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Adding a pergola to your yard or garden enhances beauty and functionality.

I have always envied people whose backyard patios feature stunning and robust wooden pergolas draped with wisteria or bougainvillea. There’s something about those romantic vines climbing along a well-built structure that beckons you to sit down, relax and enjoy the view.

Pergolas add structural elegance to yards and gardens. Not only that, they enhance functionality and ambiance of any space. That’s why adding a pergola to our backyard oasis is next on our list: it will round off our aesthetic goals while also providing shade in the heat of summer. Add in an optional rain cover, and we’ll also extend our patio’s use in our Pacific Northwest climate.

Whether you’re seeking a retreat for afternoon reading or a picturesque backdrop for gatherings and your raised bed garden, pergolas offer endless possibilities limited only by your imagination.

Related: 7 Tips for Creating Your Backyard Sanctuary

What's a pergola anyway?

A pergola, in its simplest form, is an outdoor structure with an open framework, often consisting of vertical posts, supporting cross beams and an open lattice roof. In addition to being decorative, pergolas offer shade, define pathways, and provide a platform for climbing plants to flourish. With their timeless charm and functionality, pergolas are also great focal points in the garden.

Pergola design considerations

Use

Before building or erecting a pergola, consider its intended purpose. How do you envision using the pergola in your space? Are you seeking a shaded retreat for lounging? Or perhaps you aim to create an inviting alfresco dining area. Understanding the primary function of your pergola will guide key decisions regarding its size, location and design elements.

Consider pergola use when designing your space. Photo: Eartheasy’s 10′ pergola kit.

Here are some common pergola uses:

  • Shade: Pergolas provide full or partial shade, making them ideal for creating comfortable outdoor spaces where you can escape the sun’s harsh rays while still enjoying the beauty of the outdoors.
  • Outdoor living space: Looking for a home extension? Pergolas offer designated areas for relaxation, dining, entertaining and socializing in the fresh air.
  • Architectural interest: I mentioned focal points: pergolas add visual appeal to landscapes, enhancing the overall aesthetics of the outdoor space.
  • Define spaces: Pergolas can define different zones within the garden, such as seating areas, pathways or entryways, helping to organize the outdoor environment.
  • Support for plants: Vining plants appreciate the vertical structure of pergolas (and there’s nothing quite like sitting beneath a ceiling of gorgeous blooms).
  • Privacy: Depending on its design and placement, a pergola can offer a sense of privacy and seclusion within the garden, creating intimate spaces for relaxation and contemplation.

Location

Consider placing your pergola in an area that receives the right balance of sunlight and shade throughout the day, ensuring comfortable outdoor experiences. Additionally, take advantage of scenic views or focal points to create an inviting backdrop. Proximity to the house and other outdoor amenities, such as patios or swimming pools, can enhance accessibility and flow within your outdoor space.

Best materials

When it comes to pergola materials, there are different options to suit various preferences and practical needs. Wood, such as cedar or redwood, exudes natural charm and warmth, perfect for traditional and rustic garden styles. Low-maintenance materials like metal offer durability and resistance to weathering, and are ideal for modern designs. Consider the overall aesthetic appeal, longevity and maintenance requirements of each material when making your choice.

Pergola ideas and inspiration

Outdoor dining room

Just off the backdoor, this outdoor dining room capitalizes on the shade provided by a pergola to buffer summer heat. Embrace al fresco dining close to home with this simple design.

Dining room

Eartheasy’s 10′ pergola kit.

The gathering place

Create an outdoor living space for nighttime gatherings. This decked out pergola incorporates flowing drapery, fairy lights, and comfortable seating.

pergola with curtains and seating area at night

Photo by Randy Fath

Outdoor living room

Frame up your outdoor living space with pavers and a pergola. Adding a comfortable couch expands your gathering space and provides a scenic getaway for al fresco dining and conversation.

Pergola walkway

Frame a special view with a sweeping pergola that marks the transition between garden beds while covering a walkway.

pergola walkway

Photo by Nyx Lilith

Wisteria support

While less common, metal pergolas are long lasting with a modern flair. They’re also a good match for the robustness of wisteria vines, which can strangle or destroy a wooden pergola if left untended for many years.

Powder-coated metal pergola. Photo by Mika Sy on Unsplash

Patio pub and hot tub

This magazine-worthy outdoor bar features a modified pergola kit and a bricked-in counter. Add in some nighttime solar or electric lights, and a hot tub, and the space is ready to go day or night.

