Pergolas never go out of style – they have centuries of history behind them, found as early as medieval times, they have long captured the elegance of warmer climates where alfresco dining is a near-daily occurrence and you need a little shade to keep you comfortable until the sunsets. Whether you’re thinking of installing a large pergola over your patio or a simple arch over a garden path, this article will guide you through everything you need to consider and all the different ways you can incorporate a pergola into your garden.
Where can I put a pergola in my garden?
Some of the best positions for a pergola are:
- Over a path – this can be a short archway for climbing plants and/or lighting or a long pergola stretching the length of the path
- Over a patio – this is a great way to provide shade for a seating area
- Against a fence – this is a good option for small gardens as it offers a focal point where you can create a shaded seating area or frame a statue, mirror, gateway, or provide additional privacy
What are pergola’s made out of?
Most pergolas are made from solid wood beams, but you do have a few other choices. You can find metal pergolas which can make a statement in a modern garden. Aluminium pergolas have been very popular in recent times.
Some pergolas use brick posts with wooden beams overhead, which is a great option if you’re interested in longevity and have the space. The downside of these is they are usually too bulky for the average British garden.
Wooden pergolas are the best choice, but of course are subject to rotting over time, especially if they aren’t regularly treated or are anchored in the earth rather than concrete. Softwood pergolas are most common, but, if you’re willing to splash out, an oak pergola will stand up better to the elements and last longer. They tend to have a more robust look too.
Composite pergolas are also coming to the market, though aren’t as common here in the UK as they are in the US.
How to Incorporate a Pergola into Your Garden Design
1. Keep your garden’s size in mind
Pergolas generally look best when they’re less than 25% of the size of your garden, so consider the overall size of your garden when planning the footprint of your pergola. If the main aim of your pergola is to gain privacy from overlooking neighbours, then you could go bigger, but be aware that it will be a little cave-like if you only have an opening on one side.
2. Tuck it close to the house
If your home has an extension or has a bump-out, tuck your pergola in the garden/patio space beside the extending room. This extends your living space, creates a transition to your garden, and gives you more options when deciding where is the most comfortable place to spend your time.
3. Use the frequency or railings above to give you more or less shade
Keep the gaps between the overhead railings on your pergola wide if you want to let some sunshine through or don’t want your climbing plants to create a roof over the top. Of course, you can also do the opposite – if you want a dense roof of vines, leaves and flowers or want to create shade without the use of a climbing plant, have narrow gaps between the overhead railings. Note that, generally, the thickness of these beams should also correlate.
4. Try an arched pergola in a small garden
If your garden is small, an arched pergola can help prevent the pergola from feeling too bulky in your space. The vertical head height will make sure it retains height while not taking up too much room or having a big, boxy look.
5. Use hanging baskets to add colour
This is a good idea if you don’t want to have plants climbing up your pergola or want some immediate colour and height when your climbing plants are young. This looks particularly spectacular on curved or circular pergolas.
6. Position it in your garden’s sun trap
Many gardens have that one spot that’s lovely to sit in when it’s in the early to mid-20s outside, but just scorchingly hot when it gets close to 30 degrees outside. This is the perfect area for a pergola as the addition of a pergola will keep you at a comfortable temperature when you most want to be outside but it’s too hot to sit in the sun.
7. Frame your outdoor kitchen
A pergola is an ideal way to create an indoor-outdoor environment for your outdoor kitchen. The smoke from your grill can easily dissipate or if your grill has a chimney, it can easily reach up through the gaps in the pergola roof. You can also use it to fix permanent lighting to, which makes it feel like a much more permanent and usable space.
8. Put it over a fire pit
Similarly, you can safely put a pergola over a fire pit provided you have plenty of ventilation and are mindful of common-sense safety. Make sure your fire pit uses fire-safe materials if you plan to have your own built, rather than buying a movable fire pit. You could even have a table made that fits over the fire pit (plus a little room for legs) so you can use the area for dining and for relaxing by the fire – just remember not to use them both at the same time!
9. Use it as a portal to another area of your garden
A pergola can help you transition from one area of your garden to another, especially when you’re using hedges, fences, or tall plants to hide the second area from view.
10. Over a sunken patio
One of the most interesting and unique ways to use a pergola is to place it over a sunken patio that’s lower than the rest of your garden. Surround the pergola and patio with densely planted flowering plants for privacy, beauty, and a strong floral scent.
