More substantial than a trellis, but more affordable and space-saving than a pergola or garden arch, the garden tuteur is a classical structure that adds vertical drama to the landscape.
What Is a tuteur?
A tuteur is a three-dimensional trellis that's used as a structure for plants to climb or act as an ornamental element in the garden. Most tuteurs are pyramidal in shape, with a large stable base that tapers toward the top.
Tuteur is a French word that means "support."
Tuteurs can be made of wood, plastic, or metal. Wood tuteurs are the most common, but also have the shortest life in an outdoor garden, especially those tuteurs constructed from untreated branches. Short-lived tuteurs aren’t necessarily a bad thing; you can use them to bolster annual vines for one or two seasons, replacing them when they begin to rot or unravel.
Choose a tuteur made out of metal for the longest life in the garden. You can purchase tuteurs made of copper or powder-coated steel from garden supply stores, or you can fashion a postmodern tuteur out of rebar. Given the right materials and design, tuteurs complement any garden style, from lush cottage to subdued xeriscape.
Whether adorned with flowering plants or standing alone in the landscape, a tuteur makes a strong focal point in the garden. In a formal garden, you may place identical tuteurs in the center of knot garden plantings. In a large perennial bed, a tuteur can act as a point of interest along a garden path.
Typically, a tuteur used for decorative effect will be something grander than a few branches hastily cobbled together with twine. Choose a tuteur with an ornamental embellishment on top, like a finial, copper cap, or birdhouse. Keep in mind that metal tuteurs can get hot in full sun, and may scorch delicate plants.
Tuteurs can provide a stable place for flowering vines to climb in the garden if you supply a tuteur large enough to carry the mature weight of the plant. Some vines, like wisteria and large climbing roses, require a large pergola or other structure securely anchored in the ground.
Vines that work well with tuteurs are most annual flowering vines, like morning glories, firecracker vine, cardinal vine, sweet peas, or nasturtiums. Choose a large tuteur for perennial vines like clematis and honeysuckle, and expect to perform regular pruning to keep your vine in bounds.
Tall flowers like delphinium, gladiolus, and foxtail lilies look better in the flower garden with some extra reinforcement, and a tuteur with an open design can bolster these lanky beauties. Avoid using a tuteur with latticework on the sides, or you’ll end up with a caged flower effect.
Make a Simple Tuteur
There are many plans available to construct a tuteur out of branches or wood, but you can make a simple metal tuteur from a recycled wire tomato cage. Select the size tomato cage you want; small tomato cages make suitable tuteurs for flowering containers, where they can prop up small vines like flowering black-eyed Susan.
Clean the metal with a wire brush, and sand lightly. Turn the tomato cage upside down so that the largest ring is on the bottom, and the loose wires are at the top. Using a pair of needle-nosed pliers, grasp the end of one of the loose wires and bend it into a curlicue shape. This metal is usually not very pliable, and you will need to exert some force to get the wire to curl. Repeat with the other three loose wires, making them the same length or slightly different lengths, depending on the effect you desire.
Paint the entire tuteur you’ve created with a paint formulated for metal. Choose colors that complement your flowers, like periwinkle, crimson, or chartreuse. If desired, you can hang decorative glass beads from the curlicues, using florist wire or another fine gauge wire to string the beads. Anchor this tuteur to the soil with u-shaped pins.