How To Make Your Garden Feel More Intimate With a Pergola

Corten Steel Cantilevered Pergola Providing Privacy For Outdoor Kitchen. Designers: Michael McGarr and Rob Warnes, Eat and Shelter Garden. Image: Lorraine Young/Verve Garden Design

Corten Steel Cantilevered Pergola Providing Privacy For Outdoor Kitchen. Designers: Michael McGarr and Rob Warnes, Eat and Shelter Garden. Image: Lorraine Young/Verve Garden Design

 

One clever garden design solution is to create the feeling of intimacy and privacy by adding  a pergola to your seating or dining area. Are you uncomfortable that your garden is overlooked? Or does it feel like a football field with a large, flat lawn? Read on to find how to use a pergola successfully in your garden.

 

What Is a Pergola?

Contemporary Pine Pergola With Open Roof. Designers: Nicole Fischer and Daniel Auderset ,   Extending Space Garden. Image: Lorraine Young/Verve Garden Design

Contemporary Pine Pergola With Open Roof. Designers: Nicole Fischer and Daniel Auderset,  Extending Space Garden. Image: Lorraine Young/Verve Garden Design

Garden pergolas are structures made from supporting columns and overhead beams that form a semi-open roof. Sometimes the sides are open but they can also be slatted to provide a trellis to grow plants or for increased privacy. Originally used to support grape vines and decorative plants, pergolas were used in Ancient Egypt. Often they were extended from buildings to provide shade and an indoor-outdoor transition area. The Victorians often used pergolas to create tunnels of intrigue over garden walkways, but now they are becoming a popular element of modern outdoor rooms.

Contemporary pergolas often have fewer columns and overhead beams than more traditional versions. Surprisingly, even a limited feeling of enclosure evoked by essentially the bare bones of an open box is often enough to evoke a sense of privacy and relaxation. 


Why Pergolas Create Intimacy

A pergola effect created by parasol-trained lime trees (Tilia x europaea 'Pallida’). Designers: Tommaso del Buono and Paul Gazerwitz, The Telegraph Garden 2014. Image: Lorraine Young/Verve Garden Design

A pergola effect created by parasol-trained lime trees (Tilia x europaea 'Pallida’). Designers: Tommaso del Buono and Paul Gazerwitz, The Telegraph Garden 2014. Image: Lorraine Young/Verve Garden Design

One of the main differences between an indoor room and an outdoor room is the ceiling height. Indoors, the ceiling is on a human scale and is in proportion to the length of the walls. It is very different in an open garden space where the sky is effectively the ceiling.  In garden design, therefore, finding ways to create a feeling of overhead enclosure can evoke a more relaxed feeling in the space. This is especially useful for seating and dining areas, where pergolas provide an ideal solution.

There is a theory that our ancestors would have felt safer under a forest canopy than exposed in the open plains. Trees, of course, provide another design solution to create cover but, in smaller gardens, trees of sufficient canopy size can be impractical to fit in. Pergolas, on the other hand, can be made for any sized garden and they don't grow too large in 10 years time!


How To Choose A Pergola Style

Painted Pergola Over Modern Terrace. Designer: Olivia Kirk, Big Fish Landscapes Urban Retreat. Image: Lorraine Young/Verve Garden Design

Painted Pergola Over Modern Terrace. Designer: Olivia Kirk, Big Fish Landscapes Urban Retreat. Image: Lorraine Young/Verve Garden Design

Just like designing anything else in your garden it is important to think about your needs and practical considerations before you settle on a style. Our 5 point checklist below will help you focus on your needs and, if you need some inspiration, our Pergola Pinterest Board is brimming with ideas.

 

 


1. How Will You Use The Pergola?

Oak Pergola in Modern Small Garden Outdoor Living Room. Designer: Peter Reader, Living Landscapes Al Fresco Garden. Image: Licensed from Alamy

Oak Pergola in Modern Small Garden Outdoor Living Room. Designer: Peter Reader, Living Landscapes Al Fresco Garden. Image: Licensed from Alamy

Is the pergola an occasional space to be enjoyed when entertaining friends or is it the main outdoor living space? If it is going to house some permanent furniture, then make sure that you choose the furniture with the number of users in mind and then decide on the pergola size. Make sure that there is plenty of space around chairs and tables for you to use them comfortably. Even though the aim is to create intimacy, you don't want the proportions to be too mean and claustrophobic. 

We think one of the best uses of a pergola for modern life is to frame a fire pit and some comfy chairs or outdoor beanbags. If you haven't already, check out our "8 Reasons Why a Fire Pit Will Keep You Outdoors For Longer". For family town gardens with limited space, pergolas can be multi-purpose, with strong hooks for swings that can be taken down when the space is needed for entertaining, or with sturdy sides that can double up as climbing frames, chalk blackboards or even rock climbing walls. Just make sure, of course, that the structure is properly constructed and safe for purpose.


