Under the pergola: Shade without a roof

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By Jack Romig, Special to The Morning Call

Probably more people have seen them than can name them, those simple, graceful garden buildings featuring vertical columns and an open array of slats overhead, all of it sometimes wreathed in vines and flowers.

They’re called pergolas, from the slightly misleading Latin, meaning “projecting roof.” As a handsome visual focus and as a shady spot to sit outdoors, the pergola is to many people an increasingly appealing structure.

“They do seem to be getting more popular,” said Scott Lesak, president and CEO of Kasel Rocks Landscape Co. in Allentown.

On a solid footing

Local landscape designers say many patterns and materials have formed the pergolas they’ve built. But all say one must begin with a proper grounding to make one that lasts. For 6-inch-by-6-inch uprights, Lesak said, concrete footers must be poured. They must be at least 3 feet deep and 12 inches around.

If the pergola design calls for a floor, that will cover the footers. Be sure, Lesak said, not to cement the uprights into the footers, though. “Put a mounting bracket into the concrete instead,” he said. That way, if the posts must be replaced, it won’t be necessary to pull out the old footer.

Plantings may be placed around pergolas to cover them with vines. Grapevines have often been associated with them, but few homeowners want to deal with the special care, late-summer bees and general mess that grapevines entail.

“Wisteria, clematis, honeysuckle and trumpet vine are the top four vines to grow over a pergola,” said Josh Gillow of MasterPLAN Landscape Design in Brodheadsville. “Mandivilla, passion-flower vine and purple hyacinth bean vine are a few options that aren’t often seen that will get the neighbors talking.”

Only about 5 percent of his customers, Gillow said, grow vines on their pergolas. “Most don’t,” he said, “because of the maintenance of the vines.”

Some homeowners who seek a more contained showing of plants in the pergola, said Bruce Fritzinger of Plantique in Allentown, opt for hanging flower baskets. That choice requires steady watering.

If you build it

Several materials are commonly used in constructing a pergola.

“Traditionally, they’ve been built of cedar wood,” said Fritzinger. Old-world predecessors sometimes employed even stouter construction, including brick or stone pillars.

Contemporary choices include pressure-treated lumber, vinyl, CPVC and even fiberglass or aluminum — all responding to the reality that untreated wood will rot in this application.

A pergola today may be built from scratch or from a kit. Upkeep demands help explain why many who want pergolas prefer not to cover them with vines — having the structure choked in leaves and wooden knots makes basic maintenance complicated or even impossible. But Frederick Leary of Garden Design Inc. in Allentown finds that a robust, timber-framed construction like the skeleton of an old barn is a beautiful pattern on which to build. “It includes angle braces, mortise-and-tenon joints with pegs. This is nicer for the growth of vines.”

“We use larger, rough-finished timber from the sawmill. It has a lot of character — you can stain it or leave it to weather, and it’s available at a good price point.” These heavy timbers, he said, will last for many years of exposure to the elements.

Made in the shade

Pergolas are often equipped with seating and tables. Some also include floors made of pavers or natural stone.

Especially if it doesn’t support plantings, the pergola may not provide all the shade that might be hoped for. “Normally you want the shade slats to be oriented and correctly spaced to block the sun at the most intense time of day,” said Gillow. “Summer is the key time for this function.”

Even if well placed, the pergola may cast its shadow outside that canopy of slats, depending on the time of day and time of year. Options are available to make things shadier in and around it.

“With the sun right overhead, you may not get so much shade,” Leary said. “So manufacturers have developed retractable sunscreen elements. These can be made of mesh fabric. They slide out under the joists.”

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These adjustable veils, he said, may be electric or manual.

“We have added a poly-resinous material on top of pergolas,” he said. Opaque shades employing this material may be selected in colors such as bronze or amber, and can provide some protection from the elements in addition to shielding the sun.

“By adding ceiling fans or outdoor lighting, you can extend the comfortable use of pergolas, and these things can tie right in to the landscape lighting system.”

“Pergolas are a classy addition to the backyard living space,” Gillow said. “Because they don’t have any walls, the environment is light and airy, begging you to relax, dine under or just admire.”

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Source : https://www.mcall.com/business/real-estate/mc-pergolas-sunday-real-0802-20150731-story.html