Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop: Arbors, Pergolas (and the midnight bowling ball accident of 2003)

As many of your know, I’m not a real stickler when it comes to garden design, usually preferring the ‘shovel and pot’ method. (Wandering around the yard with a shovel and a plant in a pot until I find an empty spot to stick it.) But I have to admit, I did go through something of a design process that led me to build a small pergola.

It’s a long story (especially getting to the bowling ball accident) that I will try to tell quickly. This aerial view will help you get oriented a little. That’s our house on this, the south side, of the road in 2006. My big point here is that — while out back we have a great view — out front we are annoyingly close to an often busy road. (It’s the shortcut to Cornell University from points east.) There’s an intersection just east of our house, so vehicles are either picking up speed or downshifting (especially the quarry trucks) as they go by our house.

When we moved in in August 1999, there was next to no landscaping. It seemed like the road ran right outside our living room window. Here are some images I took that fall with an old Casio digital camera:

Looking west from our front porch in fall 1999 with some heavy mulch to start defining a corner bed:
looking west fall 1999

Looking at the house from the northeast — road, lawn, driveway, front yard:
looking from northeast 1999

Looking from the eastbound lane right into our living room windows:
from eastbound lane

It doesn’t take a degree in landscape architecture to know that we needed some visual separation from the road. But I also wanted something physical to define the yard in front of the house. On the east side of the yard, I put in a low, two-rail fence along the edge of the driveway with a break for the walk leading to the front door.

On the west end of the front yard, I wanted to put up a similar fence to define that end of the yard, but wanted to be able to walk through it so that I could get from the front yard to the ‘wild’ areas beyond. Instead of the simple break in the fencing on the east side, I decided to build a small pergola that would also provide something of a screen between our living room windows and the road.

Here it is a few weeks ago with bittersweet berries showing:

pergola 2007

The sides are only 6 feet long with the top rails running 8 feet. But the visual impact is made larger because its footprint is diamond-shaped with the long axis running perpendicular to the sight line running northwest from our living room windows.

I’m not claiming that it erased the road, but combined with the willows and other shrubs and plantings that are coming along the road no longer seems to run through our living room.

The diamond design in the side panels I found in an old book of garden construction ideas. If I recall, it was a design used for screen window frames for porches and summer houses.

You can see the rail fence running south 16 feet farther into the yard. There was an 8-foot section extending from the other side of the pergola toward the road when I built it. All the wood is just cheap pressure-treated stuff that’s mellowed from that awful green to a nice gray.

I say when I built it because that section is not there any more. Which leads me to the great bowling ball accident of 2003.

At 4 a.m. on April 12, 2003, Elly and I were awakened from a deep sleep in our second-floor bedroom by a loud crash, followed by the spinning of tires outside our window. By the time we got to the window, the driver gave up getting out and was walking away. Knowing that at least the driver was in good enough shape to walk away, we called the police. They picked up a young man not far down the road walking home. He had worked a double shift and fell asleep at the wheel, drifted off the road, through the outer fence and into the yard, burying the car up to its axels in the mud.

Our old Casio camera had dies by then, so the next morning Elly wandered around with her laptop and video cam shooting pictures of the scene:

Fence snapped off pergola, ruts and car looking east, view from porch.

Looking west, view from bedroom, the bowling ball in the driveway.

She also shot a couple short .avi videos of the scene: Video 1 | Video 2

Oh yeah. Almost forgot about the bowling ball. One of my tacky lawn ornaments out front was a red bowling ball on a length of rebar looking like a giant cherry tootsie roll pop. The kid hit it on his way through the yard a knocked it 50 feet into the driveway. It’s the first thing I saw when I left the house shortly after 4 a.m. to investigate what happened and immediately thanked my lucky stars that he didn’t knock it up into the air and have it come crashing down through the windshield.

I rescued the bent rebar and re-installed the ornament so that now the ball hovers ethereally just over the soil — in the backyard.

bowling ball on bent rebar

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14 thoughts on “Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop: Arbors, Pergolas (and the midnight bowling ball accident of 2003)”

  1. Wow: design inspiration, suspense, and drama all in one post. I’d say you win the prize (if there were one) for the best pergola story this month, Craig. And that shot of the bittersweet on the pergola is really lovely.

  2. What a story, fine in the begining and sad at the end.
    You must try again, beacouse it was i good pergola.
    We lived on a field first but now some year later and whith many plants we have some shelter. english..You now what I mean, dont you?
    Regards Ken

  3. That’s a good story, all right. I’m glad your house wasn’t hit, but too bad about your pergola and fence. I quite like that diagonal design, and the photo of the bittersweet on the pergola is gorgeous.

    By the way, did the young man pay for the damage he caused?

  4. Pam: The story was running too long, so I left out some details.

    His insurance company paid for the fence, but the pergola wasn’t really damaged. I never replaced the fence. Some willows and other plants filled the space for me.

    His car was OK and towed out the next day. But the spruce tree where the car came to rest died after a struggle. The soil there was wet and the car tires wreaked havoc on the roots.

    I see the word has gone out on the Spring Fling in Austin. I’m going to have to check into flight prices more seriously.

  5. You know, I kind of like that “hovering” bowling ball… better even than I would like it just on an upright piece of rebar. And it kind of nods at the memory of the accident, too.

    Bummer about the spruce. Glad that the young man wasn’t hurt, and that your fence and plantings helped keep him from coming to a stop in your living room instead.

  6. I’m all for taking lemons and making lemonade. I could never have bent the rebar in that shape — much less come up with the idea to do that. But hey, give me a bent piece of rebar and a cracked bowling ball and I know what to do with it.

  7. I feel your pain! My first house (a townhouse) was on a busy street. One night a drunk driver lost control, left the road, crossed the sidewalk, took out the bank of mailboxes, and tore through my front lawn & garden, missing the support posts of the porch by about 6 inches. I could tell because of the tire marks on the front walk, the deep ruts in the lawn and the mess of the garden. I now live on a cul-de-sac.
    I love the diamond design of the arbor. I’m glad it wasn’t destroyed in the mishap.

  8. A neighbor down the road had a vehicle go through her 6-foot privacy fence, spin around in her front yard and then drive away leaving only ruts.

  9. How aggravating for this to happen. At least there was a happy (?) ending. Being reimbursed and no one was hurt. You also got a cool looking garden sculpture. That rebar is difficult to bend. I like the look of diamonds in the garden. It does take your eye up.

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