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What is a Pergola?

A well-constructed, attractive pergola often increases the value of a home.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2014
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A pergola is a structure which is designed to provide support for climbing plants, creating a cool and shaded area beneath the pergola which can be used for recreation. Pergolas are sometimes used over patios and porches in warm climates, and they also appear along walkways and as standalone structures in the garden. Several companies manufacture pergolas, and these structures can also be custom-built by contractors or people with some construction skill who like to do their own home improvement.

The defining feature of a pergola is the support columns which run along either side, typically connecting with a latticed framework above. The sides of a pergola are traditionally left open to create an unfettered view. Plants are trained to grow up the pillars until they reach the framework, at which point they will spread out to cover the top of the pergola, and sometimes they may start to dangle partway down the sides.

Pergolas have been used in architecture since at least Ancient Egyptian times. These structures provide a shaded area with plenty of breezes for outdoor relaxation, which can be enjoyable in regions where the weather is very hot. A pergola can also be used to define an outdoor space, or to create a transition between the interior of a house and the garden.

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The word “pergola” comes from the Latin pergula, a term which refers to projecting eaves. The earliest pergolas in Europe were made by extending eaves and supporting them with columns to create a shaded colonnade. Over time, people began to explore the use of pergolas on walkways and in pleasure gardens. When a pergola is a partially enclosed standalone structure, it becomes a gazebo, a structure which typically provides more shelter from the elements.

Climbing plants such as jasmine, roses, clematis, grapes, and wisteria can also be trained to grow on a pergola, with many gardeners liking scented flowers, especially on a pergola which is used in a seating area. To prevent damage to the plants when structural repairs are required, some people like to build supportive trellises next to the columns, making it easy to replace columns if they become damaged or rotted with time. It is also a good idea to clear away dead material quickly to ensure that plenty of light and air circulates, preventing rot which could damage the pergola or the plants.

Having a pergola often increases the sale value of a home, especially if the pergola is in good condition with a well-established network of vines. While resale value shouldn't be a primary concern for most gardeners, sometimes it can be used as a persuasive argument to get other members of the household enthusiastic about a construction project.

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