Three Garden Structures You Can Build – Learn Lashing and Make Your Own Garden Trellises



The gardeners who tend the quiet plots in Old Salem, a historic Moravian village in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, try to stay true to tradition. But the exact specifications of many of those traditions aren’t laid out in a manual. Just as the hardy pioneers who made this community more than 200 years ago adapted to their age and circumstances, so too have its modern tenders. And the tomato supports and bean tepees used in the gardens are good examples of the accommodation.

While the gardeners haven’t traced the design and materials to the original gardens, the spare appearance and practicality of the structures suggests they would be comfortable there.

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These structures can be adapted for use in the home garden using saplings, twine and 1x1s from the garden center. For hoops, you might try using woody vines, which are flexible when green. 


Tomato hoops based on a drawing from a 19th-century garddening book support the crop at the Old Salem Moravian village in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Hoop cage and angled rails keep tomatoes corralled
The inspiration for the tomato support came not from the Moravians, but from the jacket of a book by New England plantsman Fearing Burr, Jr. The book, Field and Garden Vegetables of America, was originally published in 1863 and republished in 1988 by The American Botanist, Booksellers. Captioned “Hoop-training of the tomato,” the drawing shows three hoops staggered and supported on three stakes. Bill Crow of Old Salem village says the drawing was adapted to fit the plots he tends.

The hoops come from wood used by the village’s basket makers, who split white oak into long flexible pieces that follow the grain of the wood. Those pieces, about 1⁄2 inch wide and 1⁄4 inch thick, are formed into a circle and lashed with twine. The diameter of the hoops ranges from about 12 inches on the bottom level to about 18 inches on the top.

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Sticks used to hang tobacco leaves in barns now serve as the stakes supporting the hoops. Winston-Salem was for a long time a bustling intersection on North Carolina’s tobacco road, and Crow said the sticks are plentiful. They are about an inch square and about 4-1⁄2 feet long.

The specifications may need to be enlarged. “We’re still experimenting with size,” says Crow. “Sometimes the tomatoes get so large they bend the hoops or sort of pull the whole thing down. I think next time we’ll beef them up,” he said, noting the gardeners are now trying old fence pickets to support the hoops. These uprights are about 3⁄4 inch by 2 inches.


A frame of 1-inch-square sticks lashed with twine forms a spare but effective structure vining plants can brace against as they grow.

The idea for the angled rails came from an Old Salem worker who had seen something similar in a museum. It’s a straightforward concept. The tobacco sticks are lashed together to form the rails and then inserted at an angle into the ground, usually right after the tomato seedlings are transplanted. “Some tomato plants will put out a lot of growth and you can’t get it restrained,” Crow says. “But it’s worked pretty decently.”

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Elongated sapling trellis supports pole beans

It takes some balancing and good lashing technique (see Lashing for Gardeners to erect the bean tepee used at Old Salem. But the only materials you need are pine saplings and twine. And the ‘Blue Coco’ beans look fine dangling from the poles, which are about 10 feet long.

The gardeners first put up and lash the tripods at the two ends; then they place the pairs of crisscrossed poles between the tripods. The top horizontal pole is balanced on the two end tripods and then lashed. Finally, the horizontal poles midway up the frame are lashed on.

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The structures are broken down and stored every winter so they won’t rot. The poles last about five years.

Learn Lashing and Make Your Own Garden Trellises


Of all the merit badges I earned as a Boy Scout, I’m fondest of one called Pioneering, which involved ropes, knots, and the use of logs and lashings in the construction of towers, rafts, shelters, and bridges. What has stayed with me is a simple method for lashing sticks together, a technique I use in the garden when constructing trellises, arbors, tepees, and other plant supports. Everything I learned about lashing is in my 1972 scouting Fieldbook, which says it’s for boys and men, though I’m pretty sure it works for girls and women too.


1. Wrap the rope around the spar, then under itself and over, then pass the rope through the loop that has formed.

2. Twist the end of the rope a few times around the part of the rope to the front of the spar.

3. Push the timber hitch against the spar, then pull hard on the rope to tighten the hitch.

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According to the Fieldbook, “only a fool or a greenhorn figures any old rope or knot will do.” Good advice for a monkey bridge over a rushing creek, but for plant supports you can get away with considerable foolishness. Still, there is no denying that a genuine lashing is a pleasure to tie and is bound to be a sturdy one.

For tying bamboo of a finger’s thickness to a square wooden stake to serve as a tomato trellis, cotton or nylon string works fine. Baling twine makes you feel like a thrifty farmer, but I’ve never had much luck with it. To lash together three stout saplings for a bean tepee, something on the order of thin clothesline works best.

Most of the lashings done by the book start and finish with a clove hitch, though a diagonal lashing starts with a timber hitch. Whether you’re lashing big spars or little—the sticks you lash together are called spars—and whether you’re lashing at right angles or on a diagonal, the key to a taut lashing is to make two or three or even four really tight turns, known as frapping turns, around the rope itself before tying off the lashing.


1. Wrap the rope around the spar, then under itself and over, then pass the rope through the loop that has formed.

2. Twist the end of the rope a few times around the part of the rope to the front of the spar.

3. Push the timber hitch against the spar, then pull hard on the rope to tighten the hitch.

I have been known to modify the Fieldbooks square lashing, crisscrossing the rope diagonally around the front of the vertical spar (recalling a drawing I once saw of a Japanese lashing) but I always finish with frapping turns. I cannot over-emphasize the value of frapping turns. If I had to come up with one secret to lashing, frapping turns would be it.

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The Fieldbook recommends allowing “1 yard of rope for each inch of the combined diameters of the spars.” I’ve never made precise calculations in the garden, but I can tell you that a sturdy lashing takes more line than you might think. For lashing a roughly 1⁄4-inch-diameter bamboo spar to a 1-inch by 2-inch wood spar, I stretch the string some 5 feet or so before cutting off a piece. All too often I come up short.

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