Every garden needs a touch of magic to make it feel like a true extension of your home. For some, this could be a fountain or other water feature. For others, it may be a tree fort tucked away at the bottom of the garden. However, there is one structure that will change your garden into something special; a pergola.
A free-standing pergola creates space and shapes your garden unlike any other addition. Placed near the house, it acts as an extension of your patio or outdoor dining space, and you’ll quickly find yourselves eating every meal possible out under your new pergola. It can also act as a focal point with a neat path leading your guests, and your eyes, from the house to your new outdoor entertaining area.
However, just installing a pergola won’t give you that entire slice of magic that you’re looking for – you need to find something that will draw your attention to it. When you start your research, one of the most common pictures you’ll see of well-established pergolas is with vines and plants growing up and across the entire structure. Not only does having a living and growing pergola give you more protection from the sun, but it also smells incredible and is a great way to introduce some much needed diversity into your garden plants.
Choose the right plants
Not all plants grow tall enough to cover your pergola. You’ll need plants that will not only grow tall enough to cover the cross beams and posts, but also that have naturally curling stems that will grip the wood as it grows. The best plants for growing with a pergola in Calgary include:
- Roses – these are one of the classic plants for pergolas because they are instantly recognizable by your guests, and the soft pastel tones set a romantic backdrop to your furniture. They have a relaxing aroma and pull in plenty of interesting wildlife and insects.
- Clematis – this speedy climber lends itself to pergola growing as it twists around anything solid that it touches. It flowers beautifully all the way along the plant, meaning that your pergola will quickly become hidden in purples and whites during the blooming season.
- Honeysuckle – honeysuckle plants have a heady aroma that people often associate with the countryside and childhood. Be warned — these plants are enormous, and a single bush can be trained to cover your entire pergola.
- Trumpet vine — the distinctive shape of these flowers makes a trumpet vine immediately recognizable, and as it produces a lot of nectar during the spring, your pergola will become a haven for birds and bees; perfect for watching with a cup of coffee in the early spring morning.
- Ivy – finally, ivy will give your pergola a classic old-fashioned look. Of all the plants listed here, it requires the least maintenance, and is the most resistant to cold temperatures. If you’re looking for a simple solution for growing with a pergola, ivy should be your go to flower.
Whichever type of plant you choose, make sure it’s one that grows quickly and that adapts well in full sunshine. It may take a year or so to fully establish your green covered pergola, so be ready to be patient; the results will more than reward you for your time investment!
Growing your plants right
Once you’ve picked out your perfect pergola plants, you need to think about how you’re going to get them to grow up and around the posts of your new garden structure. You have a couple of typical planting options, as well as one unusual way to cover your pergola in foliage:
- Ground foundations – if you’ve invested in a free standing pergola, then your best option is to simply dig wider holes when you’re making the foundations for your pergola posts. Make sure that you create an upside cone-shaped hole to support the post, and you’ll likely need either packed gravel or concrete to hold the base of the post in place. Once the post is secured, you can then fill with high quality loam and compost for your new climbing plant to start from. Be sure to mulch around the base to reduce the amount of weeding you need to do.
- Plant in pots – if your pergola is set on top of an existing patio or deck, you may find it harder to dig holes directly into the ground for your new climbing plant to sit in. You may also just prefer the way that plant pots look, but in either case, you need to make sure you research how big the roots of your chosen plants need to grow to produce the spectacular coverage you’re looking for. Once you’ve got the right size, you can then find plant pots that match your outdoor design palette; most people chose 4 of the same pot (one for each corner), but there is something to be said for choosing a color scheme and picking different colored pots that fit together without being identical.
- Start from the top – an unusual but practical way to grow using your pergola is to replace the cross beams with plastic or metal guttering. By drilling small holes for water seepage, you can then plant non-climbing flowers in the guttering, allowing the flowers to spill down through the roof of your pergola. Spider plants look spectacular as they arch towards the ground, but strawberries are even better. Imagine just being able to reach up and pick a fresh fruit from the dining table!
Above all, when you’re picking plants to grow with your pergola, you need to take into account the amount of sunlight that your pergola gets throughout the day — both the posts and the cross beams, as well as the amount of pruning involved. Each plant will take time and effort to climb, and you’ll need to be prepared to spend some time each week during spring pruning and shaping the stems to get the desired effect. However, the time spent will be well worth it when your pergola looks like it came straight out of a glossy magazi