How Tall Does Your Garden Grow?

What height do you have in your garden?

Your house will be the tallest thing, followed by any of your own trees, and there may be trees outside the boundary, too.

It’s important to have height inside a landscape to balance the space, and there are lots of reasons for building a pergola into your garden. I can design a pergola into every space, whatever the size of garden.

Pergolas have so many uses. You can walk through them to get to another part of the garden. They can divide up the garden, so you can create different areas.

They can wrap around a seating area to create a separate ‘dining room’ feel, and they can create wonderful climbing opportunities for scented plants, climbers and shrubs.

Often a linked structure with an overhead roof, pergolas were used widely in Italy. I prefer to use them without a roof - this country’s shady enough without blocking out the sun - although on a hot sunny terrace they’re invaluable for providing somewhere cooler to sit and eat.

For the light reason, I prefer not to build them on to a house and keep them freestanding somewhere. If my clients will run to the expense, I prefer to use oak. The timbers should be really quite large. A 100mm square profile is just about okay in a smallish garden

Larger gardens can take 150 or 200mm square posts. These look fantastic, especially once the David Austin roses have started cascading over the top.

If you’re thinking of building an archway over a path, then try extending it either side, with an extra post or two and create a pergola.

I tend to specify that the posts are sunk well into the ground and if you’ve got a brave man, go down at least a metre. If you concrete in your posts, remember to slope the concrete footing away from the post so that water can’t sit anywhere around the bottom of the wood. This is what causes a post to rot and fall over.

There’s nothing more frustrating than a huge rose or clematis blowing over in a gale and toppling the posts that supported it. You just have to start all over again.

Building pergolas is a simple affair. I like to have the corners jointed properly, in the old-fashioned way, but for a do-it-yourself project you can order all the wood cut to size and simply fix it all together.

It’s important to source your wood from a good timber company. I like Northwood Forestry just outside Ashington.

You need to order really long, straight timbers and you don’t want a supplier that sends you out a pile of bananas.

Pergolas should be at least 2m tall. By the time your climbers have started growing along the top you need room to walk underneath without being garrotted, even if you’re short like me. I’ve seen pergolas you could limbo underneath.

The posts are heavy – especially if you choose oak – and must be stacked properly on level ground with spacers until you’re ready for it to be installed or they’ll bend.

Oak will leach a dark resin, too, so don’t stack it on paving.

If you’re painting the posts, choose a good Sadolin treatment. I like the Superdec range. It will start to distress after a couple of years, but that all adds to the effect. The pale grey looks wonderful with deep red roses.

If you want a strong architectural statement, you could paint the wood in a vibrant colour and leave the structure to stand alone in the garden without plants. A dark grey would look great in a contemporary setting.

Huge oak posts will become grey over time, and fissures will open in the wood, giving real character to a garden.

For privacy you can attach trellis panels in between the posts and plant fan-trained fruit trees in between each section. The posts should be around 1.8m apart.

If you’re using a very heavy-profile oak, you can have longer sections – around 2m – but never have such a long span that the wood starts to bow in the middle.

Pergolas can act as a picture frame in the garden, making a square view through to different sections or providing the surround for a special feature, pot or pathway.

I know you can buy kits in garden centres and DIY stores, but the wood profile is often mean and skinny like that footballer’s wife.

To do the job properly, you need a good solid structure that will stand the test of time and support something rampant for many years. That’s what I told my husband, anyway.

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