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The Trellis Trend

  Remember the trellises of your grandparents’ day? A plain white fan by
the front porch with a rose rambling along it? A flat latticework grid leaning
up against a wall with ivy or clematis weaving up to the top? Today, Kentucky
gardeners are experimenting with new shapes, new materials, and a variety of plants
to create trellises that are delightfully eye-catching.

Garden centers, hardware stores, and home improvement warehouses throughout the
Bluegrass State have expanded their traditional offerings of redwood and cedar
trellises to include pressure-treated lumber, vinyl-clad metal, wrought iron,
and even sturdy PVC plastic trellises in a variety of shapes and sizes. And backyard
do-it-yourselfers are experimenting with bending wood (fresh willow branches form
easily) to create appealing designs such as hearts, leaves, and arched tops. Why
the sudden revival of trellises in Kentucky gardens?

  Trellises offer a relatively inexpensive way to add a new design element
to any size garden. Louis Hillenmeyer, Lexington native and owner of three garden
centers there, notes, “A trellis can create a softening effect on a wall. I compare
it to hanging a picture on a wall indoors: outdoors, if you have blank space between
two windows a trellis can add interest. If you have a narrow space that’s not
quite big enough for a tree or shrub, a trellis might be just right.”

  Not all trellises are anchored to a wall or porch. A freestanding trellis
can function as a screen to hide work areas, as a fence to divide one section
of a garden from another, or to mark property lines. An attractively shaped trellis
can also stand alone as a focal point, similar to the effect created by a statue
or birdbath. 

A trellis can provide instant shade, something many homeowners with few trees
in yards with southern exposure really appreciate. The north side of a trellis
in such a situation can become a microclimate, with the dappled shade and slightly
cooler temperatures that are just right to encourage certain plants to thrive
at its base. It’s also a perfect spot for a bench or lawn chair for relaxing. 

  Rick Durham, Lincoln County native and home horticulturalist specialist
with the county Extension service at UK, notes another advantage: “With a trellis,
you’re extending your growing space upward. A trellis adds height for plants and
that’s a good option for many small-space gardeners.” 

  Indeed, fruit and vegetable gardeners are discovering that ornamental trellises
make fine supports for blackberries, raspberries, pole beans, and tomatoes. Durham
says, “The best tomatoes for trellises are the indeterminate type, that is, a
tomato plant that keeps growing all season and can be pruned. The grape tomatoes
work especially well and look terrific.”

  Durham also recommends vining (not bush-type) cucumbers and garden peas
for trellis culture. Gourd vines enjoy a ramble up a trellis, too, and provide
a surprising accent in the garden.

Flower choices aren’t limited to old-fashioned roses or clematis, either. “Just
about any plant that you can train will work well on a trellis,” Hillenmeyer says,
“if you’re willing to put in a little time and effort. 

  Hardy pea vines are quite vigorous growers with lots of flowers, and Gold
Flame honeysuckle vine also looks good. There are some new climbing hydrangeas
on the market, too.” Hillenmeyer also likes two plants native to Kentucky-trumpet
vines, which attract hummingbirds, and Dutchman’s-pipe, a flowering vine that’s
important in the life cycle of several native butterflies. 

  Many other fast-growing vines make good companions for trellises. Morning
glories and sweet peas, traditionally grown on fences, can literally reach new
heights on trellises. Durham notes that some non-native perennial plants from
warmer climates can also be grown successfully on Kentucky trellises, if they’re
treated as annuals. Mandevilla, sometimes called Chinese jasmine, grows readily
from seed and produces fragrant pink or white flowers. There’s even a native passionflower
vine (passiflora incarnata) that survives Kentucky winters by dying back to the
root, then sending up fresh shoots in the spring. 

  Kentucky’s weather extremes do require a little extra planning on the part
of trellis gardeners. When attaching a trellis to an existing wall, Kentucky gardeners
have found that it pays to leave at least 3 inches of space between the trellis
grid work and the wall. Not only does this give the plant room to grow, it also
promotes good air circulation during humid summers. 

  Freestanding trellises must be firmly anchored to the ground to withstand
Kentucky’s gusty winds in any season. Whether installing a commercially made trellis
or a do-it-yourself creation, Kentucky gardeners need to use 18-inch stakes belowground
to provide a firm attachment for the trellis’ uprights.

As with any garden project, it’s important to match the size and shape of the
structure to the growth habits of the new plant.

Trellis Types

Whether wood or wire or plastic suits your gardening scheme, you’ll want to think
about the size and shape of your garden structure first. Here are your choices:

Trellis

  A flat framework attached to a wall, or a freestanding flat structure that
offers support for a plant; may consist of a simple rectangular grid pattern,
curving lines, or some combination.

Arbor

  Provides an over-the-head growing space with an open, shady area underneath,
rather like an inverted “U”; top may be arched or flat.

Pergola

  An arbor big enough to walk through, rather like a tunnel; often used dramatically
to accent the view at the other end.

Espalier

  Not really a structure, but the effect of training a plant on a structure
so the plant takes a certain shape; a plant growing up against a trellis, arbor,
or pergola may be tied and pruned to form a certain design; wires and strings
may be attached to a wall or fence to provide something for the plant to be tied
to.-Nancy S. Grant

Trellis Tips

  Consider the effect of the weather on your building materials. Use galvanized
nails or waterproof nylon cord to hold trellis pieces together. Avoid materials
that will rust or rot.

Plan ahead for maintenance. If you’re attaching a trellis to an existing wall
or porch, use hooks and eyes and a furring strip instead of screws. If you change
your mind or need to paint, you can move the trellis with ease.

  Choose a style you’ll be comfortable maintaining. Do you have the time
to clip, trim, tie, and otherwise train a plant into a formal shape? Would you
prefer a wilder, more natural look that takes little effort?

  Match plant size to the structure. A mature wisteria vine is extremely
heavy and needs a very sturdy trellis to grow on. Get to know the growth habits
of the plants you’re considering before you install your trellis.

  Be willing to experiment. Vines are a natural for trellises, but plenty
of other plants will appreciate some support. Zinnias and sunflowers can be attractive
poking up through a latticework-and they won’t be flattened in the next windstorm.
Try new combinations-you might make a beautiful new discovery!

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