Looking for easy ways to give your outdoor space extra wow? Then pergola ideas are the way to go. Adding a garden pergola makes a fabulous focal point feature on a patio or deck and is a great way of creating extra garden shade ideas too.
Ideal for gardens or outdoor areas that lack structure or visual points of interest, a garden pergola is an easy way of adding height to a one-level garden or creating a breakaway zone and areas of privacy in a large or open outdoor space.
Easy to install, a timber pergola also offers a stylish and more permanent alternative to a parasol or awning-style shade that can be attached to the back or side of a property as a semi-sheltered extension of your indoor space. Or if it's a standalone structure that’s required, consider a freestanding pergola that can be set away from the house or positioned further along the garden to create a separate feature or shaded hideaway.
When it comes to what’s trending in outdoor spaces, garden pergola ideas were top of the garden wish list last year and it seems to be going the same way this summer too, with pergolas in at number three on the most popular garden trends for 2022, according to research conducted by Atlas Ceramics.
‘Pergolas are one of the most popular outdoor trends of the summer and are ideal for adding definition to your garden,’ says Mike Head, Director at Atlas Ceramics. ‘You can use the area as an entertainment or dining space, which is great if you don’t already have decking or a large patio. The structures are also a good way to add some privacy to your space, which is perfect if you live in a property that is overlooked by your neighbours.’
‘Adding a pergola to your garden can increase the value of your home too. They’re a more affordable alternative to a conservatory, but still add interest to your garden for buyers. You can buy pre-cut DIY pergola kits, or if you’d prefer a professional to put it up for you, a landscaper would be happy to help.’
So if you’re in need of an outdoor project or want to spruce up an existing pergola, then read on for more garden inspiration.
1. Entertain outdoors all season round
Extend your outdoor space with a rustic timber pergola set up to create a semi-shaded dining area that’s easily accessible from the house. A slatted roof will provide welcome shade from the sun when it’s at its hottest and makes the ideal spot for a dining table, chairs and benches.
Enhance your dining experience by putting down an outdoor rug underneath the dining table to make the space more comfy. Suspend strings of twinkly festoon lights and paper lanterns from the beams to illuminate the space after dark so you can linger outdoors for longer.
2. Reserve a shady spot for seating
The extra shade offered by a pergola makes the perfect spot for an outdoor seating area, with a garden sofa, bench or modular seating. Treat the space as an outdoor living room with furniture arranged in a sociable face-to-face set-up or positioned outward-facing to enjoy the view across the garden.
Instead of a natural wood finish, go dark and paint a timber pergola in a dark grey or black finish. Using a dark colour makes a more dramatic backdrop that looks super-stylish with colourful garden cushions and outdoor rugs and furniture set against it. Dark colours also make a great foil to show off greenery and plants, making the colours pop more vibrantly.
3. Paint your pergola a calming colour
Small garden or compact patio space? Avoid painting your pergola a dark colour or staining the timber a very heavy shade, which can feel overpowering and might crowd a very small space. Instead, follow a trick that garden designers often use when planning your small garden ideas and paint the timber in a soft, blue-grey shade. Pale, muted greys and blues have a calming effect and mirror the colour of the sky, which helps the wood to better blend in and creates a light, airy and more spacious effect.
4. Create a relaxing hang-out zone
Position a pergola in a more secluded location where you can create a breakaway zone designated to rest and relaxation. The sturdy overhead beams of a pergola make it the ideal spot for a hanging egg chair or swing seat that can be cosied up with outdoor cushions and blankets.
Hanging chairs should usually come ready with their own heavy-duty chain to suspend them from, which is then connected to a carabiner clip with an S-hook. It will require a hole to be drilled into the overhead beam and should be positioned near a jointed section for strength, but far enough away from the support post for the chair not to knock into it.
5. Stretch your space with an extra-large pergola
Opt for a super-sized pergola to provide coverage over a wider area outdoors. Extending an overhead structure over the entire patio area will ensure that the space is fully usable for longer.
Break the space down into sections for cooking, dining and relaxing by positioning furniture into clearly defined zones. Suspending outdoor lighting and greenery from overhead timbers will help to section off the space and create a visual divide.
With such a large structure, opt for a light-toned wood that won’t overpower the space, rather than a very dark shade. Hanging greenery and foliage and flowers in strategic spots will help soften the linear look of the timber too.
6. Suspend lanterns for extra sparkle after dark
Create a magical mood on summer evenings outdoors by suspending a colourful array of fabric lanterns from the beams of a pergola. Position them in clusters above a dining table to create a stunning focal point that will wow guests when entertaining.
Suspend lanterns from coloured ribbon or cord, staggering the heights and alternating the colours for a pretty clustered effect. Use solar lanterns that will re-charge in the sunshine by day and then come on automatically as dusk falls.
7. Add an easy-up roof for a rustic look
Give a standard timber pergola extra coverage to provide shelter from hot sun or gentle summer showers. For a relaxed, rustic roofing that will offer a degree of shade and protection, consider adding a layer of willow branches, laid cross-ways over the wooden beams. While not as sturdy as a solid roof structure, the effect is visually pleasing and will offer a welcome escape from very hot sun while still letting in soft dappled beams of light.
