Pergola ideas: 21 stunning garden structures for added style and shade

These pergola ideas are perfect for sheltering your patio and embracing outdoor living this season

large pergola ideas over outdoor entertaining space
(Image credit: Future)

Pergola ideas are a failsafe way to bring the wow factor to a plot. So, if you're looking for an outdoor update this summer, one of these structures could be just the solution for you. A striking focal point that's functional as well as stylish, they're ideal for zoning the space whilst providing much-needed shade in sunny spots.

Pergolas are super versatile too, offering a means to channel your personality and match the theme of your garden design ideas. From painting and planting to styling with lights, there are lots of ways to make a pergola your own. And they're not just for patios either – pergolas can also be used to create enchanting canopies over pathways, or how about a mini version to add interest to a fence?

Pergola ideas: 21 lovely looks for your garden

To help you pick the best style for your garden, we've gathered up some of our very favorite pergola ideas. Get ready for a big dose of inspiration – you'll be keen to bring one into your own backyard in no time. 

Looking for alternatives? There are plenty more ways to create shade in your garden in our dedicated guide.

1. Match a slatted design to your furniture

pergola at 'The Viking Friluftsliv Garden', Designed by Will Williams at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2021

'The Viking Friluftsliv Garden' designed by Will Williams at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2021

(Image credit: Neil Hepworth/RHS)

This striking pergola has been hand crafted from the hardwood iroko, which, as well as being durable, adds a wonderfully organic and warm tone to the scene. What's more, the slatted design will allow a warm summer breeze to comfortably flow through, whilst still offering plenty of shade. 

Pairing it with a wooden dining set-up in a matching hue brings a real sense of harmony to the zone. And, just out of shot is a modern cooking area, so there's everything needed for chic outdoor living.

Love the look? Our buying guide for the best wooden garden furniture is full of great picks.

2. Make a statement with a waterfall

pergola with waterfall in 'VTB Capital Garden – Spirit of Cornwall', designed by Stuart Charles Towner with Studio Evans Lane for RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018

(Image credit: Neil Hepworth/RHS)

On the lookout for water feature ideas as well as pergola ideas? This set-up demonstrates how you can combine the two for a show-stopping effect.

The waterfall design fits perfectly amongst tropical-style planting, whilst offering multi-sensory benefits to the space. It's a lovely way to shelter laid-back seating, and looks great against sleek stone and metalwork underfoot.

A bespoke look like this certainly isn't for a small budget, but the striking impact it provides will make it well worth splashing the cash for. And, if all the leafy ferns and other architectural foliage have peaked your interest, our tropical garden ideas feature has plenty more looks you'll love.

3. Go bright and light

modern pergola and dining set-up in 'Lower Barn Farm: The Bounce Back Garden', designed by Samuel Moore at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2021

(Image credit: Neil Hepworth/RHS)

The smart pergola in this scene combines a mix of crisp white and warm wood finishes, which looks fantastic against a backdrop of porcelain wall cladding. 

We love its open and airy design which gives ample views of the surroundings from the comfy seating beneath. Opting for an adjustable top ups the versatility factor, allowing the level of shelter to be switched up depending on the weather.

The outdoor dining ideas in this plot have caught our eye too, which tie into the neutral color scheme. Using pared-back tones in this way allows the vibrant planting to really stand out – choose monarda 'Cambridge Scarlet' and lupins amongst pretty white gaura to recreate the look.

4. Extend your home's exterior

pergola with flowers in 'The Trailfinders South African Wine Estate', designed by Jonathan Snow at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018

(Image credit: Neil Hepworth/RHS)

A pergola can be freestanding or joined to the side of your house. So, if your patio is in need of a feature – or suffers from too much bright sun – you can add a pergola directly from your back door for instant shade. 

This can act a little like an extension, helping to enhance the feeling of space in your home. And, if you also invest in a style that has a covering, it will provide a slice of your garden that's still accessible even when it rains. Opting for awning ideas is another solution.

We adore this classic look though, which is made even prettier with the addition of climbing roses. Want to recreate the look? Our guide on how to grow roses is a great place to get started.

5. Cover an entertaining space with a super-sized pergola

large pergola over modern outdoor kitchen and seating area

This statement pergola provides ample shelter for a seating spot

(Image credit: Future)

If you love to host family and friends and have a large patio space to do so, then pergola ideas can provide the perfect finishing touch. 

