Do you have plants in your garden that love to climb? English cottage gardens often do, and a wooden garden obelisk (or tuteur) is a structure that gives them room to roam.
You can buy these structures, but the cost is prohibitive. $70 is the cheapest one that I have seen and they can run to many hundreds of dollars.
Do you have an afternoon to spare? It is time for a DIY garden decorations project!
Today, I’ll be showing you how to build a tuteur for about $50 – even less, if you use reclaimed wood. Best of all, you can make the obelisk the color and size you like to suit your garden space.
What is an obelisk?
The terms obelisk and tuteur are often used interchangeably, but there are some differences between them.
A tuteur is a four-sided pyramid shape with a tapering top. It comes from French word for an obelisk shaped structure that is used to train climbing vines.
An obelisk is a tall stone shape with a pyramid top. Obelisks are often erected to commemorate an event, individual or to honor the gods. It is meant to resemble the ray of the sun. The shadow it casts follows the seasons around your garden.
The Washington Monument is a well known example of an obelisk.
Both have a large stable base and similar tapering shape. Tuteurs and obelisks often act as garden art elements in the garden. Even a garden teepee is a form of an obelisk, although it is more functional than decorative.
The word obelisk is more often used than garden tuteur or garden teepee, when describing this garden structure, but the project we will be tackling today is most accurately called a tuteur.
However you choose to name it, this climbing structure adds a visual accent to any flower or herb garden.To give your plants something to climb on, build a wooden garden obelisk. It is easy and inexpensive to do. My husband built ours in an afternoon. Get the tutorial on The Gardening Cook. Click To Tweet
Garden obelisk plans
We will be making our unique garden decoration out of wood. Many garden obelisks or tuteurs for sale are made of metal. These can get very hot in full sun, and may scorch delicate plants. A wooden structure takes care of that problem!
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Supply list for the garden tuteur
When you look at the list of supplies below, you may think that this is a complicated project. However, even though it has a fair number of pieces, it’s actually relatively easy to build.
Note: Power tools, electricity, and other items used for this project can be dangerous unless used properly and with adequate precautions, including safety protection. Please use extreme caution when using power tools and electricity. Always wear protective equipment, and learn to use your tools before you start any project.
You’ll need to gather these general supplies to build your project:
You can print out the supply list in the project card at the bottom of the post.
- Circular saw or chop saw (use safety precautions)
- Hammer and box of hails (1 1/2″ finished galvanized nails)
- Paint and paint brushes (solid color waterproofing stain)
- Tape measure
- Hand saw
- Screwdriver and four galvanized screws
Wood needed for the ladder sides and obelisk top: (pressure treated is best)
- 4 two-by-two pieces of lumber, each 6 feet nine inches long
- Piece of wood approximately 10 inches square for the top
We used wood that was 1 1/2 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick for the rungs and side supports. This gives a bit of overlap on the ladder rungs as well as the side pieces that join the two ladders.
NOTE: This overlap was 1/2 inch in our project and in our pictures. If you want more overlap, to make it easier to saw off, you can increase the length of these pieces to suit.
- 2 x 9 1/2 inches – (1 1/2 x 3/4 inches timber)
- 2 x 13 inches – (1 1/2 x 3/4 inches timber)
- 2 x 17 inches – (1 1/2 x 3/4 inches timber)
- 2 x 20 1/2 inches – (1 1/2 x 3/4 inches timber)
- 2 x 24 inches – (1 1/2 x 3/4 inches timber)
Wood for the joining pieces These are longer to cover the area of the two by two on the sides.
(see note above about these lengths)
- 2 x 10 inches – (1 1/2 x 3/4 inches timber)
- 2 x 14 inches – (1 1/2 x 3/4 inches timber)
- 2 x 18 inches – (1 1/2 x 3/4 inches timber)
- 2 x 22 inches – (1 1/2 x 3/4 inches timber)
- 2 x 26 inches – (1 1/2 x 3/4 inches timber)
Building the garden tuteur
Basically, you complete ladder shapes and then combine them into one structure. The toughest part is getting the joins on the sides to line up well when you attach the two ladders to each other.