8. Set up an outdoor kitchen under cover
Give outdoor kitchen ideas protection from the elements by positioning your set-up underneath a freestanding pergola. While it won’t offer full coverage from sun and rain it’ll create a more sheltered spot that will provide welcome relief from the sun when it’s at its hottest. Having an open-roofed structure is also advisable when it comes to outdoor cooking equipment as it will allow plenty of ventilation so that smoke, steam and fumes don’t build up.
A stand-alone pergola like this can also be a good way of defining different sections and activity zones in a larger outdoor space. Whether it's an outdoor kitchen, dining area or garden seating ideas, an overhead structure makes the area instantly more visible so it will be more obvious to guests as a gathering point.
9. Decorate with in-season blooms
Whether you’re entertaining guests or just want to jolly up your outdoor space, a pergola offers up lots of potential decorating possibilities that are super-easy to put together. From simple coloured bunting or fairy lights that can be strung across the overhead beams to hanging decorations and planters that can be suspended up above.
Make an easy hanging floral display to go above an outdoor dining table. It will create a fabulous focal point and add a splash of colour for summer parties outdoors. Use a couple of old bicycle wheels or plastic hoops spray painted and suspended with rope from the overhead beams. Then simply attach hanging planters from S-hooks filled with colourful summer blooms.
10. Squeeze a pergola into a corner
If you’re short on space outdoors, opt for a half-sized pergola instead of a full-sized version. Designs range from corner and fan-shaped pergolas, hexagonal designs and compact arbours, that can all be slotted snugly into a corner, creating a mini hideaway while still giving a panoramic view of the garden.
Opt for a pergola with built-in trellis - or try adding your own panels - and then train foliage to grow up and around the framework to provide shelter and shade from the elements.
11. Train climbing greenery to create extra coverage
Training greenery to grow up and over a pergola creates natural coverage that will look stunning when fully established. Choose a fragrant variety, such as honeysuckle, and the heady aroma will smell gorgeous too when you’re sitting under the pergola on summer evenings.
Opt for a fast-growing climber that will establish itself quickly and provide coverage in as little as two years. Wisteria, jasmine and clematis are all excellent and will give plenty of colour too. Position one plant near the base of each wooden pillar and train the shoots to grow straight up the posts and along the overhead beams to create a canopy effect. You might need to use string or wire supports at first, but pretty soon climbers will be able to take care of themselves and follow the framework.
12. Opt for low-maintenance metal
For a modern alternative to the traditional timber pergola, make a style statement and opt for a sleek metal framed design instead. Style-wise, a sleek aluminium frame looks streamlined and striking, so is a good choice for contemporary outdoor schemes. And unlike timber, metal won’t be affected by the elements so will need little maintenance or upkeep.
For extra coverage on warm days, consider a pergola with a retractable textile canopy that can be easily opened out when it’s very sunny or there’s a summer shower.
How do you make a pergola look good?
‘Pergolas and arbours, though they look beautiful in the garden, tend to be fiddly to decorate, and can be neglected over time,’ says Matthew Brown, Technical Consultant at Sadolin and Sandtex. ‘So it's important to look after the timber to keep outdoor structures looking tip-top.’
‘First, it goes without saying that any plant growth needs to be cut back, untangled or taken off the structure as best as you can to allow ease of access to the surfaces you want to decorate. Anything left growing should then be protected by suitable sheeting prior to any preparation or decoration.’
‘If the timber is covered in mould or algae, this should be killed off first using a suitable fungicidal wash solution. However, take great care not to spill this type of product onto any plant growth or open soil. Remember to wash and clean off surfaces with clean water after the treatment has done its job, then allow to dry.’
‘These structures are generally made up of rough sawn timber, so if surfaces do show signs of previous coatings coming away or more likely, greying (due to long term exposure to the sun), use a stiff nylon brush, though nothing metallic, to remove anything loose, brittle or fibrous that can come away from the surface. This is where the amount of effort you put it pays dividends, as you are preparing the surface to be as clean and stable as possible for any new coating to adhere to and then protect and perform.’
‘It doesn’t matter how good the coating is if you apply it over an unprepared surface. Inevitably, it will attach to that unstable surface and fail in a short period of time - an expensive way of being back where you were in the first place!’
‘If the structure has been previously decorated, is in good order and just needs a maintenance coat, generally the preparation is much easier. A simple wash over with a mild detergent in warm water using a stiff nylon brush should suffice. Rinse off with clean water and again allow to dry.’
‘Once the surface is fully brushed over and cleaned, debris removed and it has dried, then the fun begins. Sadolin Classic is a great translucent wood stain option for bare wood surfaces or over those that have already had something applied before. It is very forgiving with tired, rough sawn surfaces including fences and sheds and comes in over 60 shades. Two or three coats can be applied depending on what depth of shade you prefer. Try a test application on an inconspicuous area to show what it can look like.’
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Lisa is Deputy Editor of Style at Home magazine and regularly contributes to sister title Ideal Home. She has written about interiors for more than 25 years and about pretty much every area of the home, from shopping and decorating, crafts and DIY to real home transformations and kitchen and bathroom makeovers. Homes and interiors have always been a passion and she never tires of nosying around gorgeous homes, whether on TV, online, in print or in person.
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