is comparatively light weight, so moving the completed items is relatively easy. The disadvantages of using hypertufa is the LONG drying time. It will be several days until you can move the project, and a week before you can use it for its intended purpose. You'll also need a pair of tin snips to cut the hardware cloth and gloves for mixing and applying the hypertufa mix. I used wire to hold the metal cloth together in the curves and cut areas. You can use bottle caps to act as spacers between the hardware cloth and the syrofoam ice chest or anything else you may have handy. Just be sure the hardware cloth doesn't show through and that the tufa contacts the styrofoam inside the metal wires. The drawing below shows the process.

Components to create a Hypertufa Trough

Completed Hypertufa Trough with plants.

The photo shows the completed item (one year later). I used the left-over mix to make peek-a-boo 'critter' faces that are placed elsewhere in the garden.

Garden Hypertufa 'critter' with large marble 'eyes'

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Garden Accessories (part 2)

Every garden consists of many elements: bed plantings (of varying heights); focal points (to tie plantings into a cohesive whole (or lack thereof), balance between elements (including ground level and sky level); color (monochrome, riot of color, or lack of color); contrasts between adjacent plants or the individual plant elements (seed heads, petals, petioles, blades etc.); and contrasts between related elements and/or the other hardscaping (structures, ornaments, etc.); and add in movement, taste and odor for good measure.

Garden accessories should "fit into" an overall garden plan. Remember to keep balance, repetition and interest in mind as you consider accessories.

Sometimes, garden "rules" are suggested by the "garden experts". One example is: place your largest shrubs and plants at the rear of a bed and place the smallest at the front. Unconventional wisdom sometimes breaks those rules. It's your choice.

There are other times when the “rules” should be adhered to or your project may appear amateurish. I'm no “expert” but I understand proportions. Ornamentation and garden accessories should fit the scale of the garden. That is why I recommend taking photographs of items you're interested in purchasing to ensure they are not out of scale with the rest of your garden.

It doesn't make sense to plant a large palm or big-leaf banana tree alongside miniature plants--the miniatures will get "lost" in the overall picture. The same idea applies to the ornaments you select. Unless, there is a clear demarcation (such as a garden “room” where you're displaying like-sized gigantic [or miniature] items) keep your accessories in proportion with the rest of the garden.


Trellis (1- by 2-inch lath) to support a row of Scarlet Runner Beans.

I've made several trellises. They are an easy project. Draw your design, then staple the appropriately sized lath pieces together and fasten the completed article to a post (fence, wall, or whatever). Your imagination is the only limiting factor. I've used threllises to support Scarlet Runner Beans and a Honeysuckle vine. I'll build one to support my clematis (if it ever recovers from being eaten by slugs). For a wisteria, use much heavier materials because that trellis will (eventually) support a much greater weight.


I used the same lath spacing that I used for the garden tower to create these garden tables. Each top consists of one 5 1/2-inch wide 5-foot-long fence board cut into three equal lengths.

This table shows cross-bracing--necessary if someone is inclined to sit on it.

This is a table without its top.

This is a completed table (on the front porch).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Garden materials selection

I ain't got a barrel,
I can't go a travellin'...honey,
With nothin' to do,
I'll stick with you,
Side by side.

Remember that song?
I can't verify those are the precise words to the song because I couldn't find it on the Internet (oh my!). It's an oldie though, maybe from the thirties or forties? No matter. I'm not going to hum a few bars.

Because I don't have a barrel of money, I shop carefully, watch newspaper ads, and sometimes attend auctions.

I learned a lot from my Mom and Dad--especially about creative uses for common materials. Dad made wood toy axles by threading the ends of brass welding rod when any kind of steel was scarce during WW2. He also made wooden hinges using nails for the pivots. Mom painted old pickling crockery and used it for outdoor "waste baskets". My brother and I used old drapery rods (the tubular variety) for our blow guns and we cut flat felt scraps into tiny circles and inserted 6-penny nails in the center to make darts (very effective and accurate up to twenty feet or so).

