How to make arbours and tunnels using natural materials

In the last of the Gardens Illustrated series on garden structures, we show you how to make arbours and tunnels using natural materials. 


Arbours and tunnels

Using hazel, willow and birch you can create stunning structures that offer a sense of grandeur in places where a permanent building might be too much of a commitment. Their temporary status can also be seen as a great opportunity to experiment and have fun.



One of the joys of creating your own structures is that they are never the same from one year to the next and can be both decorative and practical. This short arbour (1) supports climbing beans and also forms the entrance to a hedged enclosure within a kitchen garden. It can be made each year by pushing diametrically opposed pairs of birch branches into the ground. These are then arched over each other and held in place by loosely twisting the twiggy ends around each other. Birch can make particularly soft-looking structures that are pleasing to both the eye and the gripping tendrils of climbing plants.

In the kitchen garden of Rockcliffe House in Gloucestershire [look out for our feature in the May 2017 issue of Gardens Illustrated], head gardener Thomas Unterdorfer and his gardener Rommel use hazel to build a series of arches for the kitchen garden (2). Rommel creates the pleasing vaulted shape by using four hazel rods to form a square footing, which is complemented by the simple decoration of the straight horizontals and lower single arch on each side that enclose the ‘roof canopy’. 

Finishing flourishes, such as the loops that join the woven rows and crown the end arches of this woven hazel tunnel (3) in the walled gardens at Attingham Park, Shropshire, can add a wonderful element of whimsy. Such covered structures work just as well in a small garden, because they make great use of vertical space.


Words Kristy Ramage and Jacky Mills

Photographs by Jason Ingram

This article was taken for a longer feature in the March issue of Gardens Illustrated (245). 



Reader Event: Plot to plate in the kitchen garden at Great Dixter SOLD OUT
previous feature Article
Book of the month - Bizarre Botany
next feature Article
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here