Some Garden Plans

We are still alive, really. I've just been really really busy with the AIA convention, which was in San Francisco this year. I did a bunch of volunteering for the convention, and also scheduled a bunch of educational sessions, and also spent hours trawling the expo floor (we filled all three Moscone buildings, so the only way to get through it all and also take advantage of the info sessions was to go through the aisles at top speed). More on some things I found there later, when I've had a chance to go through all the stuff I picked up and review my notes.

Anyway, over the last week or so Noel and I have had a couple of discussions about making a small pergola for the passiflora (passifloras are where we get passionfruit from) to grow over. It is currently wrapped around a tomato cage and running out of room. This would also be practise for making the foundations for the deck, so we're talking about the world's most over-built pergola, here. Which is a good change from the usual flimsy trash you see in catalogs. Should we get another tornado, our pergola will be going nowhere.

This is the entrance to the back garden, and I wanted it to really be something more than just a thing to hold a large aggressive vine. Here's what I came up with as far as design:

Passiflora Pergola

That's a very simple post-and-beam structure with a series of decorative beams across the top. We'll fill in the sides with a wire framework for the passiflora to climb up, and maybe I can plant another clematis on the other side (I'd been planning kiwis, but have been informed that kiwis will require way more room).

I modeled it out in Sketchup, mostly so I could play with shapes for the upper decorative beams. We're going to build this out of redwood and then (horror of horrors!) paint it red. At the base it will be about four feet wide by four feet deep, to give room to get things through. After modeling, it's apparent that the 4x4 posts take up a lot of that space, so we may even make it wider.

I'd originally been trying to figure out how to put a little bench in there, but the pergola will be right under our neighbor's bedroom window, so I doubt I'll want to spend lots of time sitting there.

This will be a good test of our ability to do more fancy woodwork. Noel has been playing Mad Scientist in the basement, and has some ideas about how to approach this. Which is good because quality craftsmanship and I are not good friends.

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posted by ayse on 05/04/09


lurker here ... my only concern is that while the curves of the decorative beams look awesome, you will likely have to waste a good bit of wood to make them. It may also be harder to find 2" thick stock that is wide enough to allow you to cut the curves and still have strong beams. Maybe straight beams with more detailed curved ends would be easier/stronger/cheaper? Tough trade-off b/c the design you've come up with is really elegant.

Shadow, I designed the beams to cut out of nominal 2x12 stock, which is available locally. Then Noel pointed out that we could use 2x6 stock and use the inside of the curve to cut the top of the curve, making a joint on each side. Since the beams only have to be sized to resist wind loads, which are pretty minimal on a non-sheathed structure, they can be considerably smaller than they are and still have more than the capacity required. (My calculations show that using 2-by stock I could bring the size down to just slightly more than 2 inches and still make the span just fine; I drew it around 4 inches in the arch.)

Don't know where you could find it - but I remember Norm Abrams making a pergola ages ago - not sure if was on This Old House or New Yankee Workshop. I think it was all notched to fit together as well as screwed and probably bolted also. It was probably 5 to 10 years ago as I haven't had TV for over 5 years.

If you could find the old episode it might help alot with planning the structure.

I just searched - New Yankee Workshop sells plans or plans + DVD. And they have over a dozen pictures that fans sent in of their projects based on it. Should be good for ideas even if you don't want to spend some cash. Or see if your public library has any of the old episodes (I am always amazed at what I can find at the library).

I do like your curved top - but you may need another layer of small pieces running front to back (maybe 1x1xhowever long it is) to help support the plants if they get to the top.

Have fun!

Cheryl, I've seen that episode (I'm a big Norm Abrams fan). Pergolas are really very simple structures, as long as you understand post and beam construction. That's a good episode if you have no experience with post and beam, but a bit elementary for me.

Also a longtime lurker...Passiflora will eat up that four foot passageway in no time. You'll spend less time hacking it out of the path if you increase the span as much as the crossbeams will allow. Besides, wider looks better. I was mingy with the paths in the back yard (didn't want to "waste" planting space!) and they never looked right. Front yard, the contractor said five feet, and he was right. Much better.

I have to be a bit careful about width in this location: there's only about nine feet between the house and property line, and the neighbor's house is almost right on the property line, so too wide will look way out of proportion.

And for whatever reason, this passiflora ('Frederick') is pretty laid back. Every other one I've dealt with has grown out of control and huge in short amounts of time, but this one has been in the ground for years and this is the first time it's needed more than a tomato cage to hold it up.

I LOVE it just the way it's drawn- I t will be beautiful. Dee ( another lurker)

When you say that Passiflora spp. are aggressive, how aggressive do you mean? Like wisteria aggressive, as in they'll go under shingles and house trim? Or aggressive like autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) in that it'll grow a long way but maybe won't try to eat your house?

Not wisteria aggressive, Susan. Just willing and able to grow into really big vines that get too heavy for their structures (I've seen a bunch of flimsy arbors taken down by passifloras left unpruned).

I really like the design for the pergola, will be interested to see how it turns out.

Note: We're getting pummeled with spam comments, so I've turned off the ability to use any HTML or include any links for the time being. Email with any issues.

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