Perhaps the easiest way to understand the pergola is to consider what it is not. Though its popularity in backyards might bring to mind a gazebo, the pergola actually shares few traits with that other, Asian form of outdoor pavilion. Others might tend to think of the pergola as a kind of arbor, but structurally it is actually much different.
A Brief History of the Pergola
Modern pergolas trace their roots to 17th Century Rome. In fact, the word itself comes from the Latin pergola, meaning “projecting eave.” Popular throughout the Renaissance, they faded from use until the 19th Century, when brick and stone pergolas began appearing in public parks and gardens.
In modern times, wooden pergolas have become a fixture around swimming pools, throughout garden and public spaces, and outside restaurants and cafes. Their uses are both practical and beautiful. Their overhead lattice provides protection from direct sunlight, and they make great frameworks on which to grow orchids, vines, and ivies. Pergolas are also ideal in place of gazebos for sheltering hot tubs and to cover patio furniture.
Modern Pergola Design and Construction
There are essentially two types of wooden pergola: those with arched roofs and those with flat, level tops. The gently graceful arch of the roof affords greater headroom inside. It also increases the pergola’s space consumption, however, and may be more expensive.
Red cedar has become one of the most popular materials for modern pergola construction. Durable but handsome, red cedar’s heavy consistency makes it an ideal load-bearing scaffold for plants and ivy. Another popular wood variety, redwood, offers the same strength with a touch of California glamour.
Other, more affordable pergolas will feature a wooden lattice but aluminum or steel legs. Pergola accessories include lighting systems and retractable canopies for nighttime and inclement weather use.
Choosing the Pergola That’s Right For Your Home
Arched roof pergolas work best in larger backyards and as the centerpiece – or pavilion – for larger patios. Flat-roof pergolas can serve the same purpose, too. However, flat-roofed pergolas work better on backyard decks, near swimming pools and within gardens. Many homeowners choose to replace their back porch or patio overhang with a pergola, to take advantage of their greater beauty and versatility.
Pergolas also make great additions to restaurants and cafes that offer patio dining. Customers will enjoy the intimacy and elegance the pergola provides while also appreciating its shade.
Pergolas and Vegetation
Depending on the climate, the vegetation planted on or atop the pergola will require watering. Pergola owners should therefore make sure the wood is treated against frequent dousing. Such information is usually available before a purchase is finalized.