The tuteur comes together quickly. Assembling it took about 2-3 hours. The rest of the time was in painting and letting the coats dry.
Building the two ladders
Measure and cut your wood with a circular saw or chop saw.
To build the first ladder, lay two of the two by two pieces on a flat surface. Measure and mark up 11 inches from the bottom for the lowest 24 inch rung.
If you have clamps, the can hold the wood in place, but we built the obelisk without them.
Place the cut piece of 24 inch long timber and nail it in place with the galvanized nails.
Angle the legs of the timber towards each other.
Place the 9 inch piece of wood across the top area of the ladder legs. Nail it in place.
Measure and mark with a dot where each of the inner rungs will sit. The spacing between the rungs of our ladder legs was 17 inches.
Place the other pieces of wood on the sides and hammer them in place. You now have one ladder done.
Repeat the steps for the other ladder.
Mark the overlap with a pencil and trim the ends so they line up with the uprights.
Construction Tip: If you lay the pieces for the second ladder on top of the first ladder you will be able to perfectly match the angles of the legs and the spacing of the rungs.
Joining the two ladders together
It’s time to assemble the obelisk! Place the two ladders so they are on their sides.
Lay the side rung pieces on the ladder supports so that they overlap the edges. (You will trim these later.)
Nail the remaining rungs in place so that they connect the two ladders and overlap the ends of the ladder rungs.
Start from the top and work down with the side pieces. The shortest pieces are attached first, down to the longest pieces.
Turn the trellis over and attach the wooden pieces to the last open side, again working from top to the bottom with the remaining pieces.
We tacked the pieces in place first and then used three galvanized nails to secure each join.
Trimming the side edges of the wooden garden obelisk
You now have the basic obelisk constructed, but the side edges are not finished. There is still overlapping wood that detracts from the look.
Since the wooden pieces are square but the sides of the obelisk are angled, you will need to make some angled cuts to make the sides tidy.
Use the pencil to draw a line on the overlap of the wood on the sides and then use a hand saw to trim the excess. I’ve seen many wooden obelisk plans that don’t ask for angled cuts, but you can really see the difference in the finished structure if you take the time to make them.
Use a hand saw to trim off the excess wood.
Tada! Nicely finished edges!
Finishing the wooden garden obelisk
Now that the wooden rungs on the sides are trimmed, stain or paint the obelisk as desired for your color choice. Use two or three coats for best weather protection.
If you like a rustic look, you can let the structure weather on its own. Cedar is a good choice for this type of structure.
We used a Behr solid color waterproofing stain in a rust red color for our DIY garden obelisk.
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To finish off the top of the obelisk
The wooden garden obelisk has a flat top which is simply attached to the opening at the top with screws.
A garden tuteur is a useful trellis, but it can also be used as a piece of DIY garden art. There are lots of ways that you can finish off the top of the obelisk to make it more decorative. Ideas that came to mind were:
- Leave the top opening flat since it is large enough for a hanging basket to sit on. Imagine having your crop of strawberries trailing down over this structure?
- Add a piece of wood over the top opening and attach a painted wooden finial.
- Use a solar powered post cap light so that the obelisk will be illuminated at night. You can also use solar lights on the uprights for more decor.
- Attach a brightly colored gazing ball to the top.
- Finish off the obelisk with a bird house attached to the top.
What plants grow on a garden obelisk?
Any climbing plant that has vines or tendrils is the perfect choice, since they will climb up the garden obelisk trellis. Climbing plants come is all shapes and sizes, from perennials, to annuals and even vegetables.
Flowering plants look wonderful with their vines growing up a tuteur. Annual flowering vines work well since the tuteur should be able to accommodate their weight. Some to consider are:
- Gloriosa Lily – this climbing lily has tendril-like tips on the ends of its leaves that are perfect for climbing.
- Firecracker Vine – The red and yellow tubular flowers will be great at attracting hummingbirds.
- Clematis – we know how this plant likes to climb up a mailbox post. Give it another job climbing a tuteur.
- Mandevilla vine – this annual is a prolific flower producer all summer long. This year, it had a large trellis behind it on our deck, but now it will grow up my new obelisk.
