If you’re living in the northern hemisphere like me, you’ll be noticing the days getting longer. We’ve had an amazingly mild winter so far and although it’s only January, some days are cloudless and almost springlike. But I’m not letting it fool me – a blast from Siberia could come at any time. (Update: it’s arrived!)
February – time to do some planning so that your garden will be stupendous by the summer. What about a pergola for your climbing plants? Or simply as a garden feature, free standing or attached to your property?
Why a pergola?
One thing I really like in a garden is plants with some height. I am lucky where I am now to have plenty of trees giving height and privacy and some greenery all year round. I also like to have plants that grow tall, even if they are annuals. For example I can see a very statuesque fennel from my kitchen window. It is beautiful even when it has died back, especially with the frost decorating it. It has survived recent gales without a single broken stem.
Another way to get plant height is to build a structure so that plants can grow up it. It might be a pergola, an arbour, or a gazebo of some kind. Whatever you name it, plants covering some sort of structure can make a focal point for your garden.
What type of pergola design?
Pergolas go back centuries. In hot climates, an open lattice supported by pillars would have fruit such as grapes, pomegranates or figs growing up it, providing a cool shade. In larger gardens, a pergola could provide a green protective walkway. Wealthy ancient Roman families sat or walked in the shade under peristyles.
The pillars can be of brick or stone, but nowadays pergolas are built from wood, high-density vinyl or sometimes metal such as aluminium. They can be self – built and there are many plans available to help you. Or you can purchase a kit or a ready made version. Some have sophisticated louvred roofs so that you can vary the amount of shade. The choice is vast.Modern designs are so good looking that many people use them as patio covers with no plants growing up.
What shall I grow up my pergola?
Of course you will be guided by your climate. First of all, look around your neighbourhood and see if you can get any ideas about what would suit you. Perhaps you are able to grow fruit such as grapes or figs. If not, think about climbers such as clematis or wisteria. Some clematis are scented and evergreen. For a really unusual flower, try a Passiflora – the passion flower with evergreen leaves.
Don’t forget that colour is important and you may want to have a clear scheme in mind before you choose, but that’s all part of the fun. Your soil type will also be critical.
Finally, climbing plants with fine tendrils will need something to grip as they climb. You may need additional trellis or wire netting.