From the Italian word for “arbor,” a pergola is a garden structure made of uprights that support a roof made of horizontal beams. It is placed over a pathway, a corner of the garden or extends from the house. Often, a seating or dining area is placed inside it. Though the horizontals alone provide some shade during the brightest part of the day, some pergolas in really hot and sunny climates come with retractable shades made of sailcloth.
Pergolas that are attached to the house are excellent ways to shade a patio, deck or other terraced area while it extends the living space of the house. If a garden or yard is large, more than one pergola can be constructed to help guide a stroller from one part of the property to another. More than one pergola in a smaller yard risks making the space look cluttered. A pergola also adds height to an area of the garden that is a little too flat.
A pergola is often used to support climbing plants and vines. In hot climates, hops are popular vines to be trained up and over these structures. Other plants include clematis, laburnum, honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, ivy and moonvines. Wisteria can also trained on a pergola, though the structure needs to be very strong to withstand the plant’s weight.
It’s important that the pergola complement the style of the house, for it is seen both from outside the house and from within it. The vertical and the horizontal elements should be balanced and proportional. Most pergolas are made of wood, though they can be made of a wide variety of materials, including metal and vinyl. Stone is a good choice for the uprights and is a traditional material in cooler regions such as the United Kingdom. Simple pergolas are fairly easy to construct by DIYers who have at least moderate construction skills.