Intuition is better than detailed planning when your garden project is building an arbor from limbs, twigs, branches and found wood. With a little knowledge and a lot of imagination, you can fashion a sturdy frame, bracing lintels and a leafy canopy into a garden bower that's functional, inexpensive and truly unique.
Select your site by determining how you want to use your arbor. Arbors are often sited at property or garden gateways, atop a stairway slope or as a boundary marker between home and garden. If you're planning to use your arbor to support growing flowers or vegetables, select a sunny site with good soil and adequate drainage. You may also slip a chair or bench beneath the arbor canopy and snap your green bean harvest on-site by placing your arbor at the entrance to your garden.
Locate 6 sturdy limbs or small trees for an arbor that will be about 6 feet high and 4 feet wide. They should be relatively straight and at least 7 feet long. Use loppers and clippers to remove any twigs or branches that are growing outward from the limb, but leave the notches in place.
Lay your 6 sturdy limbs out flat near the site you have selected. These will be your garden arbor posts and form the four corner posts, or arbor frame, and two top lintels.
Cut four of the posts to approximately the same height. Keep in mind you'll lose about 8 inches from your final arbor height when you plant the limbs into the ground.
Dig four holes at least 8 inches deep and about 4 feet apart to mark your future arbor's corners.
Place your corner posts in the holes. Back-fill each hole securely with gravel, clay and stones, tamping the dirt down with your foot every 3 inches until the post is secured.
Trim the remaining two long limbs to approximately the same size as each other, about 6 feet long.
Use the excess wood, if needed, to brace the corner posts.
Lay one limb horizontally across the two front corner posts, leaving about a foot of overhang on each side. This forms your front lintel.
Use wood screws, twine or wire to secure the lintel to the corner posts. You could also notch the corner posts with a small hatchet to open a space where the lintel could be cradled while being secured.
Repeat the lintel-attachment process with the second set of corner posts and the last remaining long limb.
Begin building up the arbor's sides by laddering smaller branches and limbs horizontally to connect the front left and back left corner posts, then the front right and back right corner posts.
Secure each laddered stair with wood screws or twine. Start at the base of the arbor and work your way up. You can make your sides as open or dense as you like. Make creative use of the branches and twigs that you have gathered to use notches, forks and meandering stems as connectors or braces.
Fill in the openings with more sticks and twigs until you've achieved the desired effect.
Use the thin, wand-like branches from such trees and bushes as willow trees, spicebush, sassafras and honeysuckle to build the canopy. Choose the longer pieces, at least five feet long, to form the base of your canopy, draping the ends across the tops of your arbor's side walls, and allowing for some overhang on both sides.
Secure the canopy base by intertwining the pieces with each other. You can use twine or florist's wire to secure the base to the walls and to the lintels for improved stability in wind and weather.
Continue adding twigs and branches until your canopy is complete.
Secure twine or string to the posts to train climbing vines, roses or vegetables to cover your arbor with food or fragrance.
If your soil is sandy or unstable, set your posts a little deeper and use quick-setting cement to keep your structure in place.