An elegant structure like this defines the zone, and although it's definitely generous in size, the light-toned wood and airy height keep it from feeling imposing. Hanging baskets full of ferns soften the look further, providing some welcome green up high. Pergolas are also handy for suspending a pendant light or two above your outdoor dining table, to keep the scene gently illuminated once night falls.

A sleek grill, like the one in this set-up, is a great additional feature for alfresco entertaining. Want to go one step further? Our outdoor kitchen ideas will have you inspired.

6. Create a shaded and sunken space

shaded pergola with climbing plants and mirror in 'A Place To Meet Again', designed by Mike Long at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2021

(Image credit: Joanna Kossak/RHS)

If you're choosing to combine climbing plants with your pergola ideas, consider opting for fragranced varieties for a real ambience boost. 

Take this lovely design as an example. It uses star jasmine plants, selected for their scented white blooms, which are entwined across a structure made from reclaimed oak and scaffolding poles. Additional planting gives the space an old-world, almost wild feel, whilst cool gray hardscaping keeps the tone contemporary. Sinking the zone from the rest of your plot is also a great way to make it feel more sheltered, and will make the boundaries more defined.

We like the use of a garden mirror here too – a great way to bounce around light and pep up a wall.

7. Support a trendy hanging chair

black painted pergola ideas over seating area in garden

For a modern look, paint your pergola in a bold black hue, such as Protek's Wood Stain and Protect in 'Ebony'

(Image credit: Protek/Justin Coakley/@designatnineteen)

This seating set-up is brought together beautifully by the slimline pergola. Painted in a black hue, it makes a striking focal point whilst complementing the on-trend tiles and pared-back fence panels nearby. It also acts as a sturdy support for this season's must-have seating solution – a hanging egg chair.

Statement furniture and bold color palettes are always a good choice for modern garden ideas, and this example is a case in point.

8. Make an enchanting walkway with climbing plants

pergola covered in foliage and climbing roses over pathway

This shaded scene is a delight

(Image credit: Mark Bolton/Future)

Pergolas can make beautiful additions to garden path ideas, especially when they're covered in clambering climbers. 

Recreate the look with the likes of wisteria, roses, or scented clematis. Wandering beneath the canopy of fragranced flowers and lush leaves is sure to bring a sense of joy. Our pick of the best climbing plants has lots more ideas.

9. Paint your pergola a pretty hue

paved garden with light blue painted raised planters and pergola, hexagonal paving, a grey mesh chair and footstool and light grey slatted fence

Mix pastel tones with contemporary paving for a modern look, like in this scene from stylist Maxine Brady

(Image credit: Fiona Walker-Arnott)

Make a pergola work for your scheme by transforming it with paint. A pastel color – like the above scheme – lightens the space and makes a garden feel summery. Combined with sleek paving and chic furniture, the result will feel contemporary and fun. But if you prefer a softer scene, add some cottage garden ideas into the mix.

Prefer a maximalist look? Try a bright pop of color in primary hues for instant impact. Our garden color schemes feature has more inspiration.

10. Use to divide your garden zones

pergola ideas marking entrance to patio

Zone your lawn from your patio with pergola ideas

(Image credit: Polly Eltes/Future)

Just like garden arbor ideas, pergolas can be used to arch over an area of your plot to make it a focal point. 

Here, the space between the lawn and the patio is framed by the wooden structure. This draws the eye upwards for added visual interest, whilst creating the sense of distinct garden 'rooms'.

The two borders positioned either side enhance the divide further. Plus, the choice of evergreen shrubs will provide plenty of greenery all year round.

11. Pick a bold color scheme

black pergola over outdoor living area

Cool black and sunny yellow make a stunning duo in this scene

(Image credit: Future)

A black, charcoal or deep gray adds a dramatic accent to any outdoor space, and is perfect if you're after an industrial edge. 

If you opt for this approach, pairing it with neutral accessories is a reliable way to achieve a subtle yet sophisticated vibe. But, if you're after something a touch more playful, try combining the inky tone with a bold yellow hue. We love the use of cozy patterned textiles in a sunshine-like color in this scene above – they contrast against the black beautifully. Festoon lights and hanging baskets are a gorgeous way to complete the look.

