Gardens Illustrated
A homemade hazel tunnel
© Jason Ingram

How to make a garden arbour and tunnel using natural materials

Published: June 27, 2022 at 9:42 am
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Inspiration and expert advice on how to make a garden arbour and tunnel using natural materials. Words Kristy Ramage and Jacky Mills, Photographs Jason Ingram

Using hazel, willow and birch as materials for climbing supports you can create stunning structures in the garden 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. Here you'll find some ideas and advice for using birch and hazel in the garden and inspiration for three natural garden structures.

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A homemade arbour

What is an arbour?

An arbour is a shady garden alcove with the sides and roof formed by trees or climbing plants trained over a framework.

How to make an arbour

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 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.

A garden arbour
Loosely twisting the twiggy end of birch acts as a 'roof' on this small arch way and will give climbing plants extra support © Jason Ingram

A homemade garden arch

In the kitchen garden of Rockcliffe House in Gloucestershire, head gardener Thomas Unterdorfer and his gardener Rommel use hazel to build a series of hazel arches for the kitchen garden. 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’.

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How to make a hazel arch
Improve the appearance of your kitchen garden or allotment with an attractive natural support for climbing vegetables like broad beans and peas. © Jason Ingram

A homemade hazel tunnel

Finishing flourishes, such as the loops that join the woven rows and crown the end arches of this woven hazel tunnel 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.

A homemade hazel tunnel
Be creative when making natural structures and support and you might end up with a sculptural design that will add interest to the garden © Jason Ingram
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