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How to Find the Perfect Pergola for Your Garden

Pergolas are hugely versatile and a wonderful addition to any garden. Here’s how to choose the right one for you

Houzz Ireland Contributor Patricia Tyrrell is an award winning landscape and garden… More

From framing views to creating welcome shade and supporting climbing and twining plants, pergolas can play many roles in a garden. The word pergola comes from the 17th century Italian word ‘pergula’, meaning projecting roof, and they traditionally created a wonderful shaded transition between inside and outside, supporting vines or other climbing plants. The fashion for pergolas slowly spread from warmer climes as travellers observed these rather atmospheric structures and brought the idea home with them.

Traditionally a shaded walkway or sitting area, over time the interpretation of what a pergola is has become looser and more creative and the materials employed to make one more varied. So whatever your requirements, there will be a design to suit you.

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Fashion a rustic arch
Originally, pergolas were constructed from light timber poles. These were viewed as transitory structures to support fruit and vegetables. Over time, the poles would have to be replaced.

Even on a very small budget, a pergola can be constructed out of cheap or even free materials, such as hazel, willow or softwood poles.

Add some climbing annuals, such as sweet peas (pictured here), for a colourful and fragrant summer and autumn display. For a more exotic look, there are other climbing annuals such as Rhodochiton (purple bell vine), Cobaea scandens and Thunbergia alata ‘African Sunset’.

Vegetables such as runner beans would climb really well on this kind of structure, too, some varieties providing attractive red flowers as well as beans.

You could also have some fun with gourds, which can be really ornamental and give a magical effect when in fruit. For those among you who like to brew your own beer, you could even try growing your own hops.

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Lead them up the garden path
During the Arts & Crafts movement of the early 20th century, pergolas became very fashionable. They were usually constructed as a robust structure of stone, brick and timber – built to last.

Gertrude Jekyll, the famous Arts & Crafts horticulturalist and garden designer, recommended the pergola should have a purpose either creating a connection or leading somewhere.

Here it spans the path, connecting it to the house. The supporting uprights are constructed of brick, which ties in beautifully with the background materials. The horizontals are chunky, weathered timber beams. Solidity is emphasised by the upward curve on the beams. The whole effect is very inviting, solid and timeless.

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Style a screen
A vertical structure not only adds another dimension to your garden, it can act as a subtle screen, particularly if you’re overlooked by neighbouring properties. With simple wire trellis attached to the uprights, or overhead, and some well-placed planting, you can create a private space away from the world.

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Enjoy shady greenery
A narrow curved pergola in a fine material, such as steel, allows the planting to create the definition in the space. Here, a cool green tunnel is the result – a marvellous contrast with the light-filled space beyond.

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Grow your own
A pergola can be productive as well as beautiful. Apples and pears have wonderful blossom in the spring and, when grown as espalier or cordons, can give you a wide variety of fruit in a small space.

There are so many varieties of apple to choose from, it’s said you could eat a different type every day of the year. To train trees in this fashion, you need to purchase very young fruit trees called ‘maidens’. A little bit of horticultural skill and a willingness to ‘give it a go’, along with some good books and internet videos, could find you with a new and unexpected interest in a fascinating subject.

View these wildlife-friendly garden ideas

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Focus attention
A beautifully constructed pergola needn’t always be designed for climbers. Here, the skill of construction and the beauty of the materials are what’s important as the structure focuses the viewer and creates the perfect frame for the sculpture at the end.

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Vote for a 21st century classic
Traditional and modern materials can juxtapose so very beautifully, as demonstrated in this smart design. The clean lines of the steel uprights and timber slats create a very modern pergola, but with a nod to tradition. Modern materials and techniques mean that the only limit on the end result is your creativity and imagination.

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Keep it simple
A minimalist timber pergola stained black gives a slightly exotic feel, which contrasts well with the strongly textured foliage surrounding it. Dark timbers are very much on trend and can look quite graphic when contrasted against a simple white background.

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Have some fun
A pergola is wonderful way to create some shade on a sunny day and to support climbers and even hanging baskets. But that’s not all! Add some fun to the mix.

A robustly built pergola can also support a swing, hammock or other play equipment. In a small garden, every inch of space needs to be made to count. As time passes and the children grow up, it can revert to a calmer space for sitting and relaxing.

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Create a destination
Use a pergola to create an inviting space away from the house. It doesn’t have to be part of a path or a journey – it can be a focal point in itself. Allow it to define a space in the garden where you can sit and enjoy the dappled shade.

Browse 10 idyllic garden retreats

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Add some country charm
Create a Mediterranean feel by extending some rustic poles from the house to grow some grapevines. In a good year, you may be able to reap the fruits of your labour, too.

Good varieties for growing outdoors in Britain and Ireland are ‘Phoenix’ (green), and ‘Pinot Noir’ and ‘Regent’ (red). Make sure you locate your pergola in full sun and, as grapevines are very greedy, allow them rich, deep soil and lots of feeding.

Do you have a pergola in your garden? Share your photos and ideas in the Comments below.

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