Basics of Pergola Design – Landscaping Features to Garden Trellises

Getting the right pergola design is extremely important. It may seem a simple structure, and in some ways it certainly is, but creating a beautiful and sturdy pergola is something of an art form. Most other structures you can “cover up” much of the build with siding, roofing, or other exterior treatments. With a pergola though, the structural elements are the exterior ones as well! Because of this any mistakes you make early on are likely to be visible. Clean cuts and perfect angles are necessary to end up with a pergola that looks good.

The first step in pergola design is to determine any “must have” features you want for your pergola.  We all have our personal preferences, so this is a hard one to formulate a plan for.  In general though, look at various pictures of pergola designs, pick out the ones you like, and see if there are any common ideas or features that are drawing you to them. You can build off of these ideas to create your own unique pergola. At the same time you can use these photos to identify problems. Often a beautiful pergola is marred by it’s surroundings. Take the time to make sure the plans will incorporate how the pergola interacts with the rest of your yard to avoid this fate.

There are tools available that can help you with the design work. Landscaping software packages often have modules that you can use to design structures. Since a pergola’s structural design is rather straightforward, it is perhaps the best suited landscaping feature for this type of design. Even a generalized program like Google Sketch can really go a long way towards giving you a visual idea about how your plans will end up looking.

Placement is Key to Landscape Design

The next step is to determine where the structure will reside.  (You can skip this step though if you’re going for a lightweight, portable pergola design.)  Pergolas are great for shading walkways, decks, and patios, but can also be used in out of the way corners of the garden to create a quiet sanctuary and to serve as a trellis for delicious fruits and vegetables, or beautiful climbing flowers.

Not only is location important, but so is orientation.  As the sun moves through the sky, the slats in the pergola will cast different shadows throughout the day if they run north and south, but will be much more consistent if they run east or west.  This is a less important consideration for pergolas that will serve as trellises, or those which have slats in a lattice. It also doesn’t matter if you have some other method of creating shade such as integrating fabric into the pergola design.

Another thing to consider in regards to the shade provided is whether the slats will be vertical or slanted.  Vertical slats do not provide much shade during the hottest hours of the day.  Using slanted slats in your pergola design can allow for extra shading in the morning or afternoon when oriented north and south, or when oriented east and west it can regulate sunlight depending on the season.

Materials Used Really Show in Pergola Designs

Colorful Pergolas Really Stand Out

CC Photo from Thieving Joker

The next step to consider is what materials to use in constructing your pergola.  Design features of a pergola can be highlighted by a contrast of materials or colors with the surrounding environment, or minimized with a natural and inclusive palette.  Also the strength and stiffness of materials used can influence the pergola design. It’s important to know what you’re working with. It’s equally important to keep in mind any design features that may be “must haves” when choosing the materials.  Also, keep in mind the mood and feel of the location you will be building in.  An aluminum frame pergola in a garden might be more striking than one on a sidewalk, and could allow for thinner slats or longer spans than heavier materials. It also might contrast too much with the natural theme, so care must be taken when using contrasting materials.  If you want a sure thing though, it’s hard to go wrong with a natural wood pergola design, regardless of the location and setting.

Color can be just as important a feature as the materials used.  Color schemes can help a pergola blend into it’s surroundings, or stand out just as easily.  Using a varied color palette, individual features of the pergola can be highlighted, with others having their impact minimized.  Boldly colored slats with neutral colored supports and posts can make the structure feel more like a roof, while the opposite could highlight the open feel or trellised plants.

Another method to make your pergola stand out is using unconventional dimensions and spacings used for various structural features.  For instance, large, widely spaced slats may not provide much in the way of consistent shading, or serve as good support for trellised plants. However, it can certainly be striking. Once you have the features and materials sorted out, you can use one of the many landscaping or home design programs available on the internet, or use a general tool like Google Sketch, to put everything together into your very own pergola design.

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