By Sean Conway
You can make a beautiful Arts and Crafts-inspired trellis using willow whips and a durable wood such as mahogany or red cedar.
A climbing vine on a trellis can create a stunning focal point by adding height to the garden. It can work as an architectural structure for privacy and can even cool down a house by shielding it from direct sunlight.
With winter only barely behind us, cooling your house or adding shade to your garden may not be foremost in your mind. But there's no time like the present to plan your garden and build the simple structures you want to add to it.
Furniture maker Sylven Medyesy visited "Cultivating Life" and taught me how to build a trellis that provides a useful climbing structure for twining vines. This particular trellis combines an Arts and Crafts design with a rustic look and is best made with mahogany or red cedar because these woods are rot resistant and age beautifully.
Materials you'll need to make this trellis are: red cedar or mahogany 2-by-4 boards totaling about 20 feet in length, ripped lengthwise to create thinner boards and cut to specified lengths; eight 60-inch willow twigs, about 1/4 inch thick; copper wire; deck screws; weatherproof glue; and poultry staples.
Tools you'll need include a table saw and miter saw, a router and bit, a chisel, bar clamps, a drill, a countersink drill bit, wire cutters and a hammer.
The design of this trellis consists of two rectangular frames, one large and one small. Each frame is made up of horizontal and vertical pieces that overlap at their joints to form a shape something like an elongated a tic-tac-toe grid. The joints of each frame are lap joints, glued and clamped and then fastened with screws.
The smaller frame is laid upon the larger and also fastened with lap joints, glue and screws. The larger, outer frame has two long legs, which are planted 24 inches into the ground to hold the entire structure upright. (Because the wood will be in the ground, it's important that it be rot resistant.)
Making lap joints is a matter of laying the horizontal pieces over the vertical ones and making marks on each board where the other intersects. Then you remove a section of wood from each piece between the marks so that the resulting joint is the thickness of the thickest member. The easiest way to do this is with a table saw and a sharp chisel (with curve facing down) to clean out the waste, but you can use a handsaw and chisel as well.
Once the frames are connected, it's time to add the willow. Using a router, make grooves in the wood on the inside corners of the inner frame. Set two pieces of willow in each groove and attached in a C shape and reverse-C shape. The willow will naturally want to bend in the opposite direction. This will leave you with a pretty design and extra fine points for the vine to hang onto. Where willow touches sides of the inner frame, add u-staples with a hammer. And where willow crosses, add some copper wire to make the willow structure more stable.
The result is an attractive and durable trellis ideal for training your favorite flowering vines. It's not a good idea to attach the trellis to your house, as vines trap a lot of moisture and that may not be so good for your siding. If you want the trellis to adorn a side of your house, plant it in the ground about 4 to 6 inches from the wall.
© Cultivating Life by Sean Conway