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Stakes, Cages, A-Frames, Arbors

And Other Support Structures

Did you know that plants can dance? Sure, they can. Scientists call very slow plant movements caused by their growth "tropisms" - and they need our help in the way of support structures to let them grow naturally.

An example is the way the tendrils of a pea plant stick out and around and curl around a stake, in order to keep the main pea vine erect and secure. If there was nothing for those tendrils to grab onto, the vine wouldn't be able to bear. Plants are motivated to grow in a certain direction by light, gravity and "feel." When there's a structure to grab onto, they will.

Slow-motion photography shows that these "tropisms" look a lot like dancing. So think of "permaculture" - providing supports for plants to grow upon - as sort of their "stage" for their "dancing."

The fun part of permaculture is that you can make your kids' garden accommodate more creative, inspiring experiences at the same time that you are enhancing the growing environment for the plants.

§  You can be creative: instead of throwing away a broken ladder, keep it as a home for a climbing plant!

§  An old chair with a missing seat will soon have a "new" one if a plant is allowed to grow up and over.

§  Even an antique bicycle wheel can provide a structure for a climbing flower or vegetable which otherwise would be stumped and stunted, with nowhere, literally, to grow.

§  An interesting piece of driftwood, an old tree stump with neat texture, or a curving branch all can be interesting supports.

§  And if you don't have anything like that, don't worry - garden centers have a huge selection of heights, widths and types of garden stakes and trellises that will do the same thing. Similarly, scrap wood and inexpensive wiring can come together into A-frame trellises for cucumbers.

§  Eight-foot beanpoles can be arranged in tepee form, sunk into the ground about a foot each, to allow beans or black-eyed Susan vine to grow up and make a fun hideout in the shade.

§  Posts and wire can be arranged for grapevines, berry bushes, tomatoes and many other plants.

§  Tall (over 5') cylinders are familiar support structures for tomato plants.

§  Children will enjoy climbing through a tunnel of a series of bendable plastic tubing, stuck into the ground on both ends in a half-circle, with gourds growing up, down and all around the tunnel.

§  If your siding or exterior walls can handle it, growing ivy, climbing roses or other plants up the side of a house can be a stunning decoration.

§  For plants that need an extremely long structure, such as hops, which may require 25 feet of structure, you can do something as simple as to drive a stake several feet past your exterior house wall, and run sturdy jute string or wire from the stake to a spot on your roof.

§  Overhead arbors and arches can be stunning when perennial trumpet vine or wisteria is trained up and over, creating a gorgeous show.

§  Regular, everyday fences similarly can come alive when "clothed" with a climber, a rambler or other plant that likes and needs support.

§  A few plants have specific kinds of supports that you can buy, or make: those cone-shaped wire supports for peony bushes help support the huge, heavy blossoms on relatively skinny stems; similarly, tall plants such as delphiniums, with big, heavy flowers, enjoy growing through a tall stake that has a horizontal hoop at the top to support the flower.

Here are some typical plants that respond well to permaculture:


(since the plants die every year, you can change these around

and plant a new climber on the same structure every year)

§  sweet peas, climbing varieties

§  morning glories

§  moonflowers

§  nasturtiums

§  pole beans — all varieties. Some good ones to try are scarlet runner beans, tricolor beans, yard-long beans

§  peas

§  gourds

§  Jack-Be-Little pumpkins

(use these for permanent structures you never remove)

§  trumpet vine

§  honeysuckle

§  hops

§  black-eyed Susan vine

§  passionflower

By Susan Darst • Projects 05 © 2010

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