11. Make sure there’s something to see through the pergola
If you have a pergola as an archway over a path, make sure you consider what can be seen when you are standing on either side of it, ready to walk through it. A pergola is a key opportunity to create intrigue or frame a specific view, so think about what you can do to lead people on or create a beautiful picture.
12. Choose your climbing plants intentionally
The climbing plants you choose need to fit in with the style of your garden and home, and your lifestyle. Some climbing plants will quickly take over your pergola and will require frequent pruning to keep under control once they are fully grown, while others are unlikely to fully cover the roof of the pergola. Here are some of the most popular options:
- Wisteria – if you think of a pergola, you likely think of one covered in Wisteria. This beautiful climbing plant will never go out of style and makes the heart flutter a little every summer.
- Clematis – this delicate plant produces pretty purple, pink, or white flowers
- Honeysuckle – with long, flute-like flowers, this flower has a lovely perfume and will please your local bee population
- Roses – climbing roses are a beautiful choice but may not be best if you have small children in the family
- Sweat peas – a lightweight choice that produces a wide range of colors and will keep your dining room table vase full of flowers until winter comes
- Passion flowers – passion flowers have a unique shape and are most commonly seen in shades of deep purple, but can also be found in white and other shades. It produces small orange fruits which add a new element late in the season. (The pulp of this fruit is edible, though most people leave the fruit to local wildlife.)
- Trumpet vine – has long, bright flowers in sunset shades
- Cobaea scandens – this is the classic climbing trumpet plant bees and children love (just keep an eye on small children so the two don’t come into contact)
- Grapevine – No other plant will help transport you to Tuscany on a summer’s evening like grapevine! It looks beautiful and of course, late in the season you’ll be able to snack on grapes after your meal – where’s the cheese platter?
- Trachelospermum jasmioides – this is an evergreen climber so you won’t have to endure 3-6 months of a pergola covered in twigs instead of leaves and flowers throughout the winter
- Potato vine – forget the strange name of this plant, this is actually an evergreen climber that produces delicate white star-shaped flowers in the summer.
13. Plant around the base
Pergola’s can look a little top-heavy if all the plant growth is focused on the top of the pergola with nothing around the base. Consider planting a few shade-loving plants on the inside of the pergola or some bushier grasses or shrubs around the outside. If the area around your pergola will largely be paved, you can easily use potted plants, potted artificial plants, or put some trellis or fencing between some of the pergola posts so some of your climbing plants can grow along as well as up.
Does a pergola increase home value?
Unless the pergola is in an unusual or impractical place or is in disrepair, a pergola will likely make your home more desirable to potential buyers. If you’re thinking of adding a pergola but know you’re going to be moving within the next 3 years or so, make sure you consider what that future buyer may want.
If your home is likely to be purchased by a young family, putting a pergola in the middle of a small garden may not leave enough room for kids to play, and so they may not find the pergola all that desirable. This won’t matter if there’s just grass below the pergola, but if you’re also going to be laying a path or patio, this is something to consider.
How tall should a pergola be?
You can’t have a pergola taller than 2.5m tall without needing planning permission if it’s against a boundary or 3m tall if it’s not. This is fairly tall so you’re unlikely to need to worry about bumping up against planning restrictions. If it’s going to be against your house, it’s usually best to have it around the height of the top of your ground floor. If it’s not, it’s totally up to you. A lower ceiling (around 2m) will give you a cozier feel.
Do I need to anchor my pergola?
Yes, you need to anchor it, and we recommend you have it cemented in. Burying it deep in the ground (like a fence post) is a good option if you’re in a relatively sheltered spot, are choosing lightweight climbing plants, and don’t want to use concrete, but consult a landscaping professional to make sure you’re making a safe choice.
A pergola is a beautiful addition to almost any outside space, but you do risk them looking awkward and bulky if you get the style or positioning wrong. They also need professional installation to ensure they’re safe and won’t be moved in strong winds. If you’re in Essex and are thinking about including a pergola in your garden design, we’re the professionals you can rely on. SE Landscapes can support you with everything from the overall garden design down to patio installation, so if you have any questions about how to incorporate a pergola into your garden, please don’t hesitate to contact us