Eartheasy’s 12′ pergola kit customized to accommodate brick supports.

Shady haven

This pergola features an inexpensive bamboo shade to keep users cool and protect the bougainvillea from harsh rays.

bamboo and wood pergola

Photo by My Foto Canva on Unsplash

Vintner’s favorite

Grapes need space to roam and a pergola is the perfect option. The fast-growing vines will cover and shade a small pergola in one season if the roots are already established. The fruit’s weight will also help them hang within easy reach.

green grapes on pergola

Photo by Milada Vigerova

Fountain Sanctuary

Create a cool spot in the shade of a pergola with the refreshing spray of a fountain. This design features potted plants and easily movable benches.

pergola with fountain

Eartheasy’s 10′ natural cedar pergola kit frames this fountain and seating area.

Arched pergola pathway

Create a garden tunnel with an extended pergola pathway. This design features vining plants that shade in summer, plus arched pergolas placed end to end.
shaded pathway

What can you plant on a pergola?

Wisteria vines in bloom

Wisteria Image by Kerstin Riemer from Pixabay

Choosing the right plants for your pergola depends on climate, sunlight exposure, desired aesthetics and maintenance preferences. Here are some popular options that thrive on pergolas:

Climbing roses (Rosa spp.)

With their vibrant blooms and sweet fragrance, climbing roses add romance and charm to pergolas. Choose varieties that prefer full sun to partial shade. Amberness and Lilac Days are two beautiful favorites.
Preferred climate: Hardy to zone 4
Mature height and spread: 10+ feet tall, 4 to 6 feet wide

Wisteria (wisteria spp.)

Known for its cascading clusters of fragrant purple flowers, wisteria creates a stunning display when trained to climb a pergola. It requires sturdy support and regular pruning to keep growth in check. This is the plant known to wrestle trellises to the ground after a dozen years or more and can be invasive in some locations. If you keep on top of its growth, however, there’s nothing more beautiful.
Preferred climate: zones 5 to 9, with select varieties tolerating as low as zone 3
Mature height and spread: 30 feet

Clematis (clematis spp.)

Available in a wide range of colors and varieties, clematis features showy flowers that cover pergola structures with a profusion of blooms. The plants come in a wide variety of colors and prefer partial shade for roots. You will need to train the clematis along pergola supports during its early growth.
Preferred climate: Growing zones 4 to 9
Mature height and spread: Up to 40 feet tall (not including dwarf varieties), 3 to 20 feet wide

Grapevines (Vitis spp.)

Ideal for edible landscaping, grapevines not only provide shade but also produce delicious fruits. Select grape varieties suited to your climate and pergola size, ensuring proper support for their vigorous growth. Once trained to follow the pergola framework, grapevines will find their way.
Preferred climate: Growing zones 5 to 9 unless noted
Mature height and spread: 8 to 15 feet tall, 10 to 12 feet wide

honeysuckle

Photo by Kara Skye on Unsplash

Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.)

With its fragrant, trumpet-shaped flowers, honeysuckle attracts pollinators and adds a delightful scent to the garden. Choose non-invasive varieties and provide support for their twining stems.
Preferred climate: Growing zones 5 to 9
Mature height and spread: 10 to 25 feet tall, 3 to 10 feet wide

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Known for its intricate, exotic blooms and edible fruit, passionflower adds tropical flair to pergolas. Select varieties that can withstand your local climate.
Preferred climate: Growing zones 7 to 10
Mature height and spread: 10 to 30 feet tall, 3 to 6 feet wide

Jasmine (Jasminum officinale)

With its sweet fragrance and delicate white flowers, jasmine creates a romantic ambiance on pergolas. Choose cold-hardy varieties for cooler climates and ensure adequate support for their twining growth habit.
Preferred climate: Hardy to zone 7, though I’ve found protection in winter is helpful in this zone.
Mature height and spread: 20 feet tall, 3 to 5 feet wide.

Putting it all together

Embarking on the journey of gardening is more than just planting seeds and watching them grow; it’s about cultivating a living, breathing sanctuary right outside your door. A well-designed pergola can serve as a cornerstone of your garden oasis, providing shelter, style, and a touch of sophistication–with or without the wisteria of my dreams.

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