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Pergolas and Other Landscaping Structures for the Garden

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 20 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Pergola Pergolas Garden Structure

A pergola can be a stunning addition to any garden and it a very versatile one too. This article will cover pergolas and other similar garden landscaping structures that are used to make walkways or divide sections of gardens from each other.

Landscaping History

Pergolas developed from natural occurring green archways which were formed by fast-growing bendable saplings such as hazel and willow. Early gardeners began to build structures to train and direct these natural tunnels and it was a short step from that to the pergola as we know it today.

This is an open structure of wooden spars, sometimes lattice, supported by poles. Vines or other climbing plants are usually trained up pergolas but today they are occasionally seen in their own right, particularly in contemporary gardens.

Where to Site Pergolas

A pergola can form an extension of an existing building, or lead out from a building, giving a degree of shelter to a path. It can lead either to another building or simply out into the middle of a garden. Alternatively it can stand on its own in the middle of a garden, a dramatic structure in its own right.

Classical pergolas were often made of brick or stone but modern ones are almost exclusively made of wood. Wood pergolas are cheaper, lighter and easier to erect and that accounts for the relative popularity of pergolas today. They had fallen out of favour in the 18th and 19th centuries as they did not fit the vogue for natural garden landscaping styles.

Arches, Colonnades and Other Similar Structures

Stepping away from the traditional pergola there other similar structures available, although there’s little standardisation in the names used. This means one supplier’s colonnade might be another supplier’s pergola, for example. In garden landscaping stores a colonnade often refers to a one-sided structure of posts and trellises, a bit like half a pergola.

There’s also a lot of cross-over between arches and pergolas. You could call a short pergola an arch and a long arch a pergola. Again it depends on the decisions made by the supplier.

Putting Up a Pergola

Erecting a pergola, arch or colonnade is similar to erecting a fence but easier. This is because there are usually no sides to a pergola, it’s just posts with crosspieces or a lattice panel overhead. Colonnades and arches may have lattice sides and roofs but they are a lot easier to manoeuvre than fence panels and don’t have to be aligned so accurately

Mark out the line for your pergola posts using string and pegs. Set the posts into the ground using fence post supports and make sure they are properly vertical. By this we mean use a spirit level on both faces of each post. Also make sure that the posts don’t twisty slightly as you go along the line putting them in place.

Planting Climbers for a Pergola

Once the posts are all up simply fix the wood crosspieces or lattice panels in place to form the roof. Plants can then either be planted in the ground or in containers at the foot of the posts.

Depending on the growth rate it can take a while for climbers to cover the structure but after a few years the result will look good and smell great.

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