The Garden Arbor Pentagon




One man, one plan, a dream takes flight. They said it couldn’t be done. They were wrong. This structure, made from the purity of locally harvested bamboo and timbers, now stands as a testament to the power of an idea. An idea that cascaded into a spiderweb of destiny (SEE PHOTO AT END).

Out with the old, and in with the new. The old structure (see before and after photos) stood rotted and ugly, dead grapevines tangled in it’s ugly delapidated roof. I tore out the old eyesore, spent a day weeding and landscaping, and set forth to gather five hefty logs for the new posts.

Alright Ya’ll. Time to “Git ‘er Dun” as we say here on the farm. The new posts were stripped of bark with the trusty pole peeler. The old post holes were widened and the posts set it. Then eight more elegant smaller timbers were harvested and peeled for the frame of the benches that would run between the posts. The eight bench poles were measured and layed-out and then notched the old fashioned way with a handsaw, chisel, and hammer. The bench poles were then run horizontally attached with log screws. Then scrap 1X10’s were laid across for benches. We have benches! Time to sit down and have a spot of tea, maybe even a sip of whiskey.

notched logs

Now the Bamboo. Fifteen selected culms of top-quality bamboo had been curing by standing upright while filled with slaked lime to help make them more insect and rot-resistant. Beatles love to eat the starch in bamboo (see photo of beatle I found ready to munch on my bamboo).

Beatle's love Bamboo

The pieces of bamboo were then sweated over the fire pit that now set in the middle of the arbor. Five of the bamboo pieces were used as crossbeams, running between the five posts. These five pieces were lashed together with blue synthetic twine left over from stawbales. Then two-foot pieces of bamboo were used as knee-braces to help support the structure.These braces were set into holes that I drilled into the posts and then lashed securely at the other ends.

Then the roof went up. My wonderful life partner Jill helped me to raise the roof rafters. We tied them with several secure lashings at the roof peak and then more lashings where they overlapped the other bamboo at the tops of the posts. Awesome! Then short cross-pieces of bamboo were cut and lashed perpendicular to the rafters.

What is reality? Reality is an entire roof made from only bamboo and twine. In this whole process, not one single piece of structural bamboo was nailed, screwed, pegged, or otherwise penetrated. The reasoning behind this was to help preserve the bamboo and to maintain the full structural integrity of each culm. Additionally, the bamboo was kept out of direct contact with the wood posts except on the knee braces. This is reality. Reality is awesome.

To finish the roof, smaller diameter flexible culms were weaved into the existing roof frame to create more paths for the grapevines to grow on. A six-way bamboo splitter (see photo) was used to make some splints to weave into the roof when bamboo-supplies ran low.

To make the whole roof sturdy, I needed A way to secure the lashed bamboo to the tops of the five posts without penetrating the culms. This was achieved by cutting five pieces of 1/4 inch re-bar, sharpening their tips, and then bending them into a “U” shape. These then were hammered downward into the log, securing the rafter tails and crossbeams into the posts. Now that’s what I call “Gettin’ ‘er dun”.



Waterproof Roofs the Natural Way – Update

Sooo, its been some time since I’ve posted last and I have some good and bad news to share with you. As is customary in delivering such information I’ll share the bad news first.

Bad News: I did not complete any of my theorized waterproof roofs.

Good News: I’m going to continue my research after I leave Aprovecho.

So all is not lost in my case. I think…

Some time after beginning my project it became clear to me that I was most interested in harvesting natural clay and firing it into ceramic tiles to use as a roofing material. After spending far too much time with clay and having many attempts at progress end in slippery disaster, I feel I have begun to get inside the mind of the clay. I feel like i have overcome the first big hurdle of working with this material and have an increased confidence for working with it in the future.

If you decide to follow in my footsteps and play around with clay, I will share a few things I’ve learned to compensate for the handicap of following my lead 😉

Pro-tip #1 : Save your experimentation with large amounts of clay for warmer weather. Immersing your arm in a barrel of water and clay every couple minutes to check for lumps while mixing at 4 degrees C (39 F) is not a fun time. This would not be a problem if you were working with a more manageable amount / were working in or near a heated space / knew what you were doing.

Pro-tip #2: Partially hydrated (wet) clay is difficult to harvest and even more difficult to fully hydrate (dissolve in water). If at all possible try to harvest clay in its hard and dry form and leave it somewhere airy and dry to dry further before re-hydrating it.

Unfortunately I found this helpful website far too late into my time here, but the information therein is very useful – AND has some nice pictures, which this post seems to be lacking.