Where Did Arbors Originate: Learn About Garden Arbor History

garden arbor along pathway and garden of colorful plants
(Image credit: Darrell Gulin / Getty Images)

An arbor is a lovely garden element, a place to sit and enjoy the shade and the peace of a garden on a sunny day. Using arbors in the garden is a great way to create separate spaces and visual interest, and gardeners have been creating such spaces for a long time. Garden arbor history actually dates back thousands of years.

What is an Arbor?

First, it's important to understand exactly what an arbor is. There are some similar terms gardeners throw around, but these are distinct structures. A trellis, for instance, is not the same as an arbor, nor is a pergola.

An arbor is any recessed or partially closed off area that provides shade and a seat. The purpose is to create a comfortable resting area in a garden or yard. A trellis is any kind of structure that provides shade and support for plants to climb, but it is generally smaller than an arbor and does not include a seating area. A pergola is a trellis that covers a walkway, but it may include seating as well.

Where Did Arbors Originate?

The story behind garden arbors may be as old as ancient Egypt. In the unforgiving heat of the desert, arbors provided areas of cool shade. The use of arbors continued through ancient civilizations, and they were especially popular in Roman gardens. Europeans continued to construct arbors in gardens over the centuries and up to modern times.

Using Arbors in the Garden - from Ancient Times to Now

Throughout history, gardeners have created and built arbors out of all kinds of materials. The simplest were just spaces under trees. The name arbor may come from the Latin word for tree, the original, simple structure for an arbor.

Romans used more decorative materials, creating structures with stone columns and statues. In later centuries in Europe, many arbors were built simply. Gardeners used vining plants to create spaces tucked away out of the sun.

When constructing an arbor today, you can look to the past for inspiration or create something entirely new. An arbor can be practical and simple or the main decorative focal point of your entire garden.

Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.