Indirectly, my parents taught me to find creative uses for things that may otherwise be discarded. Hence, I don't throw out much (to the chagrin of my wife, but that's another story). So...what's that got to do with gardening?

When it comes to selecting materials to enhance my garden, I look around. I ask: Does the item I want for my garden have to be made from wood, or concrete, or whatever? I'll also consider the unusual.

I discovered a couple of pallets of 1- by 2-inch wood stock in 12- to 18-foot lengths at a building materials auction. No one else bid on them, so I got them cheap. When others have very little imagination, they pass up deals on GREAT stuff. It took four trips with our 3/4-ton Suburban fully loaded to bring that great pile of wood home. I have it stored and covered in three piles. It is a "lifetime" supply of material. My wife is dubious that I'll use it all, but I time.

A portion of my "lifetime supply" of 1- by 2-inch stock (this one is four feet high).

I've found uses for other stuff, too.

When a tree fell on our house, I chain-sawed some of the trunk into 2 to 6-inch thick rounds for use as "stepping stones" alongside our pond.

Chain-sawn wood rounds used as "stepping stones" around the pond.

I had an excess of rock (left over from my pond-building project) and used some of these leftovers for additional pathways.

Leftover rock is a new pathway from arbor to (as-yet unbuilt) "secret" garden.

My shed is 90% recycled materials.

Interior view of garden mini-shed.

Other ways of saving on materials include: dividing roots, saving seeds, "layering" plants, and propagating hardwood and softwood cuttings to build up my supply of plants.

Mother Nature also provides. Birds (and squirrels) contribute seeds around my yard and under trees (mostly these are undesirable plants, but there have been pleasant surprises). I usually will let things grow until I recognize them to be good or bad plants for my yard before pulling/transplanting them.

Cutting propagation planting tray. Close to the kitchen door.

Saving money is actually fun. Especially in the current economic climate.

It doesn't mean I won't spend money. I do invest in quality concrete and metal post holders and long-lasting pressure-treated wood I also use long-lasting cedar where appropriate.

Because I like the "natural" look of things, I don't use plastic for anything except planting trays or planting pots. I recycle (triple-rinsed) 1-gallon milk containers because I like the ease of carrying several at a time (I leave the handles on and poke holes with an ice pick into the bottoms for drainage). Yeah, they're ugly, but free.

Free 1-gallon containers for starting seeds and cuttings.

I'm even planning a sculpture (or wall plaque?) using old lawn mower parts. I'll call it "yard" art. It will reside in my side garden (so as not to embarrass my honey when she shows off the yard).

Planning each project is important so as not to waste materials. Before I head to The Home Depot, I see what materials I have on hand. If I need 6-foot boards, I don't buy 8-footers and trim off two feet. I'll buy 12-footers instead and cut them in half. No waste, that way, and it's more economical, too.

I realize that this article will be appreciated by like-minded persons. The rest of you can think I'm NUTS. That's okay, it takes all kinds to make a world.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Garden Accessory Projects (part 1)

As a 13-year-old, I was an amateur magician. I couldn't afford ANY of the tricks at the magic shop. Instead of purchasing those, I checked out every library book I could find on magic tricks and hand-built my illusions.

I once constructed a "magic" wooden box (with a little help and all the materials supplied by my Dad). With this special box I made things disappear and reappear (using lights, glass and a mirror). It worked well. But for all the work involved in its construction, my audience was impressed for...maybe...five seconds. I loved showing off that box but HAD to move on to the next trick. What made that "magic" box so special to me was my feeling of accomplishment after building, adjusting, and readjusting until the illusion worked just like the book said it would.

Writing this blog about garden/landscape projects is a lot like presenting my early magic shows. As a landscape magician, I may impress the blogosphere for a few seconds. What impresses an audience today, may not last until tomorrow. What appears simple, often isn't. However, if any project triggers wonder or inspires a reader's mind to try new garden possibilities, there is great reward in that.

