Pergolas For Summer Shade

Garden Of Eva Pergola

There is nothing quite as relaxing as sipping a gin and tonic (or your favorite beverage) with friends, sitting in the shade of a vine-covered pergola, on a late summer's afternoon. I have just completed the construction of two pergolas that are designed for this very purpose, although it may take several years before their vines provide the requisite shade.

During their construction, one of my clients asked me where the term "pergola" came from. I wasn't sure; I said, "I believe it's Italian but I'll check and let you know." I did and found a lot of very interesting information not only about the derivation of the name "pergola" but where the design was first used and how it has evolved over time.

Garden Of Eva Pergola

I was right with my guess as to pergola's derivation; it comes from the Late Latin word "Pergula," which refers to a projecting eave; and the English term was borrowed from the Italian "pergola," which means "a close walk of boughs.".

According to Wikipedia, a pergola, arbor, or arbour is a garden feature forming a shaded walkway, passageway, or sitting area of vertical posts or pillars that usually support crossbeams and a sturdy open lattice. As a type of gazebo, it may also be an extension of a building or serve as protection for an open terrace.

Freestanding pergolas, those not attached to a home or other structure, provide a sitting area that allows for breeze and light sun, but offers protection from the harsh glare of direct sunlight. Pergolas also give climbing plants a structure on which to grow and provide shade.

Garden Of Eva Pergola

Ancient Egypt

The use of pergolas can be traced to the Ancient Egyptians who created pergolas from fruit trees such as pomegranate and figs and vines, like grapes, where their intertwining branches created covered arched walkways.

Pergolas often surrounded garden ponds as means for Egyptians to escape the heat. Wealthier families created gardens on upper stories of their homes where the pergolas were cooled by northern breezes and provided views of surrounding countryside.

Garden Of Eva Pergola


During the Renaissance many people, particularly those in the arts, sought inspiration from ancient Greece and Rome. Italians were the first to develop lavish landscaped gardens that included pergolas.

In 1459 the renowned architect, Leon Battista Aberti, designed Florence's Villa Quaracch. The gardens, which he also designed, included at least three pergolas. Fashioned from rounded evergreen branches, white roses grew between their branches. Near Florence, the Medici Villa of Il Trebbio still possesses an original pergola from the early 15th century.


In 1494 Charles VIII of France and his troops invaded Italy. There, they were introduced to Italian landscape design that included gardens with covered pergolas. Soon French nobility began remaking their gardens in the "Italian Style."

By the 16th century, French landscaped gardens had become even more extravagant that their Italian counterparts. Renee of France, daughter of King Louis XII, had pergolas built in her gardens at Montargis. Italian-born Catherine de' Medici, a later Queen of France, did the same at the Jardin de la Reine at Chateau of Fontainebleau.

Garden of Eva Pergola

The Natural Garden

The clearly artificial nature of the pergola made it fall from favor in the naturalistic gardening styles of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Their popularity returned in the later half of the 19th Century where brick and stone pillars were combined with powerful wooden crossbeams. This style of pergola was a feature of the gardens designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, two of the most influential landscape designers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Their designs crossed the Atlantic at the turn of the 20th century and became popular with wealthy Americans and can still be found in many city parks and landscapes.

Garden Of Eva Pergola

Modern Pergolas

Modern pergolas can be built from a variety of materials in addition to brick or stone making them far more affordable, which, in turn, has increased their popularity. Generally, pergolas are either constructed from a weather-resistant wood, such as western redcedar (Thuja plicata) or are painted or stained.

If you're interested in adding a pergola to your garden, there are any number of companies that provide a whole range of pre-built models.


The photographs I have included in this article are examples of pergolas I have designed and built over the last several years.

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Plant Of The Month
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Threadleaf Coreopsis

This very popular, drought-tolerant garden plant has fine, wispy foliage and showy, golden yellow blooms. Provide a sunny, well-drained site and you'll be rewarded with hardy, long-lived, long-blooming plants.

Site Characteristics

  • Sunlight: full sun - part shade
  • Prefers full sun.

Soil conditions:

  • tolerates droughty soil
  • requires well-drained soil
  • requires high fertility

Hardiness zones: 3 to 9

Special characteristics:

  • deer resistant
  • non-aggressive - May self-seed.
  • Spreads more aggressively than other coreopsis, but isn't difficult to contain.
  • non-invasive
  • native to North America - Southeastern U.S
  • .


  • beneficial insects
  • butterflies
Growing Information

How to plant:

Propagate by seed, cuttings, division or separation - Divide every 2 to 3 years in early spring to promote cold hardiness and maintain plant vigor. Plants are longer-lived than other coreopsis.

Sow seeds indoors in late winter, or outdoors in seedbed in midspring. Move to garden when frost danger has passed.

Make cuttings in spring.


Deadhead older plants to prolong bloom. (First-year plants may flower all season without deadheading.) May self-seed, but usually not aggressively.

Cut back in late summer to encourage fall bloom. Spent flowers from fall bloom can be left on plants for winter interest. Then cut plants back in early spring.

Divide plants every 2 to 3 years in the spring or fall. Plants are longer-lived and spread more aggressively than other coreopsis.


  • Slugs and snails
  • Aphids
  • Flea beetles
  • Striped and/or spotted cucumber beetles
  • Potato aphid


  • Powdery mildew
  • Botrytis blight
  • Bacterial and fungal leaf spots
  • Root and/or crown rots
  • Downy mildew
  • Aster yellows


  • 'Moonbeam' is a deservedly popular cultivar that grows 1.5 feet tall plants with striking pale lemon yellow blooms with darker centers. Drought tolerant. Needs heavy winter protection.
  • 'Grandiflora' ('Golden Shower') grows 2 feet tall with dark golden yellow blooms.
  • 'Zagreb' grows 1 to 1.5 feet tall with golden orange blooms. Drought tolerant.
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