Tag Archives: garden bridges

Building bridges

Building, not burning.

Lloyd has been busy in the Wild North Garden. With a network of ponds and natural springs, we need bridges if anybody other than ourselves is to venture round.

Forever to be known to me as Gloria’s bridge, for reasons known to Gloria and her crossing of the small stream

Most of our bridges are simple affairs. Because we can get flooding, they need to be secured and stable but are we certainly not building dinky humpback bridges with a nod to Japan and China. They are very popular, I have noticed, in other people’s gardens.

Simply referred to as the stone bridge, because that is what it is
The high bridge with its new timbers. It is a fair drop down to the rapids and water below

In the days when we were a bit more ambitious about opening to the public, we put two bridges in the park which were conceived as features. What we call the high bridge or the wisteria bridge is constructed on an old truck chassis that had been galvanised to protect it from rust. It is not visible, but that is what is holding the bridge timbers securely. Both it and the stone bridge were constructed by a hyperactive and obliging German engineer who was spending some time in New Zealand.

If you are building a bridge from scratch, may I recommend staining it from the start, rather than painting it? That is, if you don’t want to leave the timber in its natural state. Stain tends to age more gracefully than paint. Repainting a bridge regularly, let alone the preparation work necessary for getting the fresh paint to adhere, does not sound fun to me. We stained the new timbers on the high bridge because we had to replace the weathered timber with tanalised pine and I am not a fan of the look of tanalised pine.

Basic but adequate construction. Fit for purpose, we might say.

The other three bridges – yes, we have five down in the park – are definitely more rustic. It is that simple construction that Lloyd is repeating on three of the four new bridges we need in the Wild North Garden. He drives wooden piles into the ground, secures cross bars to the piles and then attaches rough sawn timber to those cross bars, also wiring the boards together so that if one comes loose, the other may hold it in a flood situation. In a life rich with sheds, we have various lengths of interesting timber stored for the day we may need them, like now. Being rough sawn, they don’t get as slippery as finished timber but he has wrapped one or two down in the park in chicken netting, secured beneath, to reduce slip hazards.

The fourth new bridge is more of a conundrum. When Mark first started working in that area, he had three large tree logs placed where he wanted bridges. His plan was to get somebody with a large chainsaw in to carve a flattish walkway into the trunks and to add side railings. That was 20 years ago and two of those trunks are no longer sound enough to work on. They can just gently moulder away. The third one is still remarkably sound and is in exactly the right place for a bridge but it no longer seems a good plan to chainsaw into the old trunk. It will open it up to rot all too quickly. Mark hopes that it will be possible to construct a timber frame and attach it to the trunk and then secure bridge timbers – walking planks – and side rails to that frame. Watch this space. Lloyd is a practical and experienced man. If it can’t be made to work, he will tell us. If it can, we will have a bridge that is more of a feature than a utility crossing.

Beware of using bridges as pointless garden features. Or, if you are going to make a bridge to nowhere, make it a BIG one. I give you two examples, both from Yorkshire in the UK, oddly enough.

Unnecessary. And a bit twee, to my eyes.
Castle Howard

Finally, may I urge local readers to take time out to admire the stand of Magnolia campbellii down in the gully in Powderham Street, opposite the condemned parking building (or beside the liquor store, if that is a better locator for you). Or just along from this view of the windy wand.

Len Lye’s wind wand. Turn right at this intersection to the find the magnolias

In our garden, our eyes are so often trained upwards to look at magnolia flowers on the tops of mature trees so it has a certain novelty looking into huge magnolias in bloom at eye level. That is the effect you can get when you plant in a gully.

The stand of three Magnolia campbellii on Powerderham Street last Fiday

Paint it black – the wisteria bridge

Tanalised pine

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that Lloyd was reconstructing this bridge. Twenty five years ago, it was built from untreated macrocarpa that we just left to weather naturally. Now it is tanalised pine and I am not a fan of tanalised pine in its raw state as a construction material in the garden.

Monet’s green bridge

Monet’s bridges at Giverny are painted green. It is not a shade of green I like. In fact, I sniffily refer to it as ‘lavatory green’, on account of it being the colour that Mark’s mother thought was suited for lavatories (and kitchens) back in the 1950s and 1960s when she was choosing the colour palette for both her new house – where we live now – and the beach house they built.

Poet’s Bridge, Pukekura Park (photo credit: Wiki Commons)

Locally, there appears to be a penchant for red bridges. I attribute this in part to the decision to paint what is known as Poet’s Bridge in Pukekura Park fire-engine red. Pukekura is the much-loved public gardens in the heart of New Plymouth.