How much research and pondering goes into a project before construction begins? How much additional time, money and effort are expended before the final product appears? A lot. But that's unimportant. I'd enjoy the fruits of my labor, and the construction process anyway. The bonus is in sharing them with others.

Today, I'm going to talk about a few simple garden accessories I've made. I think that what makes some items 'work' in my garden are: the particular spot I've chosen (the locus); what draws the eye (the focus); the seeming coordination with nearby garden elements (flow); the element of surprise (or contrast); and the multiplicity of the senses involved (sight, sound, color, and odor). Add in our dog and cat, visiting birds and squirrels (and racoons at night), fluttering and buzzing insects, and fish in the pond--all unpredictable elements, and our yard exhibits still another dimension: movement.

This garden is for people. It offers opportunities to gather, to relax, even to explore and discover.

My hope is that all the elements work together to make the garden a memorable place.


After looking at various gardening books, I decided a tower might be an appropriate focal in a corner of the garden.

I used what was available (my "lifetime" supply of 1 by 2 stock). I drew a simple sketch and played with proportions and spacings. My tower would be four-sided, so I cut and laid out the pieces for one side on a piece of plywood (form shown below).

Plywood pattern with spacings for tower rungs.

To make two opposing sides identical, I tacked spacers to the plywood and laid out the opposing side to match the first. Then, I changed the position of the rungs, keeping the legs in the same position so that the rungs on the two adjacent sides would not interfere during assembly. A cross-brace at the top and bottom will stabilize the structure, though aren't absolutely necessary unless you're transporting it on top of your car or something. (No, I didn't mean it to sound like you mount the thing to your car roof; I meant if you're building it at one place and want to move some distance to another.) To top it off, I cut a 5-foot cedar fence board into three even pieces and stapled them to the top.

Completed tower in a corner of the garden.


Hanging Planter (bottom view)

Hanging Planter (side view)

Another "easy" project if you have access to a 45 degree saw box (or chop saw). Make all your pieces of equal length and put a staple into each corner of 8 frames. Assemble the frames alternating 45 degrees as shown and add another four staples to each to stack them. a couple of strips on the bottom keeps the pots from falling through. I used "dog" chain to hold them, plus cup hooks (found in the kitchen department of major stores) to attach to the chain (see detail).


More tricks using lattice. I used a 7 by 11 spacing to match the grape arbor and kept this spacing for other projects. The little lattice "fence" by the grape arbor keeps our dog from stepping between the winter-flowering daphne and knocking leaves off. These are year-old plants and doggie shot-cuts was having a deleterious effect upon the plants.

New Doggie Deterent fence.

The longer lattice "fence" (shown below) helps keeps the basketball in the adjacent sport court out of this tiny side plot.

Step 1: dig post holes and place posts

Step 2: lay up latticed pieces and staple together

Step 3: level lattice frame at the top and screw the lattice frame to the posts

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Need to hide something? Screen it.

When I built a small shed I had to find a new home for our 15-foot aluminum canoe. I moved the canoe close to our back fence. The neighbors wouldn't have to look at it there.

Our canoe sat, propped off the ground on a 2 by 4 frame until summertime. Occasionally, we hauled it to a nearby lake, paddled it about, and then returned it to its home at the back fence.

Wherever I looked, the canoe and kayak "focals" were always catching my eye.

I enjoy the view from our upstairs bathroom window. Every day I check the weather outside and note any floral progress in the garden. That upended canoe was not a very attractive focal point. I had planted hostas, bleeding hearts and Spanish bluebells in front of the canoe, but that aluminum behemoth rose above the greenery.

I was just getting used to it, when the situation worsened. We acquired a BRIGHT yellow 14.5-foot kayak. Yep. The upended yellow kayak resides above the canoe.

Our kayak and canoe "living out in the open". A small fruiting cherry tree is establishing itself on the left.