And if that sofa has you swooning, our garden furniture ideas feature will provide even more inspo.

12. Try topping your fences with a mini pergola

pergola ideas on top of fence from Jacksons fencing

Pergola ideas aren't just for sheltering seating – we love this fence design by Jacksons Fencing

(Image credit: Jacksons Fencing)

Want to try something a bit different for your pergola ideas? Try adding a miniature version to your fence. It will add height, structural definition, and a boost of shade to its immediate surroundings.

Combined with a trellis, it's also the perfect support for climbing plants, which will soften the look and create a green and leafy screen as they grow. It's definitely one to consider if you're thinking about updating your garden fence ideas.

13. Combine a natural roof with decorative lights

Pergola ideas with lights from lights4fun

A canopy of leaves creates a soothing ambience, like in this set-up from Lights4fun

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

Take a style cue from the set-up above and grow climbing plants up and over your pergola. It'll provide a natural ceiling that offers protection from sun and showers – perfect for your outdoor seating ideas

To avoid the space feeling too enclosed, train the plants up one side of the pergola and over the top, leaving the other three sides free. Then finish the scene with hanging paper lanterns and strings of festoons for a cozy glow.

14. Curate a brightly-colored space

Pergola ideas with colorful cushions and corner sofa

Match your pergola ideas with vibrant accessories for the perfect summer set-up

(Image credit: Malcolm Menzies/Future)

One of the best uses for a pergola is to create a zoned area, defining key parts of the garden for their various uses – one of which, of course, is relaxation. 

Try using your pergola ideas to frame an outdoor living area complete with coffee table and outdoor lanterns. This design uses a pergola along with angular decking to define the lounge space and make it feel like a room of its own. 

Opting for bold colors will give the space a summery, laid-back vibe. Our bohemian garden ideas feature has lots of similar designs if you love the look.

15. Create a stylish outdoor dining area

Pergola ideas with dining table and lighting

Pergola ideas are a lovely way to elevate alfresco entertaining – we adore this scene from Lights4fun

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

Love the idea of dining alfresco, but not so keen on your food being completely open to the elements? Use a pergola to protect food – and guests – from rain, wind and birds. 

With the addition of some string lights and a candle or two, your new dining space will feel cozy and intimate – perfect for an elegant dinner party with friends.

16. Combine home office and covered pergola in one sleek design

covered pergola with outdoor room from Garden House Design

Chill out on your lunch break beneath a stylish pergola – this one is from Garden House Design

(Image credit: Garden House Design)

Tempted to introduce garden office ideas into your scheme after months of home working? You could integrate a pergola into your design for a covered patio – what better place to take those regular coffee breaks and get some fresh air? 

We like this sleek design, which turns the covered space into a room of its own complete with lighting, sofa and even a coffee table.

17. Seize the opportunity to add a dramatic lighting scheme

pergola ideas with lights from Curiosa & Curiosa

This garden dining room by Curiosa & Curiosa uses a pergola to show off its gorgeous Acid Drop lights

(Image credit: Curiosa & Curiosa)

If you're looking to highlight your zoned outdoor 'room' with lighting, your choice isn't limited to string lights or a smattering of lanterns – consider hanging pendant lights from the top of your pergola for a dramatic look. 

This scene is reminiscent of a balmy evening meal at a restaurant table along the seafront.

Looking for more striking ways to illuminate your space? You'll find lots in our outdoor lighting ideas feature.

18. Mix warm tones together

pergola ideas over patio with terracotta wall

Pergola ideas look fabulous when combined with a brightly-colored wall, as shown in this scene by John Lewis

(Image credit: John Lewis & Partners)

To transport your patio space to sunnier climes, consider painting a statement wall in a terracotta hue. A wooden slatted pergola will complement the tone, and will also provide a structure for hanging pendants, as demonstrated above.

Use soft textiles in warm colors to extend the theme, whilst an array of potted plants will add texture. Opting for pale hued patio paving ideas beneath will keep things feeling well-balanced and prevent the richer colors from overwhelming the space.

