Article by Allen Bell
When planning a landscape design, garden structures such as arbors and pergolas are wonderful elements to incorporate. These structures not only provide a strong focal point in the landscape, but they can also be utilitarian as well, serving many purposes that vary depending on the size and design used. Garden arbors and pergolas can range in size from as small as 24 inches to as large as 10 or 20 feet across. In this article, we'll discuss some varying arbor and pergola designs, and how you can use these structures to your advantage when planning an overall landscape or garden design.
When we talk about the design of a garden arbor or pergola, we're talking about the material as much as anything. The type of material used in making the structure will have a big impact on the look and use of the end product. There are three primary materials used for garden arbors and pergolas: wood, metal, and plastic. All three materials have their pros and cons, as we will explain.
Wood is probably the oldest type of material that has historically been used for constructing arbors and pergolas. It is inexpensive, readily available, and can be easily cut. Furthermore, wood can be stained or painted to match another existing structure, such as the house, shed or garage. One downfall of wood is that it does decay over time. Wood can also harbor certain types of pests, and it will eventually rot, splinter, and crack. The types of wood that can be used in an arbor or pergola are almost endless, but generally it's a good idea to look for a wood that weathers well and resists decay, such as cedar. For a rustic look, consider using log cedar. For a very basic, rudimentary structure, you could even use fallen timber, branches, and twigs tied together.
Plastic arbors and pergolas can be purchased in almost every color imaginable. When choosing a vinyl unit, be sure to look for a plastic that is treated with a UV inhibitor, so it won't fade or discolor over time. Vinyl is a good choice if you want your end product to be relatively maintenance free, because it won't need to be stained or painted. A vinyl arbor or pergola typically lends itself to a clean and modern design. White vinyl can be an especially attractive choice for an outdoor wedding in the spring or summer.
Metal arbors and pergolas are probably the most durable and long-lasting choice. In terms of their design and style, many have an almost gothic appearance, and they tend to mesh well with wrought iron gates and fences. There are many types of metal to choose from, including iron, steel, and aluminum. Depending on the type of metal chosen, you may encounter rust on the structure over time. A good powder coat paint finish will slow this process. Aluminum can be a good choice because it will not rust like steel, and it is also lightweight and extremely durable.
Another consideration that will play into your design choice is whether the arbor or pergola will serve a functional purpose. Arbors and pergolas can be merely aesthetic design elements, placed in the corner of a yard or garden simply because they are visually pleasing. On the other hand, if you design them correctly, they can also provide an excellent support for climbing plants and vines. Consider designing an arbor or pergola with horizontal pieces beginning close to the ground and continuing upward. Climbing plants such as morning glory, trumpet vine, and clematis will quickly make the structure their new home, adding another dimension of beauty. Arbors and pergolas can also be used to shade a patio or walkway. If you build a structure large enough to span a deck or patio, consider planting grapes or some other vine that will quickly encompass the structure, as this will help shade the area underneath. Arbors and pergolas can also be designed with garden benches or swings underneath to provide an additional seating area in the yard.
There are as many different ways to design a garden arbor or pergola as there are uses for the structures; the choices are almost endless. By taking into consideration the type of material that best meets your needs and the purpose, if any, that the structure will serve, you will come up with a design that compliments your yard beautifully. Remember, an arbor or pergola is a large and important element in your landscape design. Take the time to choose a unit that's right for you, and you will be rewarded with a beautiful structure that will grace your garden for years to come.