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How to Build an Arbour
Arbours are covered, sheltered spaces that often contain a seat. Differing from pergolas as they usually have just one open side, arbours are also not part of a garden through route. A tall wall in your garden makes a great backing for an arbour. The cross beams can be supported by it, with posts at the front. Adding an arbour to a really hot patio makes it possible to create an area of instant shade. Where slabs can't be lifted or you have an unbroken expanse of concrete, you would need to use Metpost bolt down fixings, to secure arbour posts. You can see arbours made from trained hedges, or combinations of walls, posts and curved metal structures supporting climbing plants in many historic gardens. Planting an arbour over a seat with scented climbers such as honeysuckle (Lonicera) makes a great place to sit. This workshop shows you how to make a timber arbour. You can adapt the principles to suit your needs. Dimensions: Start by drawing your arbour to help you work out the timber you'll need. Height: Take into account the space climbers will need - leave enough headroom to walk underneath the arbour to get to the seat. 2.15 m is a minimum, 2.5 m is better. Width: allow plenty of space for the growth of plants. Allow for the type of seat you plan to use, or if you want to make shade over a place for outdoor eating, the table and chairs that will occupy the arbour. Depth: a minimum depth would be the depth of the seat you will use plus another 50 cm or so, making a large, deep arch. For an instant shade arbour to house tables and chairs, set these out and decide how much cover you will need to fit the site.
you will need
All timber to be pressure treated posts: 10 cm x 10 cm x 3.2 m - 60 cm to be sunk in the ground, 10 cm to stand above the cross beams - enough to support the cover of the top of your arbour; cross beams: 2.5 cm x 15 cm x length - allow an overhang of 20 cm beyond the side posts; side beams to link front to back use 2.5 cm x 15 cm planks enough to fit the depth of your arbour; rafters: use 2.5 cm x 2.5 cm or 5 cm x 5 cm for rafters laid over cross beams; tape and pegs to mark out; spade; hardcore and concrete or Metposts; sledge hammer for Metposts; cross or roof beams: 2.5 cm x 15 cm planks; bolts, screws or nails to fix - these must be rustproof; steps; spirit level. Optional: Metpost bolt downs if fixing arbour posts to areas of paving; trellis panels to form back and sides and support plant cover to enclose the arbour; a post hole borer or a powered aul for making post holes - these can be hired; drill if using bolts; joist shoes or hangers if attaching arbour to a wall at the back; paint or timber stain; finials to finish the post tops.
Paint or staining timber a colour: paint all parts of your arbour with two coats before building begins. It's easier to cover every part before you have put them into place. Mark where the posts are to go in the ground. Either dig each hole to a depth of 60 cm, and as half as wide again as your posts. Or put Metposts into position, hammering them into the ground so that the tops are flush with the soil level. Make sure that all post holes line up, however many you are using. If installing an arbour over a hard surface that you don't want to disturb, put the Metpost bolt downs into position.
Using mortar: Put the posts in position and keep them vertical using hardcore. Check with a spirit level. Add mortar to each hole and push down around the posts. Finish the mortar about 5 cm below soil level. Leave to go off or set. Metposts: put posts into the metal brackets and tighten them, making sure they are vertical. Make sure the posts are square with each other.
When you have installed all the posts, fit the cross beams. Measure 10 cm down from the top of each post and make a mark. Take the first cross beam and fix it to the front of the first post so that the top of the plank rests on the 10 cm mark you made. You may need some help to support this while you work. Then fix the other side of the cross beam after you have checked that it is level. Repeat this for the second cross beam on the same post. Carry on until you have fitted all of your arbour cross beams.
Side beams: add these now, fixing them to the front and back of the arbour posts. If your arbour is backed by a wall, fix the side beams to a metal joist shoe which has been attached to the wall at the right height. You could make a notch joint in these so that they fit snugly under the cross beams. Rafters: Add rafters to fit on top the arbour cross beams. Make these overhang the front and back cross beams for an attractive edge. Again, these can be given a notch joint for a neater finish. Otherwise, use rustproof nails. Back and Side trellis: add panels of trellis to the posts along the back of your trellis if they form part of your design. Make sides with trellis panels which fit between the upright posts.
Fill in with soil around the top of each post hole if you have mortared them. Or rake soil around to cover the top of the Metpost brackets. Check that all post tops are level - you may have to trim them. Sawn ends of treated timber should be given a coat of wood preservative. Add decorative finials or post tops now if you are using them. Your arbour is now ready to plant up.
Fix your first posts against the wall
Add the rest of the uprights and crossbars
Finish off with plants and a seat

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