19. Enjoy the luxury of an outdoor spa in your garden

pergola over hot tub

Combine your pergola ideas with a hot tub, like in this gorgeous set-up by Garden House Design

(Image credit: Garden House Design)

Always dreamed of bringing hot tub ideas into your garden? Whether you're all about giggly, music-filled garden parties with your friends or a glass of bubbly with your significant other, a combination of pergola and hot tub, like this shaded sanctuary, is a luxurious addition to a space. 

You might never need a spa day again...

20. Buy off-the-shelf for an easy update

modern pergola on decking over seating

This modern pergola is from VonHaus

(Image credit: VonHaus)

For ready-made shade, there are plenty of off-the-shelf offerings like the one above, so you can add instant impact to your garden scheme without the fuss of installing a bespoke version or building your own. 

We like the sleek style of this one, plus it comes with an adjustable canopy so you can stay in control of how much sun you get.

21. Get automated with a smart pergola

large modern pergola over decking from Garden House Design

Go ultra-modern for your pergola ideas, like this one from Garden House Design

(Image credit: Garden House Design)

For those with a big budget, try statement pergola ideas like this. A major step up from your average pergola, this structure features a remote-controlled roof system which can be rotated to protect from sun or increase ventilation whenever you need it. 

It's super handy for those summer days that involve sun and rain in equal amounts – beat the unpredictability with this smart design.

Our covered deck ideas feature has more stunning styles.

How do you anchor a pergola? 

'To create a stable pergola we recommend securing the posts into the ground with Postcrete,' says Leigh Barnes of Jacksons Fencing. 'Post holes should be approximately 300mm [around 12in] wide and 700mm [27.5in] deep and be filled with 2–3 bags of Postcrete, depending on ground conditions,' he adds. 

'Note that the pergola posts will inevitably shrink and swell with changes in ground and weather conditions. As the installation proceeds, it is imperative all pergola posts are set vertical and remain in line at all times otherwise the pergola will not be structurally sound,' Leigh says. 'A good spirit level must be used throughout the process to ensure complete accuracy.'

If you've got some DIY skills up your sleeve, why not try building a pergola yourself? Our guide on how to build a pergola will show you how. And of course if a permanent structure isn't an option, you can still add temporary (and affordable) outdoor shade with one of the best gazebo in our buyer's guide.

modern black pergola from Caribbean Blinds in garden

A sleek pergola such as this one from Caribbean Blinds is great for sheltering a patio from the sun's midday rays

(Image credit: Caribbean Blinds)

Which way should a pergola face?

For the best shade coverage for the majority of the day, consider facing open-roofed pergolas so that they intercept the sunlight before it reaches your seating area, advises Leigh Barnes of Jacksons Fencing.

'Place it so the crossbeams orient north and south,' he continues. 'As the sun travels, the crossbeams will cast wide lines of shade under the structure, except around midday when the sun is directly overhead.'

Want even more shade for your space? Our best garden parasols buying guide has plenty of great designs.

jacksons fencing pergola at top of garden steps

Use your pergola ideas to make a focal point at the top of steps – this design is from Jacksons Fencing

(Image credit: Jacksons Fencing)

What is the best height for a pergola? 

'The minimum height of a pergola should be no lower than two meters [6.5ft] to provide enough head room, though some pergolas can be higher,' advises Leigh Barnes of Jacksons Fencing. 'We would recommend checking any site-specific critical measurements prior to assembly when thinking about the height of your pergola.'

'Also remember the taller the pergola the more unstable it may become and it may also be harder to maintain,' he adds.

The team at Perfect Pergolas agree on keeping the structures above two meters, suggesting a height of around 7ft 8ins (2.4m) from the ground. This gives ample room for taller people to walk beneath it comfortably, the team says. And, if the structure is used for growing vines, a generous height means you are less likely to bump your head on the bunches of grapes which hang down in the autumn, they add.

If you're now wondering how wide a pergola can or should be, Leigh Barnes says it can be as wide as you like, as long as it's built with enough timber struts to support the roof.

Ellen Finch

After a stint writing for true life titles, Ellen made her venture into the world of interiors magazines in 2017 on Real Homes magazine where she is now deputy editor. She's a fan of clever tips and tricks for renters, and has a special interest in sustainability in the home. While she's waiting for a garden to call her own, Ellen keeps herself busy with her collection of houseplants – 28 at the time of writing, but ever-growing. She also enjoys helping out at her grandad's allotment and has made friends with the local cat along the way.