Pergolas for the Patio Feature

Much of the individuality of your patio will be found not so much in its basic structure as in the way you equip and furnish it for the particular uses to which it will be put. In this section we have a look at some of the ways to get maximum usefulness and enjoyment from your paved area.


Add a pergola to your patio and you make it look much more like an outdoor room, for it gives an instant illusion of walls and, sometimes, a ceiling too if you include some cross-pieces overhead. It is also a useful way of showing off climbers that would otherwise be relegated to side walls.

Pergolas look impressive if built with pillars of stone or brick, but they are more usually made from timber. In that case oak or cedar, are the ideal choice for uprights; but both these woods are extremely expensive, so most people use cheaper larch or pine instead. Pergolas are often available from garden centres in kit form.


The timber for a home-made pergola can be squared or ‘rustic’. In the latter case larch poles are the best choice. Leave the bark on only if the larch has been felled during the winter; otherwise the bark will eventually fall off. It is probably better to remove it with a knife or spoke shave, and to apply varnish or a wood preservative to the underlying surface. Only butt joints are possible with rustic poles, and both joint faces must be squared before they are nailed together.

Although slim poles may look better when the pergola or arch is bare, be fairly generous with the thickness as the structure may eventually have to bear a considerable weight of foliage. Moreover, high winds, or high-spirited people swinging on the poles, can put a severe strain on the structure so err on the side of safety. Uprights should be treated like fence posts: they must be well preserved and set firmly at least 450mm (18in) in the ground. Uprights should be spaced no more than 2.4m (8ft) apart, and should not be less than 100mm (4in) in diameter or square. A variety of possibilities exists for the cross rails, but they should be a minimum of 75mm (3in) in diameter or square; a pleasing effect is produced if they extend each side of the uprights, with shaped ends. Some people who prefer a more sturdy appearance use wider but thinner cross rails, such as planking 150 x 25mm (6 x 1in). Side members should be about the same size as the cross rails, or perhaps a little smaller.


Vines of all kinds look good when trained up a pergola; so do climbing roses, especially if they are twinned with clematis. And, if you have the space to include them, scented plants like honeysuckle (Lonicera) add an extra dimension of fragrance in the air when you sit out on the patio in the evening.

If the pergola forms part of an overhead structure attached to the house, it is best to train deciduous rather than evergreen climbers up it, otherwise in the winter months it may shut too much light out of the rooms nearby. Be sure to build in adequate support vine-eyes and wires before you plant your climbers: it is much easier to do it at that stage than when you have to struggle with fully grown plants. If, for some reason, you cannot have ordinary beds around the base of the pergola – for instance, the support poles may be built into the patio itself-then a series of rectangular troughs could be fitted around the base of the supports instead and planted with shallow-rooting climbers. For a permanent planting, wisteria looks very attractive, while if you need quick cover you can’t beat the Russian vine or mile-a-minute (Polygonum baldschuanicum), though it will need frequent and fairly ruthless cutting back once established if it is not to take over.

17. July 2013 by admin
Categories: Featured, Garden Management, Top Tips | Tags: , | Comments Off on Pergolas for the Patio Feature


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