Gardeners go to great lengths for good trellis action. Problem is, the feats of ingenuity that support a climbing plant tend to favor frumpy function over smooth, joyous form.
California-based TerraTrellis is here to prove that gardeners can have their scarlet runner beans and eat them too — and also have them drape sensuously from a clean, architectural frame. The company creates garden trellises, arbors and tuteurs (that is, pyramid-shaped trellises) with a modernist perspective — by way of lithe silhouettes, bold hoops and water-resistant powdercoat finishes in saturated colors like “kumquat,” “petal” and “aubergine.” (Natural oxide finish is also available, as is housing for bees and birds.)
“We spend so much time considering our plant choices and, as anyone who’s seen the trellis offerings at garden centers knows, most trellises on the market are flimsy and cheap,” says TerraTrellis designer and artist Jennifer Gilbert Asher, who co-owns parent studio TerraSculpture with Karen Neill. “A trellis is an opportunity to add something interesting, architectural and artful in the garden.”
The trellises are handmade from steel in downtown Los Angeles in collaboration with metal craftsman Mario Lopez. Plants that train well with the sculptures include — but are hardly limited to — climbers like sweet pea, morning glory, thunbergia, cherry tomatoes, mini-squash, jasmine, trumpet vine, grape and bougainvillea.
We caught up with Jen to get the skinny on her “transformative” Greystone Mansion project, the power of a sculptural landscape, and what’s next (cough, tomato cages, cough cough) for TerraTrellis.
How would you sum up the mission of TerraTrellis?
The mission of TerraTrellis is to reinvent the classic garden trellis for the modern garden. I am thrilled to change the game a little with the concept of trellis as modern art.
What’s your aesthetic?
My designs are based on simple geometry. They are modern but embrace the classical. Our Toki BubbleTrellis is a rebar pod (I’m a little obsessed with pods) and our pyramidical Akoris Garden Tuteur is an interpretation of the very classic tuteur. The Gracie Modern Arbor is a simple circle that is sunk into the ground. The simpler the form, the more interesting the effect is with the haphazard greenery growing inside it.
Where does the obsession with pods come from?
In my mind, a pod represents gentle balance and renewal — a life force (perhaps in the same way a yin-yang does for other people). It just feels good coming out of my pencil onto paper, and then of course, into steel forms. I love it in the garden.
What are some particularly memorable ways you’ve seen your arbors, trellises and tuteurs used? What plants were involved?
It’s exciting to see when clients who are not professional artists or designers become inspired to compose their own work of art with a TerraTrellis.
One client has trained cherry tomatoes to grow over her Gracie Modern Arbor. Johanna Silver, the test garden editor at Sunset Magazine planted scarlet runner beans from seed, which were dripping all over the arbor within three months. Another client let the multicolored Joseph’s coat climbing rose just sprawl all over her Ina Wall Trellises, creating this insane tapestry on an otherwise boring wall in Napa.
What inspired the founding of TerraTrellis and TerraSculpture?
My background is as a landscape designer, but I’m equally interested in architecture. I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition of bold, clean forms in the unregulated beauty of nature. This led me to explore and create abstract metal sculpture for the gardens I was designing for clients. In the process I basically fell in love with metal sculpting and the impact sculpture has in the landscape.
This passion led me to found TerraSculpture studio in 2008 with a business partner Karen Neill, and now that’s all I do. We have clients all over the US and Canada who commission us to create limited-edition and one-of-a-kind steel sculpture for private residences, commercial spaces and city parks. TerraTrellis is an off-shoot of TerraSculpture.
But why trellises?
Through my sculpture practice, I began to imagine a living sculpture that integrated metal forms together with organic textures and colors of leaves and flowers, and even bare branches. Not topiaries, but modern garden sculpture that celebrates form, texture and color and constantly evolves with the garden.
We spend so much time considering our plant choices and, as anyone who’s seen the trellis offerings at garden centers knows, most trellises on the market are flimsy and cheap. A trellis is an opportunity to add something interesting, architectural and artful in the garden.
Your color choices are striking — even though the shades are inspired by nature. How did you choose them?
I spend as much time developing the custom colors and finishes as I do with the forms. It’s important to me use colors that would be naturally occurring in the landscape like eggplant (aubergine), green (leaf), periwinkle (berry) and weathered steel (oxide). I make an effort to avoid trendy colors like turquoise, since that’s not something you would naturally see in a garden.
Among your designs, what’s a personal favorite?
Just like our children, I don’t have one favorite, but since you asked….the passion flower vine with our chartreuse [“leaf” color] Ina Wall Trellis takes my breath away. I love grape vines in any of our larger pieces and thunbergia makes me swoon on the Toki Bubble Trellis. I also am very fond of clematis on our white (“cloud”) Ina Wall Trellis.
How does it make you feel to walk through one of your arbors, past one of your trellises and sculptures?
It’s exhilarating! We collaborated with Grace Design Associates on this incredible installation they did in the gardens of the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. The designers integrated 14 Gracie Modern Arbors in aubergine to create a modern allée along this very classical walkway along a reflecting pool. Walking through that was transformative for me. It’s always amazing for an artist to see their work in a public space for others to enjoy.
Whenever I see one of my sculptures in the landscape it always feels like I am in the presence of an old friend with whom I have a special history.
Where in the yard do your trellises often end up?
Many clients use our trellises in their edible gardens, which frankly need a little visual interest in the off-season. When the plants go dormant, the trellis is still standing fresh in the garden, taking center stage and being the art piece that it is.
Tell us about the bee bungalow?
We’ve designed a collection of sculptural habitats to encourage a mini-garden ecosystem for flora and fauna. A vibrant garden needs pollinators like bees to thrive. Our new Bee Bungalow sits atop the Akoris Garden Tuteur and provides a nesting opportunity for solitary mason bees utilizing natural lakebed reeds and re-purposed branches for their little homes.
One note: While our Bee Bungalow is designed for solitary mason bees, there is a very serious problem in the U.S. with 50 percent of the honeybee population mysteriously dying off. This is a very big issue for farmers who depend on the honeybees to pollinate the fruit and vegetables we eat. Pesticides are considered as a possible cause of this problem.
What’s next for TerraTrellis?
We are working on some modular self-standing trellises and tomato cage designs. But first…We take a breather from our very busy spring/summer season, enjoy the garden and go to the beach! —LH