2. Think About Shade and Aspect

Modern Steel Pergola With Pivot Panels To Control Light, Shade and Privacy. Designer: Tom Massey, Lemon Tree Trust Garden. Image: Chris Denning/Verve Garden Design

Modern Steel Pergola With Pivot Panels To Control Light, Shade and Privacy. Designer: Tom Massey, Lemon Tree Trust Garden. Image: Chris Denning/Verve Garden Design

How open or shaded do you want the pergola enclosure to be? If want it always very open to the sun (and rain!), a modern and minimalist design can work. However, you can hook up a sail shade temporarily if you need more cover occasionally, or incorporate motorised or manual louvred roof systems with canvas or aluminium blades. Perhaps you could add slats to one part of the roof so that sun and shade-lovers can chose which part to sit under. Similarly, do you want some of the sides to be fully or partially covered? Think about which way you will  face most often when using the pergola. For example, if you will use the pergola mainly in the evening, then it would be ideal for your furniture to face West towards the setting sun. Alternatively, if you have an attractive border or water feature, a pergola can enhance a lovely view by providing a frame.


3. Practical Considerations: Utilities and Construction

Elegant Powder-Coated Metal Pergola. Designer Kate Gould, West End Secret Garden. Image: Lorraine Young/Verve Garden Design

Elegant Powder-Coated Metal Pergola. Designer Kate Gould, West End Secret Garden. Image: Lorraine Young/Verve Garden Design

Will you use the pergola mainly in the daytime or will you need electrical provision for lighting? Good lighting can add atmosphere as well as the obvious practical benefits. If the pergola is adding important height to a flat garden, lighting can make it an attractive focal point from the house, even when it is not being used. Atmospheric lighting can also make the pergola a more inviting destination, making you more likely to get outdoors in the first place!  To really push the boat out, you can even add an outdoor TV, outdoor speakers or an outdoor cinema screen. If you will house an outdoor kitchen, or even irrigation for any closely-planted climbers, you might also need a water supply. 

Pergolas need secure fixing to keep them firmly grounded in your garden and not the neighbours. They also need to be properly-constructed to stop the material from twisting and warping and to be made of appropriate materials and structural loading for your specific environmental conditions. It is always worth taking advice from an established landscape contractor before making your final choice if you don't have the specialist knowledge yourself. It is false economy to skimp on having your pergola properly-installed!


4. Considerations For Pergola Plants

Established Wisteria Need a Strong Structural Pergola For Support and Sufficient Height To Walk Under The Cascading Flowers. Owners/Designers: David Wheeler and Simon Dorrell, Bryans Ground, Powys. Image: Lorraine Young/Verve Garden Design

Established Wisteria Need a Strong Structural Pergola For Support and Sufficient Height To Walk Under The Cascading Flowers. Owners/Designers: David Wheeler and Simon Dorrell, Bryans Ground, Powys. Image: Lorraine Young/Verve Garden Design

Do you want to grow plants on your pergola? If you want to grow an overhead climber like grapes or a Wisteria, make sure that you add extra height in your design so you can still stand up comfortably when the long fruits or flowers hang down. Also, if you want to plant close to the base of the columns, make sure you talk this over with your landscape contractor, as the usual method of bedding the posts in concrete precludes the close planting area. Plants need light, so another tip is to make sure that you don't have your horizontal or overhead supports too close together. Use wires as the horizontals for a more minimal look, but make sure that these are appropriate for the type of climber you have in mind.


5. Traditional or Modern?

Above- Traditional Pergola With Stone Pillars and Wooden Roof Beams. Designer: Jonathan Snow, Trailfinders South African Wine Estate Garden. Below- Modern Pergola Made From Laser-Cut Corten Steel. Designer: Tony Woods, Space To Grow Garden. Images: Lorraine Young/ Verve Garden Design.

Above- Traditional Pergola With Stone Pillars and Wooden Roof Beams. Designer: Jonathan Snow, Trailfinders South African Wine Estate Garden. Below- Modern Pergola Made From Laser-Cut Corten Steel. Designer: Tony Woods, Space To Grow Garden. Images: Lorraine Young/ Verve Garden Design.

Like most aspects of garden design, often the best way to choose the type of pergola you want in your garden is to stick to one particular style in your plot. Simplicity is a golden rule that works time and time again in gardens. Mixing a whole load of one-off garden centre impulse buys without a thought to how they will work together is a sure fire way to end up with a jarring effect. The other key consideration is to try to link the form of the pergola to your home. Angular, modern buildings work well with minimalist, rectangular pergolas with chunky posts and beams. In contrast, cottage style country homes and gardens suit more traditional, curved wooden roof beam ends or even more ornate metalwork. Try to link the material of your pergola with another component of the garden or house. Using the same colour as your windows or a door, use the same wood colour as your garden furniture, or use pots in a similar finish to link the pergola to the rest of the garden. Try also to keep the scale of the pergola appropriate to the rest of the garden and house. If you need a large structure to fit all your friends in, soften it with some plants so that it is not too dominant from the house.

What Type of Pergola Would You Like ?- Let Us Know in the Comments Below!