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Reach for it! -- Trellis Gardening: Snakes and Ladders




 One of my best engineering initiatives was to construct a trellis over a section of my vegetable garden . I did it because I wanted to grow salad greens longer into each Summer of heat and humidity here in the sub tropics.

Now that I have 'planted out' the space with height in mind, I get to enjoy tendril creep as the climbers and ramblers I've planted head skywards.

My main impulse was to foster shade, but when I realized that in harvesting and creating shade I could also customize the source of the shade  a whole  new prospect emerged .

I've used old palm fronds as my initial shade resource by weaving them over and through the trellis frame. As the vegetation takes off and climbs  my plan is to  replace the fronds with living shade which I can trim back as required -- depending on the seasons.


So now climbing over my trellis are many bean species, Chokoes, cucumbers, Ceylon Spinach, and a grape vine ... in fact anything I can get that climbs or clambers. 

Underneath it is much cooler than elsewhere in the garden but not as cool as I'd like. I do, however, get better shading -- a cooler underneath -- from the palm fronds than I do from two runs of shade cloth in the mix.

So successful and engaging has been the exercise that I may build a further trellis system over the rest of the vegetable garden. 

I thought that the main game was to build a trellis out of so many uprights and rafters and to then climb the plants up the uprights. But my trellis design  has proven much more versatile. 


While I can rest bean poles/climbing poles/sticks against the frame to encourage climbing, I'm experimenting with dropping poles, ropes, old hoses, etc from the frame to the climbing plants below. I suspect my best option may be to use coarse, maybe jute, rope -- like so many bell ropes hanging down. For now, I'm using whatever I can get.

I've learnt that while bamboo is a useful material (also light, feral free and easily worked with) for building a trellis -- bamboo canes have a very smooth surface and don't foster tendril attachment as  coarser materials do.

The main game with trellises in my experience is to use  a bean pole approach rather than mesh as mesh is so hard to relocate and clean up after each seasonal usage. So single uprights (or 'drops' as in the case of ropes) make more sense to me as they are easier to manage than intertwined wire.

This means that my trellis is always evolving: new plants, new structures, new ways to climb up ... as I pursue a sort of 'Snakes and Ladders' approach: climbs up/drops down.


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Comment by Dave Riley on December 6, 2011 at 1:15

My trellis notes are here

Comment by Dave Riley on December 6, 2011 at 1:11

While I love bamboo it has its drawbacks in regard to attachment and I used to deploy tepee frames, but when you drop down and climb up and the frame is up there -- in my case 2 metres from the ground -- it seems so much easier to play around with support and shade. I mean the world is different -- a qualitative different garden environment.I was thinking not only of the bean trellis designs I based the structure on but also on the 'bush houses' of my youth that people bullt because shade cloth had not been invented.

That said, I guess a 'house' for plants is what it's about. I'm thinking of building 

another structure for the rest of the garden beds with feral bamboo canes but I was wondering about using a 'clothes line' design. Do you remember the old style Brisbane clothes line where you had two uprights so far apart and a pivoting arm attached so that the two wires strung between could be raised and lowered? 

I wonder if it's adaptable as you'd use clothes line wire rather than poles. You'd pivot it against the sun but the problem is that any vine that attached would have to be flexible enough to move up and down.

So it would suit shading(by adding palm fronds or shade cloth) but not growing.

Just thinking. But my original inspiration was this :

....designed by Thomas Wagner Nielsen. The logic is superb.Easy to build if you can get the bamboo. Mine is held together with zippy/cable ties and I simply rammed in a hole for the bamboo uprights. I used narrow gauge bamboo so I put in more uprights.The plus is that once you have structure you can simply lean any climbing frame or pole against it.

I also keep adding bits of wood I pick up on the beach. I haven;'t perfected the drops -- the snakes -- yet. I suspect jute rope would be best although I have some old nylon rope  I'm  experimenting with. EG: drop three parallel ropes down for a cucumber to attach. Another option could be old rags knotted together. You could 'colour design' that way too! I also discovered that any rope material dropped around the uprights(like  a Maypole) facilitates attachment esp for Choko vines.

Comment by Anne Gibson on December 2, 2011 at 12:46

Love the concept Dave - I'm very much into vertical gardening to save space and think this is ingenious. May have to borrow your idea to share this with others interested in maximising space and changing their micro climate.

I work with bamboo a lot making 4 legged tepees that can be moved around as needed and have found that using them in conjunction with garden string (the type that has texture for tendrils to grab onto) has been very successful. I've used a snakes and ladders approach on a micro scale in between the legs of the tepees, weaving it horizontally and vertically.

I added more horizontal bamboo stakes between 4 tepee frames to stabilise them and maximise the growing area. The aerial space between the tepee frames that would otherwise have been wasted is all filling up with climbing cucumbers and the plants are more productive and healthy due to better air circulation and the fruit off the ground.

Perhaps you could try winding the string around the bamboo poles to give them some added grip and secure with a zip tie top and bottom?

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on November 27, 2011 at 14:10

What a marvellous jungle, Dave! I like that not only do you use whatever is to hand but that a lot of those 'things' are living or were once living. I use shadecloth because that is what I have and can handle but I see the goodness and extra energy in using living things rather than manufactured oil-based 'things'.

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