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Gardens are flowers, trees, shrubs, pools, fruits, vegetables, paths, birds and weeds.
Sometimes, they are buildings, too.
Consider old-fashioned summerhouses, gazebos, trellises, arbors, lattices, porticos, pergolas and porches.
Trelliswork is an old garden art that began as an openwork or fence to support climbing plants. It sometimes was used as the framework of an arbor.
All of this conjures up a vision of Victorian gardens with climbing roses and morning glories and lemonade in the pergola.
In medieval gardens, trellises were often part of the pleasance or pleasure garden, planned to be used by the ladies of the manor.
During the Moorish occupation of Spain, the art of trellising was highly developed. Pergolas were common, especially in the lavish medicine gardens in the first botanical garden planted in 1555 as part of the royal gardens at Aranjuaaz and later, in the 17th century herbarium at Barcelona.
Eventually the trellised arbor developed into a sort of tunnel, a very shady and cloistered retreat. By the end of the 16th century, it was considered an essential part of any really fine garden.
At this time, the French created elaborate structures called trelliages, a word that denotes a more refined and architectural use of trellises.
Renaissance gardens were often formal, with paths and beds forming designs. They were accented by pergolas or summerhouses carefully spaced for a symmetrical balance.
In the 18th century, French-inspired trelliswork was popular in Britain. Many English books on landscape design recommended trellises made of fine oak strips in a crisscross pattern. Sometimes they were fancy and attractive.
Many of gardens surrounding gazebos were quite architectural with mazes, topiary, clipped hedges and parterries, a sort of evergreen architecture, since very little stone or wood was included except for the gazebo.
Sometimes the owner of the garden would have a yew hedge clipped to spell his name, considered to be, in the parlance of the time, “a pretty conceit.”
Earlier in Italy, the Florentine countryward movement was in vogue around 1417. It was begun by Cosimo de Medici who bought an estate at Corregio and employed a landscape architect to design the gardens, complete with trellises.
These gardens were all the rage within a few years. Many affluent Romans, in particular, began to ornament their gardens with trellises, pergolas and statuary. The latter were sometimes actual antiquities dug up in ancient Roman ruins.
Archeology remained a fashionable interest all during the Renaissance, to the great detriment of ancient sites which were ransacked for garden ornaments.
This interest had a revival in the 18th century in England, when the landed gentry often built quite extensive “ancient ruins” in their gardens to be picturesque, as they put it.
All through the Victorian period and well into the next century, the romantic idea of ancient ruins and antique statues in gardens held a firm place. Many pergolas, gazebos and trellis arbors were placed just where their owners could best gaze upon them.
In gardens too small to have a “ruin” it was a good idea anyway to have a summer afternoon tea party in the summerhouse, or pergola, arbor or gazebo, as the case might be.
Statuary was still popular as garden ornaments, as it is today, and for a time in the late 19th century a pedestal holding a large mirrored globe called a gazing ball was a popular garden ornament designed to reflect moving clouds, birds, butterflies, and the colors of many flowers.
Pleaching has been a popular garden art since early times.
This is a method of training young trees and hardy vines over a framework to create a sort of bower or arbor with the walls and roof of living foliage.
There are many references in old books to pleached arbors where pears, peaches and apricots were grown.
This is similar to the art of the espalier, who trains fruit trees and vines to grow flat against garden walls, a great boon to a small garden and decorative for one of any size.
Climbing roses have always been popular for trelliswork arbors. Honeysuckle or woodbine, as it was often called, was fashionable for this in Victorian times.
Grapevines make beautiful arbors, especially if several varieties of grapes are grown together.
A wonderful book, “The Gardener’s Labyrinth, published in 1577 by Thomas Hyll, gives detailed instructions for the construction of garden knots, mazes, labyrinths, vistas, arbors, pergolas, pleaching espaliaring, trelliswork and topiary — everything any one would want to know about creating the sort of formal, orderly garden which has gone in and out of fashion for so many hundreds of years.
It is interesting in looking back over a long span of time that gardens planned and designed as architecture with every leaf part of the ordered pattern always have a limited appeal and are invariably followed by a return to natural or woodland or picturesque or even wild gardens as a protest against too much plan and order.
And then the cycle is repeated as the perfect, formal architectural garden is again in vogue.
It would seem that currently we are in a sort of transition period between these two extremes, and the combination of styles is undeniably attractive. One wonders which way it will all go next.
Meantime, gazebos are again popular and would still be a lovely place for serenity and lemonade on a hot, late summer afternoon.
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Ellen Probert Williamson lives in Kingston. Her column appears regularly in the Roane County News.