Pergolas provide summer shade, especially when planted with rambling vines. Like an extended arbor, a pergola consists of four posts and a horizontal framework of lattice for trellising plants. As a respite from scorching sunlight, it is a natural focal point in the landscape -- as long as it is built correctly and placed in an appropriate location.
Garden Hot Spots
Because hanging out in the shade is one of the main reasons to install a pergola, it makes sense to place it where it is needed most. For example, a poolside landscape is incomplete without a pergola shade structure to sit under and enjoy a cold beverage in late afternoon. Patios of any sort get hot in sun exposure and are much more inviting in summer with a pergola overhead. A pergola is also an effective focal point in the middle of a vegetable garden, offering a place to cool off and relax after laboring in direct sunlight.
Against the House
A traditional use of a pergola is to shade the south side of a house. The pergola can cool a patio or garden area right outside the door, but it also cools the house's interior by lowering the ambient air temperature adjacent to the house's walls. It is an example of "green," or environmentally friendly, design and reduces cooling costs. If a pergola is planted with deciduous vines, sunlight will penetrate the structure once again as temperatures drop in fall and the plants loose their leaves.
Design for Cooling Off
A pergola provides shade on its own, but place it under the overhanging branches of a large tree to double the effect. If you put a pergola where it will receive summer breezes, the structure's cooling effect increases dramatically. Wind almost always comes from the same direction, which can be deduced with careful observation. If a water feature is placed on the windward side of a pergola, the area under the structure almost feels like outdoor air conditioning is in use.
Shade Structure Enhancements
A pergola does not have a roof like a gazebo. Instead, it allows some sunlight to penetrate, unless it is revised in some way. For example, the pergola's lattice framework is a handy support for shade cloth on top of the structure, and outdoor curtains can be hung to shield sunlight from the structure's side. Vines, however, are the most simple, natural extension of a pergola structure, adding shade, beauty and year-round interest if selected appropriately. Grapes (Vitis spp.) and Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) are two classic examples of pergola plants. Grapes are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plant hardiness zones 2 through 10, depending on the species, cultivar and variety. Chinese wisteria is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9.
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