Monday, October 17, 2016

Training our Wisteria: DIY PVC Pipe Garden Arbor

Right around this time last year, we'd returned back home from our Italian vacation on the grounds of an olive grove and unreal stone farmhouse in the hills of Umbria we'd found on AirBNB. Filled with leisurely sips of local wines and cooking dinners over open fire with simple ingredients — it was an incredible trip and one we think back on often as one for the lifebook. Oh, to return.

We'd sit perched up on the above stone landing overlooking the olive grove each evening under a pergola encased in winding, whimsical wisteria (say that one 3 time fast). The garden made such an impression on us that not 2 months later, you may remember that we'd ordered a wisteria plant starter from Etsy and set out to try our hands at growing a smaller, contained version in our own space (catch up on that full post here).

We had high hopes that the vine would take to its new home here in Virginia, surviving the winter months. In fact, Mary closed that original post with how we'd love to imagine enough eventual growth to train into a canopy over the back fence door.

Over the winter, the plant ended up losing its leaves and even sustained vine breakage in what we can only describe as "misunderstanding" with Basil, so we really weren't sure what to expect when spring came back around. Well, spring has passed and now already at the start to autumn (nearly a year since planting) — we're pleased to report that our wisteria has taken off, showing considerable growth and vining upwards, way above the fence! It's exactly as we'd hoped for:

With trainable vine growth now a reality, we scoured our local garden centers and online go-to sources for an above the fence arbor-like structure. We love the look of wrought iron trellises and above-door arbors, however we don't have a huge amount of backyard space and these structures can tend to be pricey.

Realizing that all we really needed was a simple semi-circle above the fence to train the vine around in order to let the abundance of leaves take center stage, we decided to get creative and construct the look of a curved lacquered metal structure for a fraction of the price. The piece turned out completely custom and is already giving us more of that "secret garden" vibe we like so much.

The big secret? We used PVC pipe which is not only extremely budget-friendly but flexible enough to achieve the curved look we were going for in an above the fence arch. For a more industrial or squared-off look, metal piping could work just as well. I've detailed out the materials and entire step-by-step process we took below in the event it's something that may translate in your own space.

(All PVC 1/2 inch round)
  • PVC pipe
  • 2 x 45 Degree PVC elbows
  • 2 PVC coupling fittings
  • 2 PVC adaptor fittings
  • 2  Floor flange
  • 8 Screws, 1-inch #10
  • Power drill
  • Pipe cutter or hack saw*
  • Spray paint, high gloss black
*Tip: If you've measured in advance, you can have the store cut PVC to size for you!

I started by securing the metal floor flanges into each top fence post that frame the door then screwed a PVC adapter fitting into each. These act as the base that hold the PVC arbor in place.

Next, I cut the length of PVC pipe into 3 separate pieces based on the ideal height and width we were going for to provide coverage above the door. I eyeballed the measurements since our door posts aren't exactly even heights on either side, however for reference, we ended up with 2 roughly 22 inch pipes and a single 24 inch pipe to suspend between the two.

Just before assembling the PVC components in place, Mary spray painted everything in a shiny black color to mimic the lacquered finish of the black metal hardware already on our back garden door.

Once dry, putting the pieces together was straightforward:
  • Fitting each length of the side arch pipe into the adapters
  • Securing a 45 degree PVC elbow at the top of each side pipe, facing toward eachother
  • Suspending the final center piece of PVC pipe between the two in a curved arch
I have to admit, we were both surprised at how simple it was to put together. From there, we wrapped the bushy vine growth up and around the base of the arbor to begin training the growth.

We're excited to see what the winter and next spring bring. While it's likely too soon for the plant to bloom (we hear it can take between 7-15 years), we will be eager to watch it progress again come this time next year. Little by little, our little back patio space is gaining some personality.

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