The name “pergola” is a Latin work meaning projecting eave or overhang and was used historically to link one building to another, forming a shaded path or passageway. These structures were often covered with climbing vines, creating a blanket of thick foliage. The leaves provided not only privacy when walking from one area to another, but also more than enough shade to screen a path from the hot afternoon sun.
Today, pergolas are still found in residential landscapes, most often adorned with fragrant and colorful flowering vines as well as grapes. The framework of a pergola provides a neat link between the horizontal plane of a terrace and the vertical wall of a house or other outbuilding. These structures often frame the view from a kitchen, dining room or living room window. Plant-covered pergolas also provide a cool canopy during the summer months. You can also find shade-producing pergolas constructed over paths leading you to a particular view or focal point or from an entryway to an outdoor living space.
Pergolas should be built sturdy enough to support the weight of plants, but not so overpowering as to detract from the plants themselves. Before building this type of structure, carefully plan the position, making sure the posts are not directly in front of a window or obstructing the view from other outdoor areas. Overhead beams should be a minimum of 7 to 8 feet high to give adequate head clearance, especially when they are covered in trailing vines and flowers.
Oriental pergolas are traditionally made of wood and used to span walkways. Wood is often notched and bolted together to form the framework, and the posts are often set in concrete. This type of pergola offers more of an architectural element than one of shade.
A rustic pergola is better suited to less formal landscapes. You will often find this type of structure made with round poles, often cedar, which are notched and nailed in place to create a rustic framework for climbing vines. It is usually built to provide shade while walking from one area to another.