From every angle, these watercraft were an eyesore.

What to do? Cover them with a blue tarp? Or a silver tarp? Or devise something permanent because these watercraft were staying a while?

Because our grape arbor looked attractive, it presented me with a design precedent.

I didn't seek wifely approval this time. I instantly knew what would look good. I hurriedly sketched my plan and made another trip to The Home Depot. I purchased two additional pressure-treated 4 by 6 posts, poured concrete footings and plumbed my two new posts. I built the screen of closely spaced 1 by 2's and (with help because of all the weight of the wood) mounted it to the front face of the posts. I could not find upper beams long enough, so I used metal splicing plates and dozens of nails to assemble beams to suit my need. The new upper beams matched those of the grape arbor in style and provide support for hanging planters.

The new screen is quite effective in disguising the watercraft.

The watercraft screen from another viewpoint.

I made a pair of wood plant carriers to match the screening and hung them with lightweight dog chains. The screen lies in near-total shade, so I plant primroses, fuschias, and impatiens in the plant carrier baskets.

I hardly notice the canoe and kayak at all these days. I'll soon plant climbing hydrangeas to train up the posts, which will help soften the architecture of the screen and, when established, will add a new vertical dimension to the existing greenery.

Rebuilding a grape arbor...or, how to spend mucho moolah...

I realized our 35-year-old wobbly wooden grape arbor would not survive another year when I noticed two of its six cedar posts completely rotted off inside their metal support brackets. The tree-side posts seemed to stand higher than the rest of the posts. The brackets themselves were also well rusted.

Note the lower 1/4-inch bolt is almost rusted through in the metal post bracket shown.

The concrete beneath the arbor had cracked and been lifted by tree roots. In any struggle between concrete and tree roots─the roots win.

A portion of our backyard concrete sport court was being repaired/replaced (due to a fallen tree) at this time, so I had our contractor jack-hammer the busted arbor concrete floor and remove it as well.

I don't know which idea came first, a new shady area crushed rock pathway or replacing the arbor floor. I knew that crushed rock for the arbor floor would allow for tree root movement and stay in place.

While considering the rebuilding process, I concluded the old arbor wasn't too practical. It was only six-and-a-half feet tall and made me feel claustrophobic when I stood inside it. It's footprint was also small (just under eight feet wide and eleven feet long), barely enough to accommodate a picnic table. With the low "ceiling" I always had the impression spiders could easily drop onto my head.

I'd read that garden structures (patios, decks, pergolas, etc.) should be generous-sized because our vision of our outdoor space includes neighboring trees and sky.

My advice: BEFORE you build (or buy) something, go outside and visualize your project twice the size you drew on paper and you'll see what I mean. If you buy at the garden centers, take a picture of the item first with someone standing beside it for 'human' scale and then take the photo home and visualize that item on your property. Way too much stuff sold in the garden centers looks tiny (out-of-proportion) when placed in your landscape back home. (In my humble opinion, of course.)

The old arbor posts were cedar 4 by 4's and the horizontal cross beams that tied to the posts were cedar 2 by 4's with cedar 2 by 2's nailed onto the cross beams to support the grapevine. Nearly half of the top 2 by 2's were cracked or broken due to falling limbs over the years. Each of the six posts was crossbraced in two directions with 2 by 4's which somewhat restricted access to and from the arbor. Seven-foot integral benches were fastened between the end posts, which further restricted entry.

Sketch of the old arbor.

I decided that the original 4 by 4 posts looked too skimpy, and six of them were too many. I opted for four 4 by 6 posts and drew a to-scale sketch to determine pleasing proportions. I opted for a pair of 2- by 10-inch by 16-foot-long main beams, which allowed some overhang on each end.

The grape vine was very old and heavy (and the thick trunk appeared brittle), so I left the old arbor temporarily in place. I increased the overall footprint and placed four cardboard tubes (to hold new concrete footings and new post brackets) in their proper places. I was careful to level the tubes to each other using a long 2 by 4 and my level. After the concrete was in the tubes, I carefully set the new metal bracket post supports in the wet mix and tapered the top of each concrete footing to drain off water.

