What’s the Point of Pergolas?

Pergolas in Daybreak, UT, outside Salt Lake City.
A pergola in Maryland

I saw way too much water-sucking landscaping when I was in Salt Lake City, but also some gorgeous pergolas in residential backyards. Lovely, huh? But what else do those structures provide?

Not much shade. And it gets hot there!

No protection from rain, which I understand they don’t get much of, so okay if you’re in the desert, I get it.

And compared to screened-in porches that are increasingly popular here in Maryland, they offer no protection against insects. Again my Utahn acquaintances assured me bugs aren’t a big problem there, either. (Can it be so?)

My bug-free porch

All of which makes me wonder – Are people happy with their pergolas? Do they ever wish it had a roof and some screening? I also wonder if their designer suggested it. Anyone know?

IF I lived in a relatively bug-free world, I might build a patio with a roof, like the ones shown above and here.

I’ll leave you with a shot of Pinterest results for “pergola ideas,” showing the bizarre shit that’s sometimes coughed up in searches, like phlegm. I’m totally old enough to take that seemingly random saggy-neck ad personally.


  1. I like my pergola. In summer, I throw a Cooloroo shade tarp over it (well anchored) to shade the deck and patio doors; in winter, the tarp is removed to let in the afternoon sunshine. I’ve tried attaching coir baskets along the supports, with the idea of growing vines to cover the top, but that idea was a FAIL, primarily because watering was a nightmare. This year I tried growing honeysuckle vine in containers on the deck, to climb the pergola, but that was another FAIL as the plants died. Next year I plan to try morning glories.

  2. Adding insult to injury about pergolas, in DC on a roof deck you can’t have a pergola. Well, let me be more exact…you can have them but only if all lumber spanning the top to create the shade are over 24″ apart. I kid you not. The one place a pergola makes absolute sense…a super sunny roof deck where shade is a must, everything must be grown in pots and (if you are high enough) there are no bugs, pergolas are not allowed by zoning.

    Pergolas are a really nice idea that just don’t work well. At least not anywhere that has tiger mosquitoes. Color me bitter.

  3. I have a tiny pergola that two vines grow up. If it weren’t for the pergola, the vines would be relegated to the fence and the look would be much less lovely. I think a pergola adds architectural interest and, in my yard, leads the eye toward a particular portion of the property. I’m a pergola fan, but if someone doesn’t want one, don’t build one.–That’s okay, too.

  4. I have a small pergola in my back yard, and it has a sweet autumn clematis that froths over it in September, several clematis growing up the sides in spring, and any number of perennials beneath it. In the winter, if we get a heavy snow, it makes the bleak yard look attractive, if only for a short while.

  5. I totally take your point, but they make for a nice entrance to a garden or any other transition. As well as focal point. I have a rounded structure that I call a bower and looking at it is my favorite thing! I filled it with paper lanterns for a bridal shower in July. Not sure what the winter look will be yet, but I will love looking out at it!

  6. Going to try again but let’s see what Captcha allows. Susan, did you see the Southwestern pergola (“Ramada”) when you were at DBG? It’s quite wonderful and lends needed shade to an open, hugely sunny desert-type area. It’s in the Native American area. So great to sit there in the hit Western summer sun. Hope this comment gets posted! Diane in Denver

  7. Whoo hoo, it worked. That’s true what you were told about very few bugs out here; it’s too dry for most of them to flourish. Lots of spiders though! And snakes …

  8. I’m dreaming of a pergola for our monster grapevine to grow over, since the ancient shed beneath it is succumbing to rust and rot. The sitting space underneath will have leafy shade in summer and all the available sun in winter. Yes, it’ll be covered in rotting leaves in autumn, but you can’t have everything.


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