Why keep the beauty of timber framing behind closed doors?
Create a special garden escape using open timber-framed structures.

Does your garden lack privacy or shade? Does your new home feel too exposed because there are no mature trees to screen it from the street? Would a covered walkway to shelter the path leading from your house to the garage make snow days a little easier? Timber-frame garden architecture can provide the perfect solution for landscape challenges like these. A pergola or an arbor can instantly transform a barren building site into a pleasing arrangement of outdoor rooms and sheltered garden paths. Small, open, timber structures can be used to create outdoor rooms to protect hot tubs, picnic tables and play areas.

Pergolas and Arbors
The term pergola is not often used today and is sometimes thought to be simply another word for arbor. “Not so,” says Gail Steger, a member of the American Association of Landscape Architects. “An arbor is a type of portal one would pass through or walk under. It has upright supports and an overhead element, generally the width of a walkway. A pergola is a free-standing larger unit, large enough for several people to gather under.”

Elaborate portals, colonnades and pergolas fashioned from heavy timbers have adorned gardens in Europe and Asia for thousands of years but garden architecture did not become popular in North America until the early years of the 20th century. The Arts and Crafts movement, a major influence on domestic design at the turn of the century, introduced pergolas and garden rooms to the American public.

On the West Coast where the mild, maritime climate and long growing season encouraged outdoor living, architects Bernard Maybeck, the Greene brothers and others began to design houses that featured bands of windows and glass doors and rooms opening onto patios and gardens. The new craftsman house erased the solid barrier between inside and outside. From Southern California to British Columbia, landscape features like arbors, pergolas and small garden shelters became important elements of the whole house design.

As the Arts and Crafts movement spread across the country so did the interest in garden architecture. Some older neighborhoods still display such a riotous growth of flowering vines and shrubs that the houses themselves seem to burst into bloom every spring.

Feelings about home and garden today are much the same as they were 100 years ago. Whether your house is simple or elaborate you still want to create a comfortable, nourishing environment where you can relax and enjoy life with family and friends. Privacy and sanctuary are still high priorities and fine craftsmanship is appreciated as much as ever.

Outdoor Environment
There have been a few changes in the domestic environment during the past century that are worth noting because of their influence on landscape design. In earlier years a carriage house and other outbuildings set apart from the main dwelling created opportunities for courtyard gardens that were sheltered by the exterior walls of adjacent buildings.

Today, the house and garage are usually connected. This arrangement has the effect of creating two separate outdoor environments, a front yard facing the street and a backyard behind the house. The front yard is usually a lawn that is contiguous with the lawns of its neighbors. If there is no front porch, the space behind the house is often the only available outdoor living area. In many backyards, privacy can be achieved only if hedges are planted or fences are built along the property lines to create visual barriers.

Clusters of new single-family houses in suburban developments are frequently located along winding streets or in cul-de-sacs. Such places can feel barren until young trees and shrubs mature. Imagine a new development complemented by vinecovered pergolas that create privacy screens between houses and graceful arbors that shelter common pathways. Designs for garden architecture can be simple or decorative, classic or modern.

Their supporting columns can be made of timbers, stone, concrete or brick. No matter how they are constructed, garden structures are always a useful vertical element in a new landscape where trees are not yet established. Cloaked with fast growing vines like honeysuckle, evergreen clematis, jasmine or hops, an arbor or pergola can provide an instant visual barrier while slower growing plants like wisteria and climbing roses are maturing. A sturdy timber pergola can even stand up to heavy vines like kiwi and grapes.

Form and Function
A garden structure is the perfect way to hide an unsightly view from your house. Some new houses built in rural areas inherit a neighborhood that may include a view of an old dairy barn to the east, nice; and a graveyard for abandoned vehicles to the west, not so nice. One solution to this problem is to eliminate all the windows on the “junk yard” side of the house. Instead, why not install a garden structure in a location where it will block the unwanted view? Plant a hedgerow behind it, and in time, you will have a charming outdoor sitting room at the edge of your garden.

If you live in a mild climate and your home includes a cluster of separate buildings—a house, a garage and a studio, for example—consider using an arbor or a pergola to link the buildings. A climbing rose and a honeysuckle vine can turn a simple walk to the garage into a sensual treat. When your climate demands more protection from the weather, shelter your frequently used path with a series of simple timber frame roof trusses supported by timber posts.

When you design your house be sure to consider all the transition areas. An abrupt transition from inside to outside can feel awkward. In contrast, entering or leaving a building through a passage that offers both shelter and visual connection to the outdoors is a much more comfortable experience.

The possibilities for using open timber frame structures to expand the living areas of your house and your garden are only limited by your imagination. A simple timber structure can transform an abrupt entrance. A roofed timber frame garden structure or a vine covered pergola can function as an entry, a covered patio or a leafy outdoor room where you can relax and enjoy a few peaceful moments in the privacy of your garden.

Story by Judith Landau