The first house we bought came with a few interesting extras in the backyard: an in-ground trampoline, a handmade pizza oven, and a stately wooden pergola at the top of a rock staircase.
The pergola perplexed us at first. It just stood there at the top of the stairs, looking… useless.
What is a pergola for?
Perhaps the reason for our confusion was that the pergola wasn’t currently being used to its full potential. It had probably been built recently to increase the curb appeal of the backyard, just as the grass had recently been primed for home-showing.
My husband and I had never had a pergola, and I personally didn’t even know what it was called until he said the ‘p’ word.
Since we had this pergola in our backyard, I figured we might as well figure out what it was for, so I looked it up.
The pergola, with its wooden pillars and slatted roof, is a type of patio cover designed to allow vine-like plants to be trained up and around it for shade, greenery, and beauty.
The first thing I did was plant two little grape plants at the base of two of the pillars, hoping to train them up the posts and onto the slatted roof.
Alas, the watering system in the backyard did not include the pergola and everything I planted there shortly died from exposure to the constant summer sun of Southern Utah.
We lived in that house for five years and eventually succeeded in getting a few trees and bushes to survive the harsh sun on that hillside, but the pergola stayed barren and, therefore, unused.
Planning your pergola
Now that we have a new place with a bit of property, we want to try out the dream of having a greenery-filled and grape-dripping pergola once more!
We have the perfect location in mind for it, too: right over the back porch and all our patio furniture. It’s the perfect spot for hosting a picnic or a BBQ. And a pergola really gives a space a sense of class!
We have learned our lesson from the previous experience and are putting our new pergola in a place that is not in direct sun all day.
While the sunniest part of your yard may seem like the perfect place for some shade, few plants are hardy to that much sun, and you’ll need to water a lot more if your plants are in full sun all day.
We also need to think about materials. Although a traditional pergola is made of sturdy pressurized wood, there are some beautiful options that are made of vinyl or powder-coated steel and aluminum, too. The benefit of vinyl and metal is that they don’t decay like as quickly as wood does in the elements.
The most popular color for a vinyl pergola is white. It looks like a white-washed wooden pergola without the hassle of wood upkeep.
You can buy a white vinyl pergola in a kit from Home Depot. There’s even a special 16×16 kit for those wanting to put a pergola over the back patio. For $5,000 you get all the materials you need to attach one edge of the pergola to the roof frame and secure the two vinyl support pillars at the edge of your patio. Voila! Instant class for your patio space!
For a 12×12 space, the pergola kit is half the price!
Of course, if the pergola is completely over cement or some other type of impermeable surface, you’ll want to use potted plants for your greenery.
There are pergola kits for every situation, including small, four-pillars pergolas like the one we had in our last backyard. One 10×10 wood-look-alike pergola is actually powder-coated steel and costs around $800. As a bonus, it comes with a fabric shade that drapes stylishly over the slatted roof.
The 20 best uses of a pergola
We’ve covered some of the benefits of a pergola already, but it’s time for the rapid fire session. Here are the 20 best uses of a pergola:
- A pergola increases the value of your property. According to pergola seller Garbrella, adding a backyard feature like a pergola can give you a 50-80% return on your investment.
- A pergola enhances the beauty of space for your personal enjoyment. Do you really need a better reason than this one? Making your backyard your own personal heaven should be at the top of everyone’s to-do list.
- A pergola provides a classy place for playing host or hostess to your guests. If you’re the type of person who likes to be hospitable to the max, you can’t go wrong with a distinctive pergola to set your entertaining space apart.
- A pergola can offer shade on a hot day. Whether you’re using greenery like a vine across the top of your pergola or a fabric shade that came with your kit, shade is one of the top reasons people give for adding a pergola.
- A pergola can cool you off, even if the shade is spotty at first. Even being around green, growing things cools you off by a process called transpiration cooling. So even before your pergola plants are trained all the way across the top, their very presence is cooling you off.
- A pergola adds interest in an otherwise boring space. If you find yourself with a landscape challenge, like a random hill in your backyard or a low, flat place where nothing is growing, a pergola can give you a centerpiece to work around. It’s like the vase of the backyard, holding whatever beauty you decide to grace it with.
- A pergola can be a pivotal part of your foodscaping plan. We’ve seen everything from grapes to tomatoes dripping from pergola ceilings, and we love it! Can you imagine walking outside to harvest some fruit simply hanging overhead?
- A pergola provides privacy outdoors. It’s a tricky balance, keeping your outdoor recreational space open to nature yet closed to peeping eyes. A pergola answers both needs with perfect balance.
- A pergola gives your potted plants a home. Nothing looks more at home beneath a pergola’s pillars than fashionable terracotta pots full of your favorite plants. Terracotta pots are all the rage this year. Gardenista has a whole post on different styles of terracotta pots.
- A pergola can be an inexpensive way to completely change the face of your backyard. Compared with other home improvements like changing your roof or siding, adding a pergola is a simple, cost-effective way to transform your space, especially since pergolas can be made of so many materials.
- A pergola can be combined with other backyard structures, like trellises, gazebos, and verandas to maximize beauty and usefulness. While beautiful as a stand-alone feature, a pergola can also add value to other structures in combination. Combining your pergola with one of these other features will make your backyard space truly unique.
- A pergola gives you a way to define an ambiguous space. Have an alley where someone keeps putting garbage cans? Put a pergola over that space and they’ll soon find another place for their garbage. A pergola says, in no uncertain terms, this space is special.
- A pergola can make you feel like you’re visiting a far-off place. Pergolas originated in Rome, and they still have this old-world, exotic flavor that makes us feel metropolitan and posh. Especially in the age of Covid-19 travel bans, a backyard pergola can be your passport to someplace romantically far away.
- A pergola is good for the bees. Why put up a boring old patio cover with nothing for our favorite pollinators? Instead, you can put up a pergola and plant flowering vines or trees that attract both bees and butterflies to your outdoor oasis.
- A pergola is sturdy enough to handle wooded vines, like grapes and roses, and even some varieties of apple trees. Your options with a trellis may be limited to those things that won’t completely overrun it, but a pergola can handle whatever you throw at it… er, plant at it.
- A pergola looks great by the pool. A pergola is the perfect blend of openness and shade to grace a poolside and integrate your recreational spaces.
- A pergola is a perfect place to hang your outdoor lighting. Imagine your favorite style of lanterns strung along the boughs of your new pergola.
- A pergola will charmingly hold hanging pots or baskets. A pergola has a slatted roof that is perfect for hanging overflowing baskets of flowers or houseplants.
- A pergola will frame your favorite view. Perhaps acting as a frame for the incredible sunset you can see from your backyard isn’t what you had in mind when you installed your pergola, but it’s rocking the job all the same.
- A pergola
Woot! That was fun! I hope you have a fabulous time planning and planting your pergola. It will be so worth it!
For a handy chart of fast-growing vines, see our post about arbors also here on Backyardables. Happy gardening!