Once the concrete had cured a couple of weeks I placed the four posts and braced them as I would fence posts (I tacked a 1 by 4 to each post and to a nearby stake in two directions after checking for plumb in each direction).

Getting those long heavy 2 by 10's into place required the assistance of my daughter and a stepladder. I tacked a temporary chunk of wood near the top of each post to support the beam from below until I could get a couple huge nails pounded into each end to secure them to the posts. Before raising those beams I fancied up the ends. I started the two cuts with a portable circular saw and finished them with a handsaw.

The "fancy" end required two cuts: one from the bottom and one angled in from the end. Simple, yet effective and decorative.

To tie all the posts together, I cut two 2- by 10-inch cross-beams to fit between the long beams and nailed them to the posts on both ends. I considered adding another crossbeam in the middle (supported by joist hangars), but decided it wasn't necessary.

For wind stability, I cut a pair of 4 by 4 by 8's into eight pieces with 45 degree ends. I will refer to these as the 'angled wood supports'. See cutting pattern below.

If you decide to cut something similar, it helps if you have a 10" or larger chopsaw because these cuts can take a REALLY long time if you're doing it with a hand saw. Home Depot sells a utilitarian Ryobi 10" model for $99.

My 10" Ryobi chopsaw. Very handy for outdoor projects. Lightweight, strong, easy-to-operate (and cheap).

A table saw or a radial arm saw works for this too, but handling 4 by 4 by 8's on a table saw can be challenging. (Should I should write an article about the tools I use when building garden structures some day?)

The dashed lines depict the 4 by 4 cutting pattern. Cutting the wood angled supports goes much faster with a 10" powered chopsaw set at a 45 degree angle.

I mounted the angled wood supports to the posts with 5-inch long 1/2-inch diameter lag screws into pre-drilled and pre-countersunk (at an angle) holes in the brackets.

TOOL TIP: If you're using a hand brace with a lead-in-screw tip on the end of the drillbit, drill the countersink FIRST, otherwise there's nothing for the lead-in screw to grab into except "air".
TOOL TIP: The countersink bit size (diameter) is determined by the outside diameter of the lag bolt washer you use.

My hand brace and countersinking drill bit with lead-in screw tip (shown on left).

I needed a helper (again) to hold the angled wood supports in place while I fastened the lag bolts with a socket wrench.

Note the angled countersink where the bolt attaches to the wooden angled support.

A pair of lag screws (with washers) were attached through the outside of each corresponding beam and into the upper portion of each angled wood support.

Two lag bolts hold the upper end of the wood angled support to the long beam. (If you look closely, you'll see my oopsie, two extra holes drilled to the right of the existing lag screws. Well...I never said I was perfect.)

I placed a couple of 2 by 4's on top and gently eased the vine up to its new location. Then I slipped additional 2 by 4's into place along the long beam while a helper continued lifting the vine (for clearance) with the aid of a long stick.

This is the arbor today. Picture was taken in early spring, the grapevine is just beginning to leaf out and Cookie, our dog, is standing in the rain. She is part Yellow Lab, but definitely not a "water dog", so go figure.

The finished arbor has been in place about a year and I expect it to last at least 30 years. I used pressure-treated lumber and galvanized hardware throughout. The bottoms of the posts should drain freely in the crushed rock.

The arbor is shown with the grapevine in full bloom last summer. That's a cherry tree in the right foreground.

I'm guestimating our rebuilt arbor cost about $500, including forms, hardware and lumber. I bought my materials during the recent housing boom. Perhaps one could build one for less today. If you do, DON'T skimp on the quality of your materials. There's a lot of labor in this project, so you'd want it to last a LONG time.

I cut up the old cedar arbor into small pieces and split it. It had never been treated or painted, so it provided lots of kindling for the firepit.