Our expert pergola ideas will help you create a covered arbor that adds privacy, shade and scent – a tantalising project for any garden.
From overlooked urban gardens to cavernous country spaces, we all crave intimacy and intrigue whatever our garden size. A pergola is a simple way to create an enclosed space with fragrance if the right plants are incorporated.
Providing vertical interest is important when planning patio ideas, and pergolas are ideal for scented blooms and creeping vines.
Discover our curated selection of the best pergolas to fit with a wide variety of garden ideas and styles.
1. Make sure your pergola is the perfect size for the space
Create an impressive focal point and help define an area in your garden with these pretty pergola ideas.
But first, it’s important to consider size. If your pergola is too small it will feel claustrophobic; too large and it might dominate your space.
2. Pick the perfect position for a pergola or arbor
The best place for a pergola will depend on the layout of your backyard and your reasons for including pergola ideas in your garden.
Garden designer Katrina Kieffer-Wells thinks pergolas can work well as both patio cover ideas in sunny spots, or placed in shady spots, depending what time of day you will use it the most.
‘If you have a south-facing garden, a partially enclosed pergola can create a tranquil retreat and offer respite on a hot summer’s day,’ she says. ‘In shady gardens, they can make a cozy night-time feature with the addition of ambient lights and hanging drapes.’
3. How will you use a pergola?
Get the proportions right. Katrina Kieffer-Wells has some advice to help you plan the right sized pergola ideas: ‘Consider what you want to do under the pergola and make sure you have enough space to do it. Measure any outdoor furniture you are planning to place within the structure and ensure that you allow enough room for people to move around comfortably.’
The Mediterranean-style garden space shown above has been transformed into a sun-baked seating area by incorporating beautiful patio planting ideas, with scented climbers and hanging baskets brimming with colorful perennials.
4. Go for a shady pergola idea
Although the dream of catching some rays while cooking outdoors sounds good, it’s much more practical and comfortable to use a pergola to include some garden shade ideas in an outdoor kitchen space.
‘If your garden doesn’t have a covered spot that offers protection from the sun, you can create a shaded pergola, or grow wisteria and wives up your pergola to provide beautiful dappled light and relief from the heat,’ says Wayne Cocker, director of South Hams Fencing and Landscaping.
5. Use pergola ideas to create a 'zone' in your garden
Garden designer Charlotte Rowe isn’t a fan of pergolas being too close to a property as they can block light to the house. She recommends creating a bespoke zone using a pergola or arbor away from your house.
‘Pergolas are often places to retreat to, so site them somewhere you will enjoy sitting and where it will not be detrimental to neighbor’s views,’ adds garden designer Kate Gould.
6. Evoke a sense of romance with a pretty pergola
You can create a sense of romance with where you choose to place your pergola ideas. Garden designer and consultant Rebecca Smith recommends a pergola that arches over a path through the garden to create a shaded and scented tunnel.
‘In a long garden, a pergola placed at the end of the space can create a destination for different times of day, and can also help screen a garage or garden shed,’ she says.
7. Use the right materials
Wood is generally considered to be the go-to when planning pergola ideas – western red cedar, iroko and oak are all popular choices right now. ‘Sometimes we use metal or even charred oak if we are going for a slight more contemporary feel,’ says Charlotte Rowe.
Although it is possible to lay a patio yourself, whatever material you choose for your pergola ideas it’s crucial that your pergola is specified and built by a professional. It will have to withstand the weather and the weight of the plants – so factor professional pergola instillation into your overall patio costs.
8. Set up a secluded spot for al fresco dining
When designing a patio and pergola area for cooking and dining, consider building it out from an exterior wall to maximize the feeling of flow.
‘Cantilevering a pergola over an outdoor kitchen looks lovely, and with supports only on one side allows for freer movement around and underneath it,’ says Kate Gould. This creates more space for a variety of patio furniture ideas under your pergola.
9. Dress a pergola with wisteria
Wisterias and pergola ideas are a match made in heaven. The wisteria family has around ten species; favorites are Wisteria sinensis and Wisteria floribunda. They are deciduous, with sweetly-scented flowers in shades of white, purple, blue or pink.
Wisterias need sufficient sunlight to flower well – not less than six hours a day – and grow best in a south or west-facing position. Once established, wisterias are vigorous, but can take a few years to get going.
A pergola has to be sturdy to take the weight of a mature wisteria. The final result is simply beautiful though – a froth of pure white flowers and fern-like foliage that looks stunning in quite dense shade.
10. Indulge in poolside shade with a well-placed pergola
Incorporate a pergola into your pool ideas to create the perfect place for poolside lounging. Drape your pergola with grape vines for dappled sunlight and a truly tropical feel.
Alternatively, take inspiration from Mediterranean garden ideas and plant fragrant flowers like jasmine and lavender – as their perfumes are released, they’ll conjure up happy memories of sun-drenched escapes.
What is the point of having a pergola?
It is important to think what you want your pergola ideas to bring to the use and look of a garden. Is it to be used to create a shady spot for summer lunches or perhaps to screen a terrace from neighbors?
Garden designer Rebecca Smith MSGD advises playing around with bamboo stakes beforehand. She says: ‘Will the pergola block a nice view from an upstairs room or will it help to hide an eyesore? It is much better to play around with the site before committing to the build to ensure the pergola is in the best place.’
Garden designer Kate Gould highlights further considerations. ‘It is easy to assume that you can do anything you like in your garden, but there are elements that may require planning permission. Pergolas often fall into this category if you live in a conservation area or if your property is listed.’
Do pergolas block sun?
A covered pergola is a great way to block the sun. However, they are not built for protection from the rain. Only invest in a pergola if you really think you need one. Often people think that they will give lots of shelter from the rain, when in fact they don’t and are more useful for providing shade from the sun.
Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space.
Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.
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