Pergolas don’t always have flat roofs.
Pergolas are open-air garden structures, most of which have flat, open-beam roofs resting on columns. Most are entryways to gardens, yards or front doors and are shady due to vining plants weaving through their joists. Although sometimes constructed of unexpected materials, such as the historic metal and glass pergola of Seattle’s Pioneer Square, most are built of wood. A pergola entryway can change a simple home or landscape from plain to distinctive.
Pergolas trace their history back to the ancient Egyptians. One researcher at Purdue University notes that the “artistic genius” and dry conditions of Egypt have made it possible to assemble information about ancient horticulture based on historical paintings, such as ones of workers picking grapes from pergolas. Other cultures, such as the Romans, adapted the idea to their vineyards as well and coined the name “pergola, ” which means “a close walk of boughs” in Italian. (Ref 2) Over time, pergolas were built more for ornamentation than agricultural purposes. The 1913 Lake Merritt pergola in Oakland, California, serves as a decorative entry and exit walkway for the park’s boathouse.
Pergolas may be freestanding or attached to structures, such as a roof or fence. When accenting a gate, a pergola formalizes entry to a yard. Chris Peterson, author of the book “Beautiful Home Landscapes, ” says that a short pergola rising above a picket fence gate adds “visual weight” to what otherwise may be a simple entry to a yard. Departing from the dictate that pergola roofs must be flat, Peterson shows examples of pergolas with peaked and arched open joists, including one tunnel-like structure bursting with clematis flowers and leading across an otherwise plain front lawn.