The domestic version of a red bridge in a local garden – stained, not painted, by the looks of it

There also appears to be some idea that red bridges evoke the exotic Orient – well, China and Japan at least. This red bridge is a tidy little construction I photographed in a local garden.

A genuine Chinese bridge, festooned

When I went through my photos from our one and only trip to China (we will probably never will get to Japan now), I had a mental image of a red bridge but I see it was Mark and me on a bridge festooned in red ribbons.

The bridge at Yu Er Park was of somewhat showier design, but not red

Other Chinese bridge photos I had were more like this.

Our bridge gone black

Well, our bridge is now black. It is a bit blacker than I wanted it. Mentally I was thinking more charcoal off-black but it will fade because we have gone for stain, not paint. I am wary of painting anything in the garden because once painted, it has to be repainted as the paint peels and deteriorates. Stain can just age gracefully.

I hadn’t factored in the rather stark contrast of bird poop on the black surface but I am sure it will all find its natural balance over time. We have yet to tie the wisteria canes back in and that, too, will soften the sharp black lines. And one of the wisterias is white ‘Snow Showers’ so that will distract from the bird poop when it is flowering.

I am fine with the decision to go black and the bridge is a great deal more solid now than it was. There is no danger now of a bridge timber or railing giving way beneath the weight of an adult body.

Bridge crossings – sometimes over water

001Monet’s garden in Giverny has probably given us the most recognisable garden bridges – gently arching in form and painted. While originally Japanese in inspiration, Monet gets all the credit these days.


Around the world, there must be thousands of Monet-inspired bridges adorning private gardens, though I am not 100% sure that starting with a flat bridge structure and adjusting the decking angles in the second bridge above is totally successful. These two at least have a purpose in traversing a ditch and a stream respectively.

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These two bridges are pure, unabashed ornamentation. There is no functional need for bridges in either situation. The blue one is in Yorkshire, the green version was in my local town of Waitara. I use the past tense because it has now been removed because it became structurally unsound.


Paloma Garden near Wanganui has a major bridge crossing a large body of water but I do not appear to have photographed it in its full span of glory. In this situation, the bridge not only provides access, but also makes a large visual statement.


And our own bridge in our park, wreathed in wisterias, has been compared by others to Monet’s bridges, though that was not in our minds at the time it was constructed. Its framework was built using an old truck chassis, for those who are interested in engineering details. While we have to replace the odd decking board from time to time, the galvanised, underpinning structure has remained sound over the past 20 years. We have never painted it and never intend to paint it. I couldn’t help but notice the immaculate paintwork on Monet’s bridges but that is in a drier climate and in a garden maintained by a small army of staff. We have so much moss and lichen growth in our conditions that paint is problematic. We prefer the natural look to tatty paintwork.

Castle Howard Away from the domesticity of Monet-style, I photographed this handsome, apparently disused bridge at Castle Howard in Yorkshire. What a handsome landscape feature it is, though I failed to find out the story behind its construction.

Gresgarth (30)

Gresgarth Hall, the garden of Arabella Lennox-Boyd, takes a practical, level bridge construction across a stream and gives it flair with curved stone steps and ramparts. There is nothing like stone as a building material to give solidity, permanence and grace to a garden.

DSC02016 We have a small stone bridge in our park, modest in scale though perfectly functional and gently permanent in its visual appeal. Mostly Te Popo 107

Some folk face more challenges than others when it comes to bridges. This swing bridge is in Te Popo Garden near Stratford where it spans a deep gorge. This is a situation where safety and functionality are paramount but I also like the unadorned honesty and lack of pretension of this bridge in the large woodland garden.



At the simplest end of the spectrum, we have also used board bridges in our park. That is my photo-bombing Dudley dog on a bridge which exists solely to get the lawnmower from one side of the stream to the other. These crossings are perfectly sound and stable for foot traffic, but they do not pretend to be anything other than utility in purpose.

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In the area we call the North Garden, or the wild North Garden, there will eventually be log bridges across the ponds. Maybe. When clearing the area and creating the ponds, Mark had two dead trees relocated to bridge the water. The plan has always been to chainsaw the top of the logs reasonably level to get an easier walking surface and to add side rails. It just hasn’t happened yet because we have not yet opened this area to the public. It is another naturalistic- style of bridging water which is pleasing to our eyes while also being an inexpensive option.


Finally, when it comes to bridges, I would not want this in my own garden but what a beautiful bridge it is on the walkway in New Plymouth. Evoking the breakers of the adjacent ocean, it frames our iconic mountain.