Adding an Arbour or Pergola to Your Garden

Gardeners have used arches, arbours, and pergolas to add interest and height to gardens since the time of the Romans, whose artwork depicts arches adorned with vines and roses. Now available in either modern materials or traditional wood, these practical ornaments may enhance gardens of any size or design and serve every type of climbing plant. 

Adding an Arbour or Pergola to Your Garden

A pergola is an arbour that you walk through or sit beneath and is one of many backyard landscaping ideas that can enhance the look of your land. It can be a simple, open frame or a series of arches that create a tunnel effect. A pergola should have a focus-it can be a destination, showcase a view, or create a stopping point along a garden path.

Placement is Key

Tucked away in a secluded nook and sheltered by fragrant flowering vines, an arbour becomes a romantic hideaway. It can accent a garden, offer an inviting destination, or command an imposing view. Arbours provide shade in summer and year-round screens to hide garden work areas.

Consider Perspective

The arch of a pergola, inviting you to pass underneath, has the effect of dividing a garden in two. If you have a small garden, a pergola may make it seem larger, particularly if you position it so that it hints at wider vistas beyond. On the other hand, a pergola will make a long garden appear shorter.

Choose the Right Colour

Choose the right colour. In a small garden, choose an arbour pergola with a slim framework or one that’s painted green to blend in with the background. In a large garden, you can afford to draw attention to the pergola’s structure or colour.

Design in Proportion

Design in proportion to the plantings your arbour will support. Anticipate the size of mature vines and climbers. Delicate latticework can’t support mature wisteria, while heavy timbers will dwarf fragile clematis.

Check with a Building Inspector

Check with a building inspector to make sure you’ll be complying with local zoning codes and building regulations before you invest your time and money building any large structure for your plants, whether it’s an arbour or a greenhouse.

The Best Woods

The best woods for arbours and pergolas are redwood, cedar, cypress, teak, oak, and locust. Pressure-treated lumber is an inexpensive alternative that’s useful when lumber must be in contact with soil. It tends to bow and split, however, and doesn’t take stain well.

Use Rust-Resistant Fasteners

Use rust-resistant fasteners made of brass, bronze, hot-dipped galvanized steel, or stainless steel. If your local hardware store doesn’t stock these, try a marine supply store. Always predrill holes for nails, bolts, and screws to avoid splitting the wood.

Use Waterproof glue

Use waterproof glue on joints where extra strength is required. Epoxy glues are extremely strong and will accept stain well; they’re available at woodworking and marine supply stores.

Paint Problems

After a few seasons, paint chips, blisters, and peels, so the structure will need to be scraped, sanded, primed, and repainted. White or green is traditional for arbours, but you may choose to duplicate the colour of the trim on your house to create a unifying link between the house and garden. Stains are easier to apply than paint, they protect the wood, and they never blister or peel. For colour, pigmented stains are a good substitute for paint and come in a wide assortment of tints.

Pave the Area beneath Your arbour

Pave the area beneath your arbour with brick, flagstone, or gravel if the arbour casts dense shade. Grass can’t survive without sunlight.

Add Lattice Panels

Add lattice panels to your arbour to serve as trellis screens. Traditional arbour plants include clematis, jasmine, wisteria, climbing roses, ivy, and, of course, grapes-a favorite since the time of ancient Rome. Or hang baskets of flowering plants that add fragrance and splashes of colour.