- Nasturtiums – this companion plant can attract beneficial insects to your garden.
- Morning Glory – the blue trumpet-shape flowers look wonderful on a light blue obelisk.
- Sweet Peas – the flowering version of the garden favorite loves to climb a tuteur.
Be careful when choosing plants such as wisteria or large climbing roses. The weight of these plants may require your obelisk to be securely anchored in the ground.
Tips for stabilizing a wooden obelisk or garden tuteur
By design, a wooden garden obelisk is tall and lightweight. This can mean that it may topple over in high winds.
We stabilized our obelisk by attaching four pieces of pressure treated two by two timber cut on an angle so the legs were lengthened and pointed. This allowed us to push the legs down into the earth for support.
There are several way other ways to stabilize a tuteur.
- Bury the bottom legs of the obelisk in the ground, up to the bottom rung. (works best with pressure treated wood.)
- Use a large piece of slate under the tuteur to make it some stability and attach feet for the narrow legs to sit on.
- Cement the structure in place.
- Tie the tuteur down with some rope and garden stakes.
The structures can be used on hard surfaces or as a trellis in a large container or raised garden bed.
Whether you position your tuteur covered with climbing, flowering plants, or standing alone as a garden decoration, a tuteur will be a strong focal point in your garden.
Use two of them at the entrance to your yard in a formal garden, or position one as a point of interest along a garden path. The uses are endless!
Pin these wooden garden obelisk plans
Would you like a reminder of this post for building a DIY garden obelisk? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.
Admin note: this post for making a garden obelisk first appeared on the blog in April of 2013. I have updated the post to add all new photos, a garden obelisk and a video for you to enjoy.
Ladder pieces of wood ( 1 1/2 x 3/4" timber)
- 2 pieces 9 1/2 inches long
- 2 pieces 13 inches long
- 2 pieces 17 inches long
- 2 pieces 20 1/2 inches long
- 2 pieces 24 inches long
Joining side pieces of wood (1 1/2 x 3/4" timber)
- 2 pieces 10 inches long
- 2 pieces 14 inches long
- 2 pieces 18 inches long
- 2 pieces 22 inches long
- 2 pieces 26 inches long
Ladder supports and obelisk top
- Piece of wood 10 inches square
- 4 - two-by-two inch pieces of lumber, each 6 feet nine inches long
- 4 pieces of two by two inch timber for feet support, each 10 inches long
- Circular saw or chop saw
- Tape Measure
- Hand Saw
- Screwdriver and hammer
- Box of galvanized nails
- 4 galvanized screws
- Paint and Paint brush
- Measure and cut wood to the lengths shown above.
- Lay two of the two by two pieces on a flat surface.
- Measure and mark up 11 inches from the bottom for the lowest 24 inch rung.
- Place the cut piece of 24 inch long timber and nail it in place with the galvanized nails.
- Angle the legs of the timber towards each other.
- Place the 9 1/2 inch piece of wood across the top area of the ladder legs. Nail it in place.
- Measure and mark with a pencil where each of the inner rungs will sit. The spacing between the rungs of our ladder legs was 17 inches.
- Attach the inner rungs to the leg supports at the places marked with pencil.
- Repeat these steps for the other ladder section.
- Mark the overlap of the wood with a pencil and trim it flush with the angle of the edges.
- Place the two ladders so they are on their sides.
- Place the side support pieces at the same placement as the ladder rungs and nail them in place. They will overlap the edges.
- Use a pencil to mark the overlap, then use the hand saw to make cuts along the pencil lines.
- Go back and reinforce each join so that you have three galvanized nails in each join.
- Cut a piece of wood the size of the top opening and attach in place with the four screws.
- Use the chop saw to cut the four ends of the ladder leg support on angle so they are pointed, and nail them to the obelisk legs. This will help to support the obelisk.
- Paint or stain your obelisk with three coats of waterproof sealer.
- Push the pointed supports into the ground.
- Add plants or vegetables at the base and watch them cover the obelisk in no time!
Times for the project are for two coats of paint. If you do three coats, it will take longer for the painting time.
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