A garden Pergola makes an excellent-looking garden feature that will provide a glorious focal point to any garden. Here, we provide detailed instruction and step-by-step photographs illustrating the design and build of a garden pergola.
Why a Pergola?
The first photo shows the proposed location for the pergola in 1999. The adjacent walls really drove home the level of bareness encountered after the clearing operations. The new garden was in need of ‘rapid height’ and something to break up the vast expanse of wall and a pergola was the best ‘instant’ solution. The garden’s main south-facing wall runs along an east-west axis and the prevailing westerly winds would tear across it before turning right and into a highly destructive ‘tornado’ effect within the high walls. Creating a large pergola in the corner would create the height we needed and help to baffle the worst effects of the wind in the corner.
Having decided to build a pergola, the solution was not quite so straight forward. A flood of questions followed: How Big? What shape? What style? How many supports? What size and type of timber?
From the outset it was decided to a build a ‘substantial’ pergola, in part because we thought that the usual 4×4 timber structure would look ‘lost’ in our situation. Another reason for creating a substantial structure was my own preference of having longer beams and fewer posts plus, I wanted my pergola to be built just once. I had no desire to see the rot setting in and having to go through the whole build process in a rebuild when I’m 20 years older!
The degree of shade was another aspect considered since we did not wish to restrict the amount of light reaching plants that would be planted against the walls and around the pergola (we were in the cloudy UK after all). A plan was proposed and approved by ‘management’ (the women). Ceder wood would be great, but the cost was prohibitive. Pressure treated softwood timber was ordered throughout.
My chosen plan would mimic a Greek structure with wooden ‘columns’ replacing the usual square posts in so many pergola designs. Such a pergola plan required curved ends to the beams I wanted to avoid cutting the ends after the pressure treatment. As this would largely defeat the whole point of having the timber treated in the first place. It does mean more care when measuring up, but its worth it. In the end, our supplier was the only wood yard that allowed me to come in and cut the ends as I wanted before the timbers went off to treatment. MG! When we saw the size of the beams each measuring 12″ in depth friends and neighbours did worry about what we had taken on! Just getting moving the beams into position across the site was an exercise in itself.
With some pieces measuring over 30 feet (9m) an ‘articulated vehicle’ was put together to transport the timber through the gardens with the kind help of neighbours. The timber was then relocated and sorted in order of lifting. Next, the post timbers were put aside and work began on transforming them from plain-looking posts to Greek-like columns.
In the third photo you can see the Greek columns taking shape.
Constant checking of levels is required. I was fortunate to be able to build my first to columns parallel to the nearby wall. In the fourth photo the column is being checked for level with the opposite column. The distance was so large between them that 2×4 timbers bowed and could not be trusted. So an aluminium ladder on its edge was used. If you look carefully you can see it!
The DIY process of erecting the pergola depended upon the first three posts being braced by the walls. Once these were upright, simple triangulation with additional bracing from the walls provided a solid structure upon which successive timbers could be added.
Erecting the timbers above the water was tricky. But the solution found was simple. A ladder was dropped into the water, hitched beneath the beam end and then the ladder was raised by pulling the rungs upwards arm-over-arm. It was actually easier than it sounds! But having the columns braced against the walls with temporary supports was a big help. Because I could slide the beam up the column, using the column to brace against.
Raising 30ft long cross-beams a foot deep high up onto the first level that was itself over nine feet high proved ‘interesting’.
The next photo shows the first end being hauled up on to the first level. (Previously the beam end had been raised on to the step ladder between the two, enabling a pause). The lower end is on a small trolley and the ladies are helping me by pushing forward, otherwise I would be pulled off the ladders. Note that two ladders were used as we found that just one ladder began to bend alarmingly! Oh the joys of DIY!
Once the one end was resting on the beam 9ft above the ground. The next trick was to go back and raise the other end up on to the step ladder. At which point it was time for a coffee break! The centre photo shows the ‘coffee’ position.
After Coffee, the beam was placed on a short scaffold tube roller. The roller made sliding the timbers comparatively effortless. In this photo, you can see the Greek-looking top to the pergola ‘column’ and the decorative beam ends described earlier.
Practice makes perfect! The first beam erected this way took two hours to move in to position, but successive beams appeared to ‘fly up’ in around 25 minutes each!
The pergola makes an instant and very noticeable difference by ‘breaking up’ the expanse of wall. The cross-bearers are few and far between so the structure does not create sufficient shade to deter sun-loving plants in the far corner and people and mobility vehicles can pass under with ease. One of several additional bonuses of the pergola we did not envisage was the difference it makes in bringing the far corner ‘closer’.
Laying the deck beneath the pergola. The decking is made of 38mm timber laid over an open timber frame, itself located over the original tank that we suspect was filled with the remains of the peach house. The decking, handrail and pergola have been integrated in such a way as to provide additional rigidity to each. The result is a deck which is strong enough to support garden tractors without flinching.
Two timber widths were used to provide additional interest (at no extra cost because the area is unchanged) plus the ubiquitous lump of blue slate as a stepping-off stone.
The completed Pergola during its first summer in 2000. The two braces on top are not a structural necessity, but they do serve to increase the desired baffle effect as well as serving to break up the otherwise flat table top appearance.
The pergola has pride of place in the east garden surrounded by, and nestling among various Pittosporum, Hoheria, Banksia, Phyllostachys, Akebia, Rosa banksii, Michelia, and Garrya. In 2005 two wisteria macrobotrys were planted up the pergola to take full advantage of its size and not hinder anyone walking under. We’re hoping their 3ft flower stems will prove a hit.
Last two images. The pergola five years after completion is already disappearing from view across the garden and looking very much part of the landscape as it ‘nestles’ snugly into the surrounding garden landscape.
For a bumper picture, click on the bottom Pergola image.
If you desire more pergola plans to consider – or even a gazebo, arbor, greenhouse, deck and shed plans to name just a few – why not try Ted’s Woodworking plans.