There’s nothing I like better than a freshly picked French or runner bean, picked small before the stringiness develops, and the idea of them dripping from an archway has proved too good to resist. Never mind your standard bean pole row or conical frame, nor your traditional rose archway. How about a bean archway? Well it’s an experiment so we’ll see if it works.
The idea came out of the restrictions of my garden space. Being short of it in the kitchen garden I’ve had to be a bit creative about growing my beans and peas. I want to pack as much variety into the space as possible and at less than 5m x 3m there’s no room for standard rows of plants. In my planting I’m going for the Ornamental Kitchen Garden approach developed and popularised by Geoff Hamilton all those years ago and seemingly more prescient than ever.
Geoff’s theory was simple but backed up by years of his own research and testing. Pests and disease problems are kept to a minimum by mixing a wide variety of flowers, fruits and vegetables together in the same space. Pests find it harder to find their target and get established because biodiverse gardens hide plants and are generally filled with a greater number and variety of predators. Geoff never used pesticides because he found they upset the careful balance he created, killing both pest and predator, making gardening harder than it otherwise might have been. The bean pole arch way will add a vertical layer of diversity and the beans of course will fix nitrogen into the soil for the benefit of the garden as a whole.
The bean pole archway
To make the bean archway you’ll need four straight freshly cut bean poles (between 84 and 96 inches (2134-2438mm) long and 1 and 1.5 inches (25-38mm) thick at the butt), ten one foot stakes cut from branches or slats of old two by one, a pruning saw, a tape measure, secateurs or billhook, a mallet and some garden wire.
First measure the width of the archway.
To bend the bean poles into shape you’ll need a flat surface (lawn, rough ground or unplanted vegetable plot) to make a bending frame (see picture). Bang one of the cut stakes into the ground and measure the width of the arch across from it.
Lay your first two bean poles opposite each other on the outside of the staked area resting against the stakes. Then bang a third stake in on each side, half way up, on the outside of the pole and two more stakes in opposite the top and bottom stakes to keep the poles in place when you bend them. Laying the bean pole in position there should be plenty of top end to bend over and join together to make the arch. Bend each bean pole top together so they form a nice curved arch and can rest against each other for at least two – three feet. There’s lots of pressure when you bend so you have to have the wire ready to tie the two poles together, in several places.
Place the joined bean pole arch in position in to two prepared snug fit round holes (I used a piece of old metal pipe to make them). Make the holes deep enough so the arch feels secure left standing on its own. Go back and make a second bean pole arch and then ‘plant’ this about 1-2ft away from the first. Secure the two archways using four of the cut stakes from your frame. Push the stakes into the ground next to the arch so they rub up against each other. Either screw the stake and the pole together or just attach using several pieces of wire garden twine. I found it helpful to remove wobbles by wedging some small pieces of slate next to the poles.
Cross brace the wooden poles using smaller pieces of cut hazel and join the top of the frame with a further piece. This sort of structure wont last forever but as you’re only growing annuals up, it doesn’t really matter. Finally I added two pea sticks to the sides of the bean pole. Pea sticks should always be a fan shape, between 48 and 72 inches (1219-1829mm) high and three quarters of an inch in diameter (20mm) at the butt end.