Pergola roof ideas: Design, planting and styling tips

·7-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

When the weather allows, there’s nothing better than relaxing under a pretty vine-covered pergola and putting your feet up, so it’s no wonder searches for 'pergola roof ideas' spiked during lockdown.

But we haven’t reached peak pergola just yet. Furniture brand Harbour Lifestyle said their pergola sales increased by 195% this year... and for good reason. Installing a pergola adds an instant wow factor to your garden and provides an extra structure for your plants to climb up. Handy if, like us, you’ve run out of space on the ground.

The main purpose of a pergola (really just a fancy word for a roof patio), is to provide shelter from the elements while elevating your seating area. Pergolas are incredibly versatile. They can be a stylish way to create privacy as well as a functional focal point. Whether your garden design is traditional and relaxed or sleek and modern or somewhere in between, there’s a pergola roof for you. But before we get to our favourite pergola roof ideas, here are some top tips for building your perfect pergola.

Pergola roof ideas: Building tips

1. Nail the construction

Sitting Spiritually handcraft RHS-approved pergolas in Lyme Regis. Founder Martin Young has some pointers on getting the joints right: “Traditionally, pergolas are built using mortise and tenon joints, which are ‘pegged’. However, with the changing UK seasons, the wooden pegs can shrink and drop out, thus weakening the structure. We recommend using concealed stainless bolts to combat this. In addition, a curved brace on each corner adds strength as well as looking fantastic.”

If buying a pergola kit, make sure you have accurate measurements and consider whether you want a wall mounted or free standing structure. There are a few cases where you’ll need planning permission for a pergola (for example if your house is listed or in a conservation area).

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

2. Choose a durable material

Whether you’re building your own pergola or shopping around for one, invest in a good quality timber for a structure that’ll bring joy for years to come. “There are many different grades of oak used in pergola building. Most in the UK are typically green oak which, once dried, can have a lot of knots and distort dramatically.

"We recommend looking for joinery quality ‘prime grade’ green oak. This guarantees it’s clear of not only knots but sapwood too. Sapwood is the outer part of the tree, typically much paler and used in indoor furniture. But for an outside structure like a pergola, within 5 years, sapwood will have rotted.”

3. Choose the best roof

The best pergola roof really depends on how you use the space, how well it fits your surroundings and whether you want an open structure or something a little more secluded and watertight.

With our unpredictable British weather, many now opt for a waterproof pergola roof. Pergola roof sheets come in plastic, alluminium and fibreglass. All are popular choices for a dry soiree space – though come with the added effort of keeping them clean.

Others may opt for a traditional pergola with four posts, an open structure and a slatted roof for climbing plants and the addition of a lattice wall or lattice roof panel to aid any twining vines.

3. Time it right

If you’re on a budget, try to shop for gardening bits in the off season. Usually the best deals can be found between October and January when we’re all thinking about hot chocolates on the sofa instead of cocktails on the veranda.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Pergola roof ideas: Style and design

1. Get cozy by adding a swing seat

One of the best things about a pergola with a roof is you can attach things to it. Depending on how much space you’re working with, you could opt for a full swing seat or keep things cozy with a hanging egg chair. For a relaxed boho vibe, try a macrame-style hanging hammock rope swing chair. We love this organic cotton number on Etsy.

Read: 12 comfy garden swing chairs for relaxing outdoors

2. Add a decorative screen to your pergola roof

A striking way to add some drama to your pergola is by adding a decorative screen. As the sun shines through, you’ll get a mesmerising light and shadow show. Garden design duo The Distinctive Gardener are fans of the decorative pergola screen and use Screen With Envy in their designs.

3. Include edibles

If the way to your heart is through your stomach, then try taking your kitchen garden upwards. There are plenty of climbers that look beautiful and provide you with a cheeky midday snack. For relatively quick cover, opt for vigorous growers like grapes and passion flowers.

Those with a warmer climate and a sheltered but sunny spot could even try luffas – the ones you don’t eat can be used as washing up sponges. For flowers, try trailing or climbing nasturtiums. The blooms, leaves and seeds are edible and they look great when you’re not munching on them.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

4. Go for cottagecore

Some people like the architectural quality of bare pergola beams, others prefer their garden structures to be covered in foliage and flowers, cottagecore style. If you fall into the latter, a pergola is a great way to indulge in some floral maximalism.

Go big on romance with rambling roses, add sweet peas or jasmine for an intoxicating scented seating area, or go all out with a drop dead gorgeous white wisteria draped over a metal frame, like this one by garden designer Manoj Malde. If it’s a long flowering season you’re after, clematis is unrivalled. Treat those blooms right and your pergola will bring in the bees and Instagram likes in no time.

5. Keep it contemporary

A bare pergola painted black can look dramatic with a few choice pieces of furniture, LED strip lighting and a few low-maintenance plants. Adding glass panels like The SunsLifestyle Outdoor Living Garden at Hampton Court creates the feel of a garden room, while a retractable pergola roof is sure to impress. But you can create boundaries naturally too. Ula Maria Studio does this beautifully with grasses, such as calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, which adds movement and texture while creating the impression of being nestled in a den.

6. Make it multifunctional

If you only have a small space, look to the John King Brain Tumour Foundation Garden for inspiration. It featured striking pergola seats which doubled up as planters for scented climbers. Additionally, you don’t need to have a sprawling back garden for a statement pergola. You can be the envy of your zoom meetings with a sensitively positioned pergola like the one @ourlondonlistedhome slotted one into their courtyard-style space. Perfect for relaxed work from home days and al fresco dining.

7. Surround yourself with 50 shades of green

Create a sprawling green canopy with the lush leaves of a variegated hedera, a large-leafed self-clinging climber which thrives in shade. Pair with star jasmine for the scent and those pretty white flowers. If you have a sunnier plot. Go for low maintenance tree ivy, also known by its less flattering name, fat-headed Lizzie.

It might be tempting to paint your pergola but don’t, says Martin. “When oak is exposed to the elements it will mature and change colour over time. It will naturally mellow to a lovely silver hue that allows the surrounding planting scheme to really take centre stage.”

8. Transport yourself to the Med

For that weathered beach look, use reclaimed wood for your pergola roof, (see The Blue Diamond Group Beautiful Abandonment Garden for inspo). If you have light, sandy soil, try bringing the Mediterranean to your space with drought-tolerant climbing plants that thrive on litter water. Bomarea multiflora has sunset orange tubular flowers that’ll compliment the earthy tones of your terracotta pots. Bougainvillea 'Barbara Karst', can be grown in a pot and will cover your pergola in joyous hot pink blooms.

You could also incorporate shelving into your pergola or hook up some hanging baskets from your pergola roof for oregano and aloe vera. If you’re outside in all seasons, think about including winter flowering plants like tropaeolum tricolour, a herbaceous climber with tiny black-edged blooms that look like miniature flamenco dresses and are sure to get you in the holiday spirit even on the cloudiest of days.

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