A pergola can add both form and function to your outdoor living spaces. The origin of the pergola is rooted in the purely functional roots of the arbor. Early agrarians developed the arbor to grow vine producing food such as grapes. By the time of the Italian Renaissance, designers had recognized the architectural and experiential qualities of the arbor and installed them in some estate gardens, mostly over walkways to delineate and create a sense of place. English garden architects expanded that theme with larger structures and began to use the word pergola around the turn of the 20th century. Finally, in the 1960’s garden designers adapted the estate scale pergola to fit the scale of a residential garden and accentuate the outdoor living experience with both form and function.
The form of a pergola will define an outdoor living space. The columns signify the corners and walls of the room, while the beams & joists create a roof overhead. The nature of this vertical element in the garden will create a focal point. It will denote the main room for gathered activates while creating a visual point of convergence and interest. These elements of the form are also main elements of the pergolas function to define a space.
Style is the element of the form that will define the character of the outdoor room. This is where personal preferences most strongly guide design decisions. White Palladian columns with clean white beams and joists will help create a formal space when situated in gardens of strong architectural and organized plantings such as boxwood hedges. Rough timber frame style posts, beams and joists produce an informal feel to the room and blend seamlessly with loose informal planting and a more organic garden structure. And there are any number of varied combinations of style that can fit somewhere between the ends of the formal and informal spectrum. The key is to establish a style and carry it through all elements of the garden including any architecture such as the pergola.
The materials used for the pergola construction will influence the resulting style but should also be considered with respect to long term maintenance of the structure. Rough cut timber creates a lovely informal character, but is not the best long term option unless you are willing to meticulously oil and maintain it. The most prominent pergola manufacturing company in this country will no longer produce wood pergolas. Their position is that the cedar available is all now so young that it does not have the inherent natural oils required to last for a period of time that meets the company’s standards. There are now a number of companies that make synthetic columns, beams and joists. The higher quality of these products are almost indistinguishable from painted wood, though the lower quality clearly have a plastic feel to them. These synthetic products tend to work best when a more formal style is desired. Using brick or stone columns can create an informal character with very high quality and low maintenance, though at a significantly higher cost. Designers must balance the material choices with the design preference and the long term care consequences.
Shade can be an important function of the pergola, though many people find that the pergola alone offers little relief from the peak summer sun and heat. To achieve a shading affect, additional elements must be added to the pergola structure. Most commonly, vines are grown on pergolas to create the shading affect and also for the beauty of the flowers or the harvest of the fruit. Another shade option is a retractable canopy that is set on tracks in the beam structure. These can be either mechanical or manual and provide a much lower maintenance option for shade when compared to the vines. Retractable sun screens can even be fitted between posts to provide protection from the sun when it is lower on the horizon.
A pergola can create architectural interest, define and outdoor living space, provide retreat from the elements, and give structure for fruiting or flowering vines. It will contribute both form and function to